Scrooged (Richard Donner, 1988)

FRANK CROSS AIN’T AFRAID OF NO GHOSTS!

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddAfter squaring off against a city full of spooks and specters four years earlier in Ghostbusters, Bill Murray returns in Richard Donner’s Scrooged to face four ghosts intent on abusing the Christmas spirit into him.  This side-splitting take-off on “A Christmas Carol” transports Charles Dickens’ tale of holiday bitterness to 1980s New York and the cynical world of network television.  Frank Cross (Murray) has made the meteoric rise from the depths of the mail-room to TV network president, and has become a modern-day Scrooge in the process – mean, nasty, uncaring, unforgiving.  But on the night of the network’s live Christmas Eve special, Cross will be visited by a maniacal cab driver from the past, a sweetly sadistic fairy from the present, and a towering messenger from the future.

A cult favorite of Christmas counter-programming (until its sing-a-long climax), Scrooged boasts a hilarious starring performance by Bill Murray and an all-star supporting cast that includes Karen Allen, Bobcat Goldthwait, Alfre Woodard, John Forsythe, Robert Mitchum, Carol Kane, David Johansen, John Houseman, Buddy Hackett, Robert Goulet, and Lee Majors.  Yule love it!

Special Features:

  • New High Definition digital transfer
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation
  • Original Stereo 2.0 and 5.1 Dolby Surround options
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Audio Commentary with director Richard Donner
  • Bill Murray’s message from the ShoWest exhibitors convention
  • Five new featurettes – “A Christmas to Remember,” “Updating Ebenezer,” “Bringing Ghosts to Life,” “The Look of Scrooged,” and the two-part “On the Set with Bill Murray”
  • “Put A Little Love in Your Heart” music video featuring Annie Lennox and Al Green
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • TV Spots
  • Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film, illustrated with original archive stills and posters

While the Christmas canon has expanded from It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946) and White Christmas (Michael Curtiz, 1954) to include contemporary classics like A Christmas Story (Bob Clark, 1983), National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Jeremiah S. Chechik, 1989), and Elf (John Favreau, 2003), Richard Donner’s Scrooged (1988) has remained at the periphery of favourite festive flicks.  Donner’s film was subject to middling reviews (to be generous) and proved a modest commercial success (short of a blockbuster).  In the years since its release and in the wake of Bill Murray’s post-millennial ascension to patron saint of pop cultural hipsterdom, Scrooged has gradually developed into the holiday film of choice for those select few looking for a healthy dose of ’80s cynicism in their Christmas epiphanies.

Scrooged transposes the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” to the skyscrapers of New York City, transforming him into the IBC network’s jaded, avaricious executive, Frank Cross (Murray).  Cross (that is, “A thing people are nailed to.“) subscribes to a win-at-all-costs cruelty that has him dispense corporate bath towels as bonuses, terminate employees with contrary opinions on Christmas Eve, delight in a terrifyingly lethal advertising campaign for his network’s Christmas special, and scrape the bottom of the barrel with holiday programming like Bob Goulet’s Old Fashioned Cajun Christmas and the Lee Majors-meets-Santa shoot ’em-up, The Night The Reindeer Died.

That Christmas Eve TV special is a particularly Grinchy idea, a live reenactment of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” featuring Buddy Hackett as Scrooge, “America’s favorite old fart,” Sir John Houseman, narrating at fireside, and an oddly encompassing cast that includes Jamie Farr, Marie Lou Retton, and the Solid Gold Dancers.  Undeterred at making his staff and crew work on Christmas, Cross barrels ahead, suggesting that antlers be stapled on the heads of mice and that the nipples peeking out from the top of his dancers’ outfits are holiday appropriate.  For Frank, Christmas is about little more that satisfying the pet interests (literally) of the network’s owner (Robert Mitchum), defending his job from a slick, West Coast executive (John Glover), and expanding IBC’s market share.

Concerned by the shallowness and materialism of Cross’s life, the ghost of his former boss, Lew Hayward (a putrid and decaying John Forsythe), visits Frank to caution him on his ways and forewarn him of visits by three ghosts.  The first of these, the Ghost of Christmas Past, is a stogie-puffing, cab-driving elf played by New York Doll David Johansen, who breaks Frank down with visions of a decidedly non-festive childhood and the loss of his one true love, Claire Phillips (Karen Allen), to the allure of a rising television career.  Sam Kinison was originally intended for the Ghost’s role, but the part eventually went to Murray’s musician friend.  Carol Kane nearly steals the entire film as The Ghost of Christmas Present, playing a dainty fairy who happily reveals to Cross the challenges faced by his struggling assistant, Grace Cooley (Alfre Woodard), and the devotion of his repeatedly denied brother, James (played by Bill’s brother, John Murray), while beating the TV exec senseless with crotch-shots and the occasional assault with a small appliance.  Kane reportedly hated roughing up Murray in these scenes, a concern no doubt aggravated by her tearing Bill’s lip and halting filming for a few days as a result.  The Ghost of Christmas Future, a grimmest of reapers complete with a television screen face that throws Frank’s career back at him in nightmarish form, discloses a punishing future where Cross’s lack of compassion leaves him dead and generally unmourned, and those in contact with him left jaded and worse off.

Frank eventually sees the light, commandeering the live special’s broadcast to proclaim his new found Christmas spirit.  He reunites with Claire, who functions as an elaborated Belle, Scrooge’s lost fiancée.  Frank also makes good on his Bob Cratchit-figures, rehiring Eliot Loudermilk (Bobcat Goldthwait) just before he murders Cross in an office rampage and inspiring Grace’s Tiny Tim-esque son to finally speak, uttering those iconic words, “God bless us, everyone.”  Some critics complain about a hollowness in Scrooged‘s conclusion, a forced feeling that requires the film to wrap itself up in the embrace of “goodwill to all men” and leaves us missing Frank Cross’s jaded edge, but we find the film entirely moving.  From the moment that Frank’s scowl melts into a half-smile when he first sees Claire on set, we know that there’s a generous human being inside Cross that will eventually emerge from his cynical façade.  Each trial he faces sends Frank back to Claire for comfort and support, and it’s inevitable that he will eventually live up to being the man she sees him as.  Murray’s star persona helps that transition, managing to still carry enough smugness and irony into his final Yuletide testimonial to not drown in holiday cheer.  If anything, Murray’s willingness to ham it up makes Frank’s transition from evil egomaniac to benevolent egomaniac completely coherent and thoroughly entertaining.

It is remarkable that despite all the names we’ve dropped thus far in the fabulous actors and performers that appear in Scrooged, still more require comment.  All three of Bill Murray’s brothers (John Murray, Joel Murray, and Brian Doyle-Murray) appear in the film, making it something of a family project.  Another trio deserving comment are a group of homeless shelter patrons, played ably by Michael J. Pollard, Anne Ramsey, and Logan Ramsey, who seem convinced that Frank Cross is, in fact, the thespian Richard Burton, inspiring Murray’s ridiculously entertaining impression of the Welsh star.  Keen-eyed viewers will even notice a band of street musicians made up of Miles David, Paul Schaffer, David Sanborn, and Larry Carlton, as well as minor roles for Wendie Malick, Mabel King, Lester Wilson, Kathy Kinney, Rebeca Arthur, Pat McCormick, and Roy Brocksmith.  Scrooged has a depth of cast and performance that is truly staggering and each performer makes their own peculiar contribution to Donner’s film.  If I had to pick my own favourite moment, it would be Johansen channeling his best Buster Poindexter when shouting with an audience full of children, “It’s a bone, you lucky dog!”  (For the record, my wife maintains that Bill Murray’s wipe-out while trying to leave a lunch with Cross’s boss and his eventual replacement stands as the most entertaining pratfall ever.)

Scrooged PosterWith a Blu-ray edition of Scrooged already released and still available, the title might seem like an unusual choice for Arrow Video’s new North American library.  Arrow Video UK has its share of ’80s snark amongst its titles, and so Scrooged, as a kind of horror comedy (ghosts, decaying bodies, etc.), doesn’t seem out of keeping with the label.  In fact, the film’s use of visual effects and extensive make-up (for which the film was nominated for an Oscar) make it easily comparable to other horror and sci-fi films of the period in Arrow Video’s catalogue.  What makes Scrooged a necessary title for an Arrow edition is the failure of Paramount to release the Yule Love It! Edition promised in August 2006.  The reason for this DVD never seeing store shelves has never been disclosed, although some suggest that Murray stood in the way, unhappy with film.  While Murray has reportedly stood in the way of a third Ghostbusters film for some time, threw Garfield under the bus before returning a second time, and got himself on the outs for the Charlie’s Angels sequel, we don’t want to believe that the great Bill Murray would deny us a deluxe edition of this brilliant film.  Rather, we’d prefer to hope that the special features announced for the Yule Love It! Edition remain out there for some willing boutique label to snap up and showcase in a spine numbered edition of its own.  Arrow Video North America is only starting define itself and its catalogue, and no major studio titles have yet been announced by the brand on this side of the Pacific, but we can hope those deals will be struck for deserving films like Scrooged and we can all put a little more Bill Murray under our trees.

Happy holidays, everybody!  See you next year!

Credits:  The audio commentary, Bill Murray’s message at ShoWest, and the four featurettes were all announced as part of the Yule Love It! Edition that went unreleased by Paramount.  Thanks to the DVDizzy.com for their Blu-ray review providing details of this lost edition of Scrooged, and further thanks to Clarence Wash for his trivia filled post on the film.  We’ve added the Annie Lennox and Al Green music video and various advertising spots to round out an Arrow Video package.

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