20th December: Scrooged

Image: Paramount Pictures

The Reel Time Christmas Movie Advent Calendar is exactly what it says on the tin: a classic festive countdown, except instead of chocolate behind the windows it’s my ramblings on a host of Christmas films. In true advent calendar style, films will not be announced in advance, but revealed at 6pm each day. Get involved by shouting abuse at me on Twitter and Facebook, or even just reading and sharing. I hope this can bring a little cheer at the end of a miserable year. Enjoy!

Year: 1988

Director: Richard Donner

Writers: Mitch Glazer, Michael O’Donoghue

Starring: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, Alfre Woodard, John Forsythe, Bobcat Goldthwaite, David Johansen, Carol Kane, Robert Mitchum

My DVD case informs me that Scrooged is a PG. Pardon the non-PG language, but: what the fuck? I am rarely one to advocate for a film being given a higher certificate, but parts of this were damn well horrifying. A man gets dangled out of a window by a re-animated corpse, and fails to cling on because the corpse’s flesh is so rotten that it just breaks away. Said corpse has a mouse living inside the back of his head. A man is cremated alive, for crying out loud. The Muppet Christmas Carol, this is not.

Richard Donner’s film is however, another entertaining, eyebrow-raising take on the classic Dickens story. Bill Murray stars as television network president Frank Cross, our Scrooge stand-in. Murray brings the arsehole charm of Ghostbusters‘ Venkman and dials up the nastiness, having a ball as Cross ridicules his employees, fires people at will and refuses to give out a Christmas bonus. This late-80s take on Dickens’ iconic miser still feels fresh, with Cross’ over-exaggerated ‘I’m not here to make friends’ persona feeling like something ripped from The Apprentice.

The Bob Cratchit of the film is Cross’ assistant Grace, Tiny Tim her young son who hasn’t spoken since seeing his dad killed. Belle is replaced by Karen Allen’s Claire, a loving, giving person who helps the poor and for some reason was attracted to Frank a long time ago, before he became such a twat. The ghosts, in three madcap sojourns away from the real world, take the form of a snarling, shouty taxi driver, a squeaky-voiced woman in a fairy costume who keeps punching Frank in the face, and a death-like hooded figure with a TV screen for a face.

All of this should give you an idea of the kind of real-world, comic take Scrooged has put on everything, with Murray’s talents put front and centre. He is typically charismatic and carries the film through some wild rides, but the manic, brash tone of the film wears thin later on. For about an hour I was loving the whole thing, with the pre-visitation opening act the best bit of it all in my book. But then towards the end, as the message comes out, it seemed as though Donner’s film was too concerned with Bill Murray being Bill Murray for the story’s heart to really shine through.

In Frank’s big epiphany, presented as a rambling speech on live TV, Murray is saying all the right things to warm the heart, but he also leaps around, goes off on tangents and near-shouts the whole thing. It is a scene that for some will be the cherry on top of a hilarious, brilliant film, but I just wanted a little more restraint. The jokes come thick and fast, and a great deal of them are excellent, but inevitably a few don’t land. Come the end I just wanted to reach through the screen, grab Bill Murray and a crazed Bobcat Goldthwaite, and tell them to calm the fuck down.

Scrooged is a film with a great idea, to take Charles Dickens’ tale of Christmas greed and turn it into a sharp, modern comic satire. Something that places a person we know and recognise from our world in the part of Scrooge, turning the plea for goodness into something more tangible and affecting; something that gives a comedy superstar free reign to do their thing within a straightforward narrative. What holds the film back is that its makers are so in love with this idea that they overindulge and forget to tell the story of A Christmas Carol as well as they can.

Where it Ranks

For a while I felt that this was on a par with The Muppet Christmas Carol, but as it wore on I realised that Donner’s films lacks a consistency that Kermit and friends have throughout. The strengths of Scrooged are obvious from its set-up, and there’s some really sharp writing, so I will still place it above quite a few films on this list. It has a lot of the same qualities and issues to How the Grinch Stole Christmas, as a film powered by its comedy star, but slightly hampered by them too. Which one I preferred is really tough, but I think old Grinchy edges it.

  1. Die Hard
  2. Happiest Season
  3. Klaus
  4. Arthur Christmas
  5. Black Christmas
  6. The Muppet Christmas Carol
  7. Elf
  8. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  9. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  10. Scrooged
  11. Love Actually
  12. Gremlins
  13. Home Alone
  14. Krampus
  15. Last Christmas
  16. Nativity!
  17. The Holiday
  18. Noelle
  19. The Santa Clause
  20. The Grinch
  21. The Princess Switch

Andrew Young