At 25: “Scrooged”

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November 23, 2013 by billysparrow

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Scrooged
Released: November 23, 1988
Starring: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, Alfre Woodard, Bobcat Goldthwait, Carol Kane, David Johansen, John Forsythe, Robert Mitchum, John Glover

Here’s another reason to not like me (do you have room for just one more?): I have never seen “A Christmas Story.” Also, I’m not 100% sure I have seen “It’s A Wonderful Life” all the way through (maybe once?). And though I’m reasonably confident I’ve seen “Miracle on 34th Street,” I can’t recall a thing about it.

So, I might not be the foremost authority on Christmas movies (though I can quote liberally from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” which, let’s be honest, is the only Christmas movie that matters). But I am still baffled as to why “Scrooged” doesn’t have a higher ranking in the Christmas movie pantheon. It’s an interesting take on “A Christmas Carol” with Carol Kane, Miles Davis (well, for a few seconds), Mabel King (Mrs. Thomas from “What’s Happening!!!”), David Johansen, Bobcat Goldthwait, and Bill Freakin’ Murray. Need I say more?

Too bad. I’m going to anyway.

Actually, one of the people who thinks “Scrooged” doesn’t deserve to be mentioned among the holiday classics happens to be one of the movie’s writers, the late, great Michael O’Donoghue (I highly recommend Dennis Perrin’s O’Donoghue biography Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O’Donoghue). Actually, that might be an understatement. His actual assessment (as told to Premiere and relayed in the Perrin book) was as follows: “The film was a piece of unadulterated, unmitigated shit. I’ve seen that picture once, and I’ll never see it again.”

So, yeah, he wasn’t a fan. In the same article, he said “only about 40 percent” of what he and cowriter Mitch Glazer wrote made it to the final product. But you can tell what at least some of the 40 percent was. For example, the beginning of the movie, which might be one of the greatest movie opens of all time, had to have come from the warped mind of O’Donoghue.

And Mr. Mike definitely had a hand in the commercial that Frank Cross (Bill Murray) creates to promote “Scrooge” (which, later in the movie, leads to an 80-year-old woman having a heart attack, much to Cross’s delight).

While “Scrooged” was not as sharp (and probably not as dark) as O’Donoghue might have wanted, there’s just too much good in it to warrant the “unadulterated, unmitigated shit” label. First of all, there’s Staten Island’s own David Johansen as The Ghost of Christmas Past, showing that a lounge singer is only one of the roles he can excel at playing.

And he’s not even the best ghost in the movie. That would be Carol Kane, who nearly steals the movie as The Ghost of Christmas Present.

Has there ever been something that hasn’t been improved with the inclusion of Carol Kane? Is such a thing even possible?

Johansen and Kane are the definite highlights among the supporting cast, though Bobcat Goldthwait, Alfre Woodard, and Michael S. Pollard offer strong contributions, too. And Anne Ramsey (aka Momma from “Throw Momma From the Train”) makes one of her final film appearances (she died a few months before the movie was released).

Of course, a solid supporting cast is of little good without a noteworthy performance at the top. And Bill Murray is pretty great in the lead. Playing Scrooge is a tough assignment, as you have to be a heinous douchebag (I really have that Dickensian touch, no?) for most of the movie but still be likable enough at the end for people to care about your redemption. And Murray succeeds as far as I’m concerned, and I still get a kick out of his redemption speech at the end of the movie. According to Perrin’s book, Murray was worried he wouldn’t be able to pull this final scene off and wound up improvising most of it. Glazer (who thought Murray was having a breakdown) and O’Donoghue (whom Perrin quotes as saying at the end of Murray’s speech, “What was that? The Jim Jones Hour?”) seemed less impressed than I am. Fair enough. But (SPOILER ALERT) when the kid interrupts at the end, Niagara Falls. I’m an easy mark.

So, while I understand O’Donoghue’s issues with “Scrooged,” I still think it deserves to be considered a holiday classic. I’ll put it a solid #2 behind “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” Of course, I can’t think of what’s #3, but let’s not split hairs.

And God bless us everyone.

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One thought on “At 25: “Scrooged”

  1. […] middle of what might be the strongest five-year period of Murray’s movie career. First came “Scrooged” in 1988, followed by, I guess, the biggest disappointment of the period, “Ghostbusters […]

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