Holiday Movie Month: "Scrooged" Review

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A cynically selfish TV executive gets haunted by three spirits bearing lessons on Christmas Eve. This retelling of the classic "Christmas Carol" is dark, edgy, funny and has heart. Starring Bill Murray, Karen Allen, and directed by Richard Donner.
3.5

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Holiday Movie Month: "Scrooged" Review

Rating: PG-13
Length: 101 minutes
Release Date: November 23, 1988
Directed by: Richard Donner
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Fantasy

Most Christmas movies fit in a fairly well-defined genre. They tend to feature a person or family struggling with a problem, often financial, and the resolution tends to revolve around the discovery of something more important than money—be it family, community, or something involving the Christmas spirit. The genesis of this basic flow is often credited to Charles Dickens, who wrote the classic "A Christmas Carol" in 1843. Over the years, countless movies based on his story have been released, but few have been quite as stylized as 1988's "Scrooged."

Starring Bill Murray as Frank Cross, a television executive, the story begins by outlining how cynical and cold he can be. When glue proves to be insufficient for attaching antlers to a mouse, he recommends staples. Mirroring Ebenezer Scrooge's heartless nature in "A Christmas Carol," Cross fires an employee for expressing concerns about an especially dark commercial on Christmas Eve. Grace Cooley, portrayed by Alfre Woodard, is constantly forced to break plans with her mute son. Despite his callous acts, Cross is regularly rewarded by the higher-ups. When his network decides to broadcast a live rendition of "A Christmas Carol," Cross is chosen as its producer.

However, Cross is shown as a human character, not a Hollywood-produced monster. Karen Allen plays the role of Claire Phillips, his true love. While he may be lacking in empathy, Cross has a soft side, which has waned over the years. "Scrooged" tells its audience that Cross is not inherently evil; his actions are the result of the stress and demands of 1980s corporate America and his inability to realize what's truly important.

Following the book, Cross is confronted by his former friend and mentor, played by John Forsythe, who warns him of three forthcoming visitors. While the book's depiction of this scene is a bit frightening, the movie raises the fright factor considerably, portraying Forsythe's character as a decaying corpse. Small children might find this scene scary, but more frightening visitors are yet to come.

The Ghost of Christmas Past comes to visit first. Played by David Johansen, this ghost presents a generally warm childhood. Cross is then shown the early days of his ascent, starting with his first job at the television station. In later visions, Cross begins valuing his job over his partner, culminating in his decision to choose a job over keeping her. Cross is generally unaffected by this visit.

Next, Cross is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present, wonderfully portrayed by Carol Kane. Despite her pixie-like appearance, she seems to take particular delight in hitting Cross with toasters and other objects. It is here where Cross is shown the true damage his callousness has wrought as he sees his employees' struggles. He is also shown his brother, who demonstrates how much his family and friends miss him. Murray's comedic talent is on full display here, and his chemistry with Kane makes these scenes some of the most powerful in the film.

The oversized, and truly terrifying, Ghost of Christmas Future appears after a scene where Cross is attacked by the employee he earlier fired. While his former mentor's ghost was certainly frightening, this ghost takes the horror to a new level. What he show Cross is no less frightening; his employee's mute child ends up in a mental hospital, and his former love has grown cold over the years. After being shown his own cremation, which only two people attend, Cross finally breaks and begs for a second chance.

After realizing that he still has a chance to change, Cross decides to waste no time in beginning to make amends. The station's "A Christmas Carol" production is nearing its end when he decides to step in front of the camera and tell the audience to spend time with family instead of watching television. Promising a miracle, he pulls his employee's mute child on stage, and the audience is treated to his first words: "God bless us, everyone."

In the 1980s and 1990s, Murray was widely considered to be an exclusively comedic actor. However, "Scrooged," along with "Groundhog Day," show his dramatic chops were developing earlier than many give him credit for. Although it remains a relatively unknown movie, "Scrooged" shows one of the most stylized versions of the Dickens classic. The heartless attitude that dominated 1980s corporate culture is captured well, and fine acting by all involved helps bring viewers aboard. Despite its dark nature and frightening scenes, "Scrooged" captures the heartwarming appeal of standard Christmas movies, and the comedy helps add a bit of fun to a genre that can get a bit stale on occasion. Parents may want to check "Scrooged" out before showing it to young children, but those looking for a unique take on the classic Christmas tale will find it to be a fun alternative to better-known holiday films.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5