Merry Christmas to all the fans of Monday Picks. This week’s pick in celebration of the holiday season is Scrooged. Richard Donner (The Omen, Superman I & II, Lethal Weapon series) directs this modern comedy version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Bill Murray stars as media mogul Frank Cross, the head of IBC Networks who has risen to the top of the company by being a cynical, conceited, and cruel individual. Frank is in charge of a forty million dollar production of a live television broadcast that is to air on Christmas Eve.
When company executives show Frank the latest commercial for the broadcast, Frank belittles and insults his staff and shows them an incredibly offensive and violent commercial he has produced for the broadcast, which he plans to air in place of the original. Corporate executive Eliot Loudermilk (Bobcat Goldthwait) confronts Frank on the commercial saying that the ad is in poor taste and will frighten people. Frank goes along with Loudermilk’s suggestion and then has him fired just days before Christmas.
Frank doesn’t only belittle corporate executives, but also overworks his assistant Grace Cooley (Alfre Woodard) by making her work late and keeps her from spending time with her family who also suffer from Frank’s actions, especially her young son Calvin (a representation of Tiny Tim from the novel) who is mute and in need of medical attention.
Following very closely to the premise of Dickens’ novel, Frank is visited by the spirit of his old boss and mentor Lew Hayward (John Forsyth, the voice of Charlie from the hit TV show Charlie’s Angels). Lew tells Frank that if he doesn’t change his ways, he will wind up like him. Frank refuses to believe that this is happening and that he is hallucinating due to the tremendous stress he has been under.
Lew tells Frank that he must change the error of his ways in order to avoid an afterlife of torment and misery. Lew informs Frank that he will receive a visit from three ghosts which will show Frank his past, the present and his bleak future.
After a lunch with his boss played by the great Robert Mitchum, and a weasel assistant (John Glover) hired to help Frank, and desires taking his job, Frank steps into a cab and encounters the first ghost the Ghost of Christmas Past played ever so wonderfully by New York Dolls front man David Johansen.
The cabbie takes Frank back to 1955 when Frank was a little boy who grew up a child of the fifties glued to a television set. Frank encounters his mother and father (played by Murray’s real life older brother Brian). Frank’s father gives him a package, which contains five pounds of veal as his Christmas gift. Young Frank wanted a toy train and his father berates him for not accepting what older Frank considers to be a substantial amount in 1988 dollars for a piece of milk fed veal.
Encountering his mother who is pregnant with Frank’s little brother goes off to bed and wishes young Frank a Merry Christmas. Older Frank begins to sob at the sight of his mother yet passes it off by being touched by his father’s gift. Not convinced, the ghost takes Frank into the late sixties and early seventies where he meets the love of his life Claire (Karen Allen) and shows Frank how he eventually chose his career over love and happiness.
Frank’s next encounter is with the Ghost of Christmas Present, played magnificently by Carol Kane who takes pleasure in slapping and beating Frank while she takes him on a tour of the lives of his assistant Grace and his little brother James (real life brother John) who loves and cares for Frank even though Frank keeps his brother at an arms length.
Still unwilling to make changes with the life he has led, Frank receives one more visitation from the Ghost of Christmas Future which shows Frank images of Grace’s son who has been committed to a mental institution, his love Claire has turned into a cold hearted an equally cynical person, and James and his wife are the only ones who attend Frank’s funeral service where he is to be cremated. While being burned in his casket, Frank screams out in pain that he wants to live and that he has changed his ways for good.
Now that Frank has a new lead on life, he must convince a shotgun toting Eliot Loudermilk to not kill him for firing him on Christmas. Frank re-hires Eliot and gives him a substantial raise. Both Frank and Eliot then crash the live broadcast and Frank gets on live TV and apologizes to those he had wronged and wishes the audience a Merry Christmas. Grace’s son delivers the Tiny Tim line of “God bless us everyone” and is cured from his mental mute condition. Frank also reconciles with Claire and the whole cast and crew break into the song of “Put a little love in your heart.”
Scrooged was a huge hit during the 1988 holiday season and scored very high among critics and made over sixty million dollars at the box office that season. Murray’s performance is nothing short of brilliant and the supporting cast of Goldthwait, Johansen, Kane, Woodard, Mitchum, and the Murray brothers is fantastic. Scrooged has always been and will continue to remain one of my favorite holiday movies for many reasons, namely that it is filled with endlessly quotable dialogue, and it is a fantastic version of A Christmas Carol which is a quintessential holiday story of redemption.
Scrooged is available on DVD and Blu-Ray disc through Paramount Home Video and can be rented through Netflix.