Christmas is a time for peace on Earth and goodwill to all mankind, a time for giving and receiving, a time to remember others less fortunate than ourselves, but most of all it’s a time for endless remakes, reboots and reimaginings of Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella A Christmas Carol. Richard Donner’s Scrooged is one such adaptation and it’s a hot mess. As with any competent Christmas film, Scrooged opens with Santa and his elves in a battle with armed terrorists, with a voiceover informing us “Psychos seize Santa’s workshop and only Lee Majors can stop them in… The Night The Reindeer Died”. It’s then revealed that we’re watching a television screen, which cuts to Robert Goulet crooning as he paddles along a swamp in the advertisement for Bob Goulet’s Old Fashioned Cajun Christmas. The final ad we see for Father Loves Beaver, is so brutally unsubtle it is basically a single entendre, which makes me laugh every time I see it, of course.
It’s then revealed that we’re seeing a bunch of television executives huddled around watching the promos for the various Christmas specials from the IBC television network. “Show me the Scrooge promo”, demands Frank (a sinister and slightly mullety Bill Murray). After seeing an upbeat and star studded (Jamie Farr, Mary Lou Retton and The Solid Gold Dancers) promo for a live adaptation of the “Charles Dickens classic”, Frank turns on the assembled suits and shouts “Oh my gosh does that suck… Now I have to kill all of you!”. After Bobcat Goldthwait (in possibly one of the strangest ever casting choices as a quiet and timid employee), points out that people already want to watch the show, Frank shouts “That’s not good enough! They have got to be so scared to miss it. So terrified!” What then follows is the Scrooge promo that Frank has made which features a menacing voiceover, with accompanying violent imagery: “Acid rain. Drug addiction. International terrorism. Freeway killers. Now more than ever it is important to remember the true meaning of Christmas. Don’t miss Charles Dickens immortal classic Scrooge… Your life might just depend on it”.
It should probably be noted that we have now seen the best passage of the film. The first five minutes of Scrooged are so strong and so perfectly executed that even the most successful parts of the film to follow don’t really measure up. It’s an interesting film to revisit, because even though I’ve seen it several times before, my expectations from the opening are so high that when I reach the film’s dire conclusion it always comes as a surprise. Anyway, following this scene the film rather laboriously establishes Frank as Scrooge, as he: Sacks Bobcat Goldthwait just before Christmas for questioning him and timing how quickly security can eject him from the building (“four minutes and forty seconds!”), demands that his assistant Grace remove the picture her son had drawn off the wall because “it’s crap” and doesn’t let her take her son to a doctor’s appointment because he wants to work late and decides what present (VCR or towel) to give to people based on what he can get out of them. Just for good measure his brother (played by Murray’s brother John) asks him “Frank, you don’t like Christmas do you?” and although he doesn’t say “Bah, humbug”, he does say “It’s a crock. It’s for kids”.
So the basic premise is set up: We have a present day Scrooge putting on a live presentation of Scrooge. Although that doesn’t stop them from showing another five minute passage where he is horrible to a bunch of other people, doing things like pushing an old lady out of the way so he can steal her taxi… Just in case you missed the point that he wasn’t nice. This passage also shows the now destitute Bobcat, who has been thrown out of his house by his wife after losing his job and a whole “hilarious” subplot of him losing his bottles of whisky after a series of additional misfortunes befall him. We then learn that the Tiny Tim character is Grace’s son who has lost his ability to speak.
The film takes a turn to the supernatural as an old boss of Frank’s shows up as a decomposing corpse (with some nice practical makeup) warning Frank that it’s his “last chance”. The ghost then assaults him with a combination of physical and hallucinogenic terrors. When he regains consciousness his phone is dialling Karen Allen by itself and he leaves a confused message. The filmmakers then decide that they may have been a bit too subtle and decide that they really need to let us know that Frank isn’t very nice, so we are told via the headline “IBC Kills Old Woman” that a woman was literally scared to death by Frank’s Scrooge promo, to which he responds “This is terrific”, before suggesting that one of the props people staple antlers to a mouse’s head as a solution to them falling off. Karen Allen shows up on the Scrooge set and leaves after Frank is incapable of completing their conversation due to a combination of loud on set carpentry and his anger. This scene serves several purposes: Firstly, to set up the “hilarious” recurring joke of the multiple serious injuries received by the in studio network censor overseeing the production, secondly to gratuitously show some nipples, but mostly for me to wonder why Karen Allen wasn’t in more movies… She should have been a huge star.
Frank is informed over a meal with the head of the network played by Robert Mitchum (who is fine in the role, I guess, maybe he just had nothing better to do for a few days) that this chap Brice has been assigned to assist him on the Scrooge production. Frank thinks that Brice is there to take his job and I initially thought based on his clothes, haircut and demeanour that we were supposed to hate Brice, but in retrospect, he’s perfectly decent and I think he was maybe meant to be an average 80s guy and the fact was that everyone looked and sounded like a douche then. Frank starts to lose his grip on reality in the restaurant, hallucinating an eyeball in his drink and a waiter on fire (which is followed by a rather bizarre Richard Pryor joke that surely must have seemed like a bad idea at the time, it certainly does now).
As Frank flees the restaurant in fear and despair, the film starts to pick up again, as it moves more firmly into a cleverly updated version of the basic premise of The Christmas Carol story. Frank is picked up in a taxi driven by The Ghost Of Christmas Past, who has taken the form of a wisecracking, cigar smoking cabbie. After grabbing a bottle of booze out of Bobcat’s hand as he speeds past, the taxi disappears into a fog (in a shot which I’m pretty sure is a direct steal from Taxi Driver) and appears out the front of Frank’s childhood home. We are then shown a four year old Frank obsessed with television and receiving a large amount of veal as his Christmas present from his father who is a butcher. We then see his history with Karen Allen, meeting one Christmas, in a happy relationship the next and broken up on a third when Frank put his career first (“You left Claire for Frisbee the Dog?”).
Back in the present we are shown “Operation Reach Out” where Claire volunteers helping the homeless. Frank shows up tries to help, but basically just ends up being an asshole and leaves, telling Claire she’s wasting her time and “If you want to save somebody save yourself”. Back on the set of Scrooge, the crew take a break and all of the lights go out in the studio. We then see an “angel” floating down who lands next to Frank before kicking him in the balls and punching him in the face. Carol Kane is superb as The Ghost Of Christmas Present, who as part of “The Ballbreaker Suite” is constantly kicking and punching Frank to emphasise her points. We learn that Grace’s son hasn’t spoken since he saw his father killed, that Frank’s brother when asked why he bothers trying to reach out to Frank says “He’s my brother…” and says a toast to him. He then sees one of the homeless people he spoke to at “Operation Reach Out” frozen to death.
Frank then finds himself back on set and knocks over some of the set, again “hilariously” injuring the censor. The Ghost Of Christmas Future (looking a lot like Death from Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life) is momentarily stopped from apprehending him as Bobcat appears with a shotgun threatening to kill Frank. As Frank flees he falls into an elevator thrilled to be alive, until he is taken away by the Ghost Of Christmas Future. In this future we see Grace’s son in an asylum, Claire bitter and angry over her “wasted years” thanking Frank for telling her to “save herself” and Frank’s lonely funeral as only his brother and sister in law are there. Frank is then in the casket being burnt alive, which is somewhat intense for a Christmas movie. Sadly, they may well have been a preferable ending to what follows…
Frank comes to in the elevator as he sees Bobcat pointing a gun at him, but he is now a changed man. Jumping up Frank kisses him and promises “I’ll hire you back on twice your salary”, on the proviso that he takes the shotgun and holds everyone in the studio hostage. This doesn’t seem the best plan. The rest of the movie is absolutely excruciating. Bill Murray delivers a seemingly endless monologue filled with inanities such as “It’s Christmas Eve! It’s… it’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we… we… we smile a little easier, we… w-w-we… we… we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be!”. I like to assume it was ad libbed, because it’s sad to think of someone sitting down and deliberating over dialogue that is so painfully dim-witted.
Possibly the worst of it comes when Bill Murray starts to get everyone singing “Put A Little Love In Your Heart”, the Annie Lennox and Al Green song written for the film and starts talking to the audience in the cinema to get them to sing along. I remember how embarrassing this was to watch in the stony silence of a cinema when it came out, but it’s even more so sitting at home by myself with a glass of wine… Where I’m left thinking, this was meant to be a live TV broadcast, imagine what it would be like if this deranged lunatic had actually hijacked a live television special with a shotgun and started ranting directly into the camera about getting people to sing “Now just the women… No the real women”.
Apparently after this act of terrorism everything turns out alright… The mute kiddie says “God bless us, everyone”, possibly regaining the ability to talk either out of sheer terror or as a result of Stockholm Syndrome, the much injured censor is at peace after sexually assaulting a bound and gagged Brice and Frank and Claire get back together, well until they lock Frank up in either a prison or an asylum. Scrooged has some great moments and surprisingly for a Christmas comedy film it has some really well played out moments of horror. However, the ending is so excruciating to watch it’s certainly a difficult film to recommend. I give it three out of nine reindeer.