Scrooged (1988)

Scrooged (1988)
  • Time: 101 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Drama | Fantasy
  • Director: Richard Donner
  • Cast: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe


Frank Cross runs a US TV station which is planning a live adaptation of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Frank’s childhood wasn’t a particularly pleasant one, and so he doesn’t really appreciate the Christmas spirit. With the help of the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, Frank realises he must change.


  • For a person like Richard Donner, it would seem difficult to make a film that rides close to the middle of being just okay. Considering he’s only directed a handful of films of which many of them gained lots of praise or went on to be cult films, it’s surprising when moments like these happen. Richard Donner headed Superman (1978), The Goonies (1985) and Lethal Weapon (1987). So for this, it’s even more confusing when a well-respected director is paired up with decent writers and a cast of good actors. For comedy legend like Bill Murray, being in popular movies like Caddyshack (1980), Stripes (1981) and of course Ghost Busters (1984), how can a pairing create an output so okay-ish feeling? It may be hard to believe but it is in fact a film that’s better than average but only marginally. Apparently it was reported that Bill Murray and Richard Donner did not get along during production either so this could be why. Things could have always been worse though I guess.

    The film screenplay is another alteration of the classic Charles Dickens story of the Christmas Carol. Here Murray plays Frank Cross, the head chair of a major TV studio that loves finding and attracting any viewer they can find. Until on the night of Christmas Eve, Cross will be given a chance to redeem himself as a better person. Written by Michael O’Donoghue (an SNL writer) and Mitch Glazer (probably his best known writing credit), the script to this holiday comedy can be hit and miss. For example, the studio will do anything it can to make sure its the hottest thing being watched, whether its making parody films of classic Christmas tales, straight out desecrating them or even making channel programs that appeal to cat and dog viewers. It’s a bit of stretch there, especially the last one. A lot of these incidents feel over exaggerated and feels forced on the audience like they’re supposed to believe that people would accept such things and find it believable.

    What is a nice change of pace is Richard Donner’s directing skills. The story execution is fairly predictable but there are some various changes to the script that make it feel like effort was put in to make sure it doesn’t feel like an exact copy. Much of this is due to the supporting cast being so helpful in their comedic timing and how they knock up Murray’s character. John Forsythe as Cross’ dead business partner has possibly the best introduction than any other ghost who visits him. David Johansen as the taxi driving ghost of Christmas past is the second best character with his no-cares given attitude. Perhaps the ghost who gets the cutest and most violent personality is Carol Kane as the ghost of Christmas present. There’s also characters played by Karen Allen (Cross’ ex), Bobcat Goldthwait (the voice of XL from Buzz Lightyear of Star Command (2000)), Robert Mitchum, Michael J. Pollard and Alfre Woodard playing a Bob Cratchet-like role. Then there’s Bill Murray who is surprisingly the exact opposite.

    It’s not that he is unfunny because there are occasional scenes that do produce a laugh, but the problem is he produces the least amount. Yes, Cross is supposed to be unfeeling but even unfeeling characters can have some kind of charm; but Murray doesn’t pull it off. It’s more obnoxious than charming. Another problem in the script is sometimes the story will spin off the main focus from Cross’ development as a character and just wonder back into his reality to do whatever. It’s distracting. Back to positives though, a visual element that works in this films favor are the special / practical effects. The special makeup effects creator / designers behind those scenes were Thomas R. Burman and Bari Dreiband-Burman (The Goonies (1985)& Die Hard 2 (1990)). There’s also special effects supervisor Eric Brevig (Total Recall (1990), Hook (1991) and Men in Black (1997)) who shows that even before big Hollywood blockbusters he still had the talent needed to make things look good.

    Thankfully another visual treat is Michael Chapman’s cinematography. Chapman is also the cameraman for Taxi Driver (1976), Ghost Busters II (1989), Space Jam (1996) and Six Days, Seven Nights (1998) all of which had decent lighting and steady movement. Also Chapman’s work mixes evenly with whatever special or practical effects were put to screen. Lastly is Danny Elfman’s score to the film that oddly enough sounds like a precursor to his future score for The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). Sadly though, his score here feels underdeveloped. It is clear that its Elfman’s signature theme with chanting choirs in a minor key, but after the title card appears it disappears for quite a long time. Then out of nowhere it rears its head and then abruptly vanishes again. Viewing Lala Land records website, it seems like there was a lot of material that wasn’t used. It’s also a shame when not even the original composition is that prevalent in the final product. What gives post production? Either way, when heard it is enjoyable.

    This holiday comedy does have some unique mutations with its direction in the script, but it also suffers from its main lead (Bill Murray) not being that funny and the main story sometimes jumping around. Thankfully the camerawork is able, the creature effects are well crafted, the music (although not abundant) is appropriate and the supporting cast adding to the laughs.

    Points Earned –> 6:10

  • Robin over at Write Out of LA is hosting a Christmas Movie Advent Calendar series throughout December highlighting one holiday film per day. My contribution to the series is the 80s-inspired modern retelling of A Christmas Carol, Scrooged.

    Scrooged is undoubtedly my favorite Christmas movie of all time – it’s a tale as old as time without the gimmicks or seriousness. It’s got one hell of a cast with the most memorable Scrooge himself, Frank Cross, played by the legendary Bill Murray. The film was actually a resurgence for Murray who had taken an imposed four-year exile from Hollywood and what a joyous return!

    Murray was an A-list movie star by the time Scrooged hit theaters, but up until that point he had always been part of an ensemble cast (Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters). This was his first opportunity to shine solo on screen. Director Richard Donner admit this little gem about shooting the final scene of the movie: “On the last take I saw something happen to Billy. I saw Billy Murray become an actor.”

    Here are my five favorite things about the movie.

    1.”The Night the Reindeer Died”/Marketing with Terror
    Screw the traditional A Christmas Carol, because Frank Cross’ demented mind has something better to bring into your home this holiday season. The opening sequence of Scrooged features a fake trailer starring Lee Majors (as himself, obviously) who travels to the North Pole to rescue Santa and his glam-rock elves from deadly assassins. When Mrs. Claus opens the door to a big closet filled with AK-47 assault rifles, it’s clear that this movie would be lit. It may look dated, but it’s a hilarious introduction that sets the tone for the film as Santa explains, “This is one Santa who’s going out the front door” gripping his AK-47. As Film School Rejects describes it: It’s basically “Die Hard in Santa’s Workshop.” Yule love it!

    After watching the family-friendly trailer the network had lined up as their holiday special, Frank Cross has no reservations telling his staff it sucks. Frank’s vision is to premiere a teaser trailer so great that viewers will be so scared to miss it. His alternative marketing trailer to capture viewers attention involves holiday themes like drug addiction, acid rain and terrorist attacks in the most hilarious anti-Christmas montage ever experienced. “Now, more than ever, it is important to remember the true meaning of Christmas. Don’t miss Charles Dickens’ immortal classic, ‘Scrooge’. Your life just might depend on it.“

    2. The Script
    The script from Scrooged is knee-slapping funny; if you don’t laugh during this movie, I’m going to have to question your emotional well-being. Written by Mitch Glazer and Michael O’Donoghue (who also wrote for SNL), the film has some of the funniest quotes in any comedy I’ve experienced, which is a tough feat for a dark holiday classic.

    Here are a few of my favorite excerpts from the script:

    Censor Lady: “You can see her nipples!”
    Frank Cross: “I want to see her nipples.”
    Censor Lady: “But this is a CHRISTMAS show!”
    Frank Cross: “Well, I’m sure Charles Dickens would have wanted to see her nipples.”

    Ghost of Christmas Past:
    Let’s face it, Frank. Garden slugs got more out of life than you.
    Frank Cross:
    Yeah? Name one.

    Frank Cross:
    No, you are a hallucination, brought on by alcohol. Russian Vodka, poisoned by Chernobyl.

    Frank Cross:
    The bitch hit me with a toaster.

    Frank Cross:
    The Jews taught me this great word. “Schmuck”. I was a schmuck, and now I’m not a schmuck.

    Frank Cross:
    Do you think I’m way off-base here?
    You’re, well, you’re a tad off-base, sir. That thing looked like The Manson Family Christmas Special.

    3. The Ghosts of Past & Present
    If I’m ever visited by three ghosts to evaluate my life, I hope to God those ghosts include David Johansen and Carol Kane, because they would make the blow of reality a delightful pill to swallow.
    David Johansen, the ghost of Christmas past, is a nutty New York cab driver who starts by bringing Frank back to his childhood in 1955. “I get it. You’re taking me back in time to show me my mother and father, and I’m supposed to get all goosey and blubbery. Well, forget it, pal, you got the wrong guy!” It’s one of the more sentimental scenes of the movie as Frank assures the ghost that he’s not going to get emotional…until he see’s his mother; I think we all can get reminiscent of our youth from this scene. The ghost replies, “That’s exactly what Atilla the Hun said. But when he saw his mother, Niagra Falls.”
    Fast-forward to 1968-1971 where we get a glimpse into Frank’s very modest early careers as well as Frank’s serendipitous introduction to Claire. Can I also mention that his trial as Frisbee the dog is of monumental hilarity for the sake of the ghost’s child-like excitement? “It’s a bone, ya moron!“
    The ghost of Christmas present is an adorable, volatile version of what Glinda the Good Witch on adderall would be like. Her teaching specialty involves aggressive acts to help Frank understand the countless errors in his ways.Sometimes you have to SLAP people in the face to get their attention! “The bitch hit me with a toaster!“
    There’s a heartwarming scene when the ghost of Christmas present takes Frank to his secretary’s house who lives a frugal existence as a single mother. Grace’s long hours endured at IBM are at Frank’s expense (IF I HAVE TO WORK LATE, YOU HAVE TO WORK LATE!) has caused her to be home less for her family. Grace’s son Calvin, the tiny Tim of the film, who has been mute since witnessing the murder of his father five years prior, strikes a chord with Frank who promises to give Grace a raise.

    4. Frank’s Future Prediction
    Although this may appear as an odd addition to the prior hilarious three, the ghost of Christmas future delivers a grim glimpse into Frank’s potential fate. And it really forces the viewer to hardcore re-evaluate their own life, which is why I added it to the list.

    Back in present-day at IBC, Preston has put Brice in charge, fearing that Frank is having a mental breakdown. Frank runs into an elevator, and finds the ghost of Christmas future lurking and waiting for him inside. The ghost reveals that if he continues on his destructive, self-satisfying path, his actions will affect those closest to him. Claire will become a cold-hearted aristocrat who turns her head and heart against her philanthropy. Grace’s son Calvin will be committed to a mental institution (probably the most horrifying and depressing prediction to see) and Frank then sees himself in a casket at a funeral.
    Of course we anticipate Frank’s dark fate, because we all know that’s how the story goes, but the indirect affect it has on the likes of Claire and Calvin are far darker than we’d imagine. It’s very parallel to It’s a Wonderful Life in how one life affects many, and the thought of his potential disastrous future snaps Frank back to reality. Literally.

    5. Frank’s Final Monologue
    Of course, I’ve got to end this on a high note, and what better way than to mention Frank’s monologue at the end of the movie. Frank’s revelation of what his potential future could look like sparks the golden rule of life and Christmas right up his ass.

    Apparently, the scene was mostly ad-libbed by Murray, and it brought out a tremendous performance by the actor and a little joy in all of our hearts.

    “I get it now. And if you give, then it can happen, then the miracle can happen to you. Not just the poor and hungry, it’s just, everybody’s gotta have this miracle! It can happen tonight for you all! If you believe in this pure thing, the miracle will happen and you’ll want it again tomorrow! You won’t believe the bastard who say, “Christmas is once a year and it’s a fraud.” It’s not! It can happen every day! You’ve just got to want that feeling! And if you like it and you want it, you get greedy for it. You’ll want it every day of your life! And it can happen to you! I believe in it now. I believe it’s gonna happen to me, now. I’m ready for it! And it’s great. It’s a good feeling. It’s really better than I’ve felt in a long time. I’m ready.”

    “Have a Merry Christmas, everybody.”

    “Did I forget something, big man?”

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