Film Review: Scrooged
In 1988, Richard Donner released Scrooged, a modernization of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Starring Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe, John Glover, Alfre Woodard, Bobcat Goldthwait, David Johansen, Carol Kane, Robert Mitchum, Nicholas Phillips, Michael J. Pollard, Mabel King, John Murray, Wendie Malick, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Joel Murray, the film grossed $60.3 million at the box office. The film was not nominated for any awards.
Frank Cross, a selfish cynical television executive, is planning a live adaptation of A Christmas Carol for a holiday special, but his childhood memories leave him unable to appreciate the spirit of the Christmas season. But soon, he gets a visit from his old, dead boss who tells him that he’s doomed unless he changes his ways and is soon visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.
A much darker retelling of Dickens’ classic novel, Scrooged is an entertaining and funny update to the story. Like the original Ebenezer Scrooge, Cross’ childhood was lonely, with Cross immersing himself in television to get away from his meager life, where his father decides to give him a cut of veal for Christmas instead of a toy train. The Ghost of Christmas Past also notes that he had a pretty poor childhood that didn’t produce any memories, since the only ones Cross can think of are tied to different television shows. The film also updates Cratchit, turning the character into Cross’ overworked secretary Grace. Her son, Calvin, is the film’s version of Tiny Tim. However, though Calvin doesn’t exactly have any physical disability that ends up killing him in the climax, he is mute and is seen in a mental institution during Cross’ look at the future. Interestingly enough, once Cross has his revelation, Calvin finds a voice and ends up being the one to say “God bless us, everyone.”
What’s really notable though is Cross is actually seen having some sort of standard before his meeting with the ghosts, something Scrooge doesn’t usually have. While he is self-centered, he does show that he has a heart prior to his epiphany, such as dumping water on a waiter when he thinks the man is on fire as well as making friends with homeless people at Operation Reachout, going so far as to humor them and pretend to be Richard Burton in Hamlet. Further, he finds one of the homeless men frozen solid in the sewer and berates him for not staying at Operation Reachout, telling him that he would have been taken care of, warm, alive, and a prettier color. Cross also shows a little concern over Calvin upon finding out that he’s mute, but that also shows his lack of self-awareness for those around him as he never knew that Claire’s husband had died. Even when confronted with Calvin’s future, he starts to desperately spitball solutions.
Along with the poignant moments in the film, it really does play up a lot of black comedy, seen when Cross replaces the sentimental ad campaign with something that terrifies people and features drug addiction, terrorist attacks and the threat of nuclear war. The comedy carries on throughout the film, with Marley dropping Frank off a building, darkly humorous shrieking demons inside the Ghost of Christmas Future, and Cross being chased by an ex-employee with a shotgun who then gets recruited into taking hostages so Frank can tell people about his epiphany. Actually, that whole ex-employee’s character arc is filled with black comedy, from him getting fired for daring to question Cross’ decisions to selling his blood for money with which to buy alcohol, that just ends up getting stolen from him by the Ghost of Christmas Past, to his drunken rampage with a shotgun. It also helps that the guy’s played by Bobcat Goldthwait.
The Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present also have a lot of humor in their own ways. The former is a cigar chomping cab driver who drives like a maniac and isn’t afraid to tell Cross that his childhood was a downer because Cross didn’t do anything with it. He also, unlike other adaptations, manages to find his way in the finale, taking Claire to the IBC building. As for the Ghost of Christmas Present, she’s a hilarious ditz that provides a lot of physical humor in beating on Cross, like hitting him with a toaster.
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