Films of Christmas Past: Scrooged (1988)

By Maryann O’Connor

How many times do you think A Christmas Carol has been made?  Yes, a lot of times. Mostly these subtle re-imaginings stay very true to Charles Dickens’ immortal novel and are set in the Victorian Era: even the Muppets didn’t dare to stray very far from those cobbled, icy streets. Time and time again we have watched with sadness in our hearts as Ebeneezer made his staff work in freezing cold conditions, kept them in abject poverty and didn’t have a minute or kind word to spare for anyone.

So, you might say Richard Donner’s Scrooged was a very welcome addition to the parade of miserable Scrooges over the years. Here was a modern and maniacal New York based Scrooge we could all relate to. If A Christmas Carol had been written in the 1980s, Scrooge would most likely have been a television or bank executive. So, IBC executive Francis Xavier Cross (Bill Murray) doesn’t make his staff work in freezing conditions but he does make them miss their children’s plays, neglects to give them a pay raise year after year, sacks them for daring to voice an opinion and gives them a towel (and face cloth) for a Christmas bonus.

Frank Cross delights in making adverts for his television network which make people so scared that they die and avoids his brother’s Christmas day dinner like the plague. He also thinks it’s acceptable to staple reindeer antlers on to mice for a live production of A Christmas Carol. On the evening before Christmas Eve he returns to the office freshly inebriated from an awards ceremony and is pouring himself yet another lonely drink when this incarnation’s Jacob Marley turns up – his deceased womanising and equally selfish old boss. Frank Cross has been marked for ‘salvation’ and will be visited by three ghosts, the first one arriving at lunchtime the following day. What follows is a hysterical journey with the three ghosts, a disgruntled former employee, Frank’s former girlfriend and this story’s version of Tiny Tim – his secretary’s little boy who refuses to speak.

Of course we all know what’s going to happen: Frank will see the error of his ways and realise he leads a blessed life. That the pursuit of material wealth and power is a red herring and the only thing that really matters is people. The main difference between a usual remake of A Christmas Carol and Scrooged is that you really can’t stop laughing. Bill Murray is at his obnoxious best, screaming at his employees, having fist fights with the ghost of christmas present (Carol Kane) and telling his ex-girlfriend (Karen Allen), who runs a shelter, that of course her fellow shelter workers are volunteers – no one will pay them!

The scenes between Murray and Allen are really heartwarming and you invest heavily in their relationship. John Murray, Bill’s real life brother, is great as Frank’s brother: his kindness is almost palpable and he’s ready to forgive Frank for anything, if a bit lacking on the general knowledge front. The supporting cast are just hilarious. Carol Kane’s shrieking and violent tendencies as the ghost of Christmas present are unforgettable, Bobcat Goldthwait does what he does best in playing a former employee at his wit’s edge and John Glover plays the smarmy Brice Cummings so well, you too will want to smack him in the face.

Like many good films, this one ends with a whole-cast song, imploring us to put a little love in our hearts. Which we think is really good advice, especially during these fraught times of ill-considered presents and over-consumption of alcohol. Remember, like Frank’s family, your family loves you too and even if they do steal the last Yorkshire pudding please refrain from hitting them with a toaster.

God bless us, every one!

Maryann has awarded Scrooged five Torches of Truth

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One response to “Films of Christmas Past: Scrooged (1988)

  1. Random fact, Scrooged is Craig Charles’ (Red Dwarf) favourite Christmas movie.

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