Remakes or modernisations is something Hollywood has treated movie goers to for decades and it’s safe to say that Charles Dickens festive classic, ‘A Christmas Carol’ has probably been retold in various different ways (step forward The Muppet Christmas Carol) but Richard Donner’s Scrooged is something truly special.
Scrooged opens with a trailer for the movie, “The Night The Reindeer Died” complete with Santa and his Elves armed with machine guns starring 80’s star Lee Majors. As the trailer ends, we are introduced to Frank Cross played by Bill Murray.
He is the youngest President in the history of Television Station IBC and he is preparing an extravagant live production of A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve while forcing the network’s staff, including his assistant Grace Cooley, to work on the holiday. He is cold, cruel, arrogant and ruthless, within the first ten minutes of the movie he fires caring employee Eliot Loudermilk, and rips his assistant young son’s painting off the wall “for being crap”.
Being The President of IBC at Christmas it’s his busiest time, when asked, “you don’t like Christmas much do you?”, he responds,”I love it, it’s cold, people stay home and watch television and ad revenues go up 30%…I’m the biggest fan of Christmas!”. It’s a cold and realistic outlook at what is supposed to be the world’s happiest time, but it’s a sentiment that nowadays is shared by the population even in the Eighties.
And on this night he is visited by his old boss, his deceased boss that is, Lew Hayward, who warns that he will be visited by three Ghosts and after his altercation with Lew, this causes Frank to phone lost love Claire Phillips who now works at a Homeless Shelter.
The arrival of the Ghost of Christmas Past, he isn’t your average ghost as he sarcastically belittles the arrogant Frank throughout their meeting. He takes the form of a Taxi Driver when he forces Frank back to the past, 1955 in fact, and then between 1968 to 1971 when he first meets Claire and forces Frank to admit it was his fault that the relationship ended when he chose his career over love.
Returning back to the present he meets Claire and within minutes when confronted with Claire’s work colleagues he returns back to his old ways and loses Claire again, this time adding the scalding remark, “Scrape them off Claire” when referring to the homeless.
As he returns back to work, it’s time for the visit of The Ghost of Christmas Present. Presented as cute and soft spoken Pixie, the Ghost of the Christmas Present is downright vicious, with the adage, ”Sometimes you have to slap people in the face to get their attention”. (seriously Cross is hit with a toaster to the face by the Pixie and impact that still gives me the same reaction to this day).
This Ghost shows him of the trials his assistant has to go through after the death of her husband, raising her family and seeing doctors for her son Calvin who has remained mute ever since his father’s death. Afterwards she lets him see the fun his brother and his friends are having. His brother toasts Frank even though he never takes him up on his offer to join them at Christmas. But the fun and ease drops suddenly as an anvil as Frank is dumped on the pavement and confronted by the frozen body of Herman, a homeless man Frank ignored earlier.
Throughout the story, Frank’s boss Preston has hired Brice Cummings, who is after Frank’s job and fearing that Frank is having a mental breakdown puts Brice in charge. Sulking in his office Frank is confronted by a psychotic Elliot armed with a shotgun, who since losing his job, lost his house, his girlfriend and now broke because of Frank wants revenge. After being shot at, Frank runs to the Elevator where the Ghost of Christmas Future is waiting for him.
It’s a grim future that is presented before him as Claire becomes as cold-hearted as him, Calvin will be committed to a mental institution and his funeral is only attended by James and his wife. Just as he watches the casket cremating, he is projected inside and burning alive but as quickly as he was burning he is brought back to reality. Thankful that he is alive he recruits Elliot, re-hiring him with a bigger office and the two begin to interrupt the live broadcast of A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve.
On the live show he apologises to James and then to Claire, “There is a girl who I wish I was with tonight that I loved a long time ago, a girl that I still love, it’s Christmas Eve it’s not too late is it? Claire, do you remember…” within seconds she is hailing a taxi, that taxi being The Ghost of Christmas Past who takes her directly to the floor of the building.
Next, Frank is talking directly to the camera, and I believe to everyone watching the movie, “there are people who don’t have enough to eat, there are people who are cold, you can go out and say hello to these people. You can take an old blanket out of the closet and go to them and say ‘Here!’, you can make them a sandwich and say ‘oh by the way, here!’ and just as he finishes Calvin speaks for the first time in five years, reminding Frank of the final lines of the show “God bless us, everyone.” Then Claire joins Frank, reunited and everyone sings “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”, while Lew and the other Ghosts, including Herman, look on from above, happy at Franks transformation.
To me personally, Scooged has everything in a Christmas movie, in other hands this movie could have been too cheesy or even too harsh even by the standards of the late Eighties, but it’s the incredible acting by Bill Murray who was at his peak that electrifies the movie above simple standards. It means a lot to me this movie does, as most Christmas’s growing up I’d see the coldness of people even at a young age and then I would be working throughout the Christmas holidays to Christmas Eve (even when in School) and back at work early Boxing day knowing that people’s cold attitude’s never changed, especially at Boxing Day sales. But I still get the tears, (I’ll admit it) when Bill Murray hits with this speech, and it’s something that rings true even now.
“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!”