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Scrooge U: Part XVII -- "Scrooged" puts satirical spin on holiday favorite

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Scrooge U: Part XVII -- "Scrooged" puts satirical spin on holiday favorite

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You know, when you think about it, "A Christmas Carol" has contributed many memorable phrases to our holiday vernacular. These include:

  • "Bah, Humbug!"
  • "God bless us, every one!"

And, of course, my personal favorite:

  • "The b*tch hit me with a toaster."

Wait a minute. That last line (I'm pretty sure) didn't come from the authentic Dickens. But -- rather -- Paramount Pictures' 1988 darkly comic riff on this holiday favorite, "Scrooged."

Copyright 1999 Paramount Home Entertainment

This big budget comedy stars Bill Murray as Frank Cross, the youngest network president in the history of television. And with just hours 'til Frank's network broadcasts a $40 million dollar live version of "A Christmas Carol," this anxious executive is having the holiday season from Hell.

What's the problem? Well -- for starters -- Preston Rhinelander (Robert Mitchum), the owner of IBC has begun giving Frank some very odd programming notes. About how their network should begin folding in content that will entice the viewers of tomorrow. Which -- according to the research study that Rhinelander just commissioned -- will include house cats.

And then there's Bryce Cummings (John Glover), the LA slimeball who Preston has just hired to serve as a consultant for IBC. Who's clearly already gunning for Cross' job.

Copyright 1999 Paramount Home Entertainment

And as if all this weren't bad enough ... Who now appears in Frank's office but the ghost of his old boss, Lew Hayward (John Forsythe). Hayward's there to warn Cross that he has to change his ways. But when Lew tries to tell Frank about the three spirits who will soon be visiting him, the harried television exec brushes his old boss off. Saying that " ... Tomorrow's bad for me, Lew, and the rest of the week is a wash-out."

So -- in order to get Cross' attention -- Hayward magically pushes the executive through a plate glass window, then dangles him out over 57th Street.

Copyright 1999 Paramount Home Entertainment

This -- of course -- totally freaks Frank out. In a blind panic, he reaches out to an old girl friend, Claire Phillips (Karen Allen). Who turns up the very next morning at IBC headquarters to check up on Cross. Just in time to find Frank (Who's now attempting to follow up on Rhinelander's order to add more cat-friendly content to the network's line-up) consulting with a stagehand about the very best way to attach a tiny set of antlers to a mouse's head.

Copyright 1999 Paramount Home Entertainment

And -- as it turns out -- Claire has good reason to be worried about Frank. Given that Cross soon finds himself trapped in a cab that's being driven by the Ghost of Christmas Past (David Johansen).

Copyright 1999 Paramount Home Entertainment

Who first take Frank back to 1955, where he reminds the TV exec about his cold, miserable childhood. Where Cross' only friend seemed to be the family's television set.

Next these two time-travel to the late 1970s. Where Frank -- in order to further his career in broadcasting -- spurns Claire's holiday plans so that he can then have dinner with his boss at the network, Lew Hayward.

Copyright 1999 Paramount Home Entertainment

Next up is the Ghost of Christmas Present (Carol Kane). Who uses the aforementioned toaster as well as her fists in an attempt to knock some sense (or should I say compassion?) into this severely self-centered television executive.

The Ghost of Christmas Present first has Frank peek in on his secretary, Grace Cooley (Alfre Woodard). Who's been struggling to find a doctor who can properly treat her son. Who seems to be teetering on the edge of autism.

Copyright 1999 Paramount Home Entertainment

Then the Ghost of Christmas Present reminds Cross of the panhandler (Michael J. Pollard) that he stiff-armed earlier in the day. Who was only asking for two dollars so that he could then have a nice, warm place to spend the night.

Well, Frank is then confronted with the now-frozen body of this same panhandler. Who -- because Cross couldn't see his way clear to giving this man a measly two bucks -- wound up dying of exposure.

Copyright 1999 Paramount Home Entertainment

Now the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be arrives on the scene. Where he shows Cross that -- because Grace was unable to get proper medical attention for her son -- the poor kid wound up being institutionalized. And Frank -- because he treated the people in his life so miserably -- winds up dying alone. With only a handful of people attending his funeral.

It's this last revelation that really gets to Frank. He actually grabs the handle of his own coffin and tries to stop the box as it begins to roll into the oven at the crematorium.

Copyright 1999 Paramount Home Entertainment

But then -- in the fine "Christmas Carol" tradition -- Cross finds out that he's not actually dead. That he's been given a second chance. Which -- to be frank -- Frank's going to need. Given that he's now being pursued by Elliot Loudermilk (Bobcat Goldthwait), a crazed IBC executive that Cross fired earlier in the day.

But after wrestling the loaded shotgun out of Elliot's hands, Frank now conspires with his former employee to hijack the network's live broadcast of "A Christmas Carol." Where Cross now steps in front of the camera to issue an impassioned plea about ... Well, compassion.

Copyright 1999 Paramount Home Entertainment

Here's a few choice excerpts from Frank's speech:

It's Christmas Eve. It's the one night that we act a little nicer. We smile a little easier. We cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped that we would be.

You know, it's not too late on Christmas Eve to have fun. You can call people that you haven't seen. You can call an old college roommate. You can call an old Army buddy. You can call your personal banker.

You have to do something. You have to take a chance. You have to get involved. There are people who are having trouble making their miracle happen. 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 say "Here." You can make 'em a sandwich. And say "Oh, by the way, here."

And as this movie ends, Claire & Frank have reunited. And though Cross' career at IBC may now be in jeopardy, at least this harried TV exec has finally managed to reconnect with the human race.

Okay. I know. "Scrooged" isn't a perfect film. It has a lot of trouble when it comes to tone. It keeps lurching from being this incredibly black comic satire about how the television industry operates to this heartfelt look at a guy who's really lost his way in life and then back again.

More to the point, the screenplay that Mitch Glazer & Michael O'Donoghue wrote for "Scrooged" has some real problems. For starters, it tries to hit too many targets. And then there's the redundancy. I mean, was it really necessary to have two Bob Crachit characters (I.E. Grace Cooley & Elliot Loudermilk) in this movie?

But -- that said -- during those long stretches in "Scrooged" where this film is actually firing on all cylinders, it's an immensely entertaining motion picture with a great cast & some very funny dialogue.

What's that you say? In this review, I talked all about "Scrooged" (the movie) but didn't once mention that loopy version of "A Christmas Carol" that IBC was supposed to be broadcasting live on Christmas Eve?

Well, just follow this link to a bonus JHM article. Which takes an in-depth look at that aspect of this Paramount Pictures release.

Your thoughts?

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  • I've always enjoyed this particular version for some reason. Its a laugh, as you say and although the closing speech is laboured in the extreme, it just about gets through. It'll probably mean more than a traditional telling to todays generation. Occasionally though, it does have some really  chilling moments - the death of Harry's friend from the refuge is one and then his own cremation are both scenes that work better for being updated.

    By the way, the films release date was Christmas 1988, not 1991.

  • I have so many fond childhood memories of this one!  And it's even on the Family channel this weekend, huzzah!

  • Now this is a great one! I always managed to catch it on TV, and I made a point of getting the DVD as soon as it was released down here, even though it was a slim edition without the classic Brazilian dubbing.

    But as far as adaptations go, this is the best non-classic one. And you gotta love Bill Murray.

  • Great movie!

    David Johansen/Disney connection:

    David Johansen (Buster Poindexter, New York Dolls) sings a song from The Little Mermaid.  Not sure of the title right now but I have the CD single.  Only reason I bought it was because he sings on it.

  • How does he want to attatch the antlers to the mouses head?

    "Did you try staples?"

    It was absolutely necessary to have two Bob Chrachit characters in the movie.  The Grace Cooley character gave the movie its needed Tiny Tim and essentially gave the scenes that Crachit had in the book and the other incarnations of the story.  The Elliot Loudermilk character was just another funny character.  It was less Crachit and more just an angry embittered employee.  Besides, he had one of the funniest psychotic deliveries of "Hello Wabbit" I have ever heard.  

  • And don't forget the incredibly sick and wrong TV shows that were supposed the same night of the Christmas Carol.  

    "The Night the Reindeer Died" Starring Lee Majors as the Six Million Dollar Man

    "Robert Goulet's Cajun Christmas" where Goulet is being pursued by a hungry alligator.

    And don't forget the truly sick and evil promo for the Christmas Carol that Frank shows after watching the happy family friendly version which results int he death of an old lady from how horrified she was after watching it.  

    "Oh my gosh, does that stink. We've spent $40 million on a live TV show, you guys have got an ad with America's favorite old fart reading a book in front of a fireplace! Now, I have to kill all of you!"  

  • >>"Okay. I know. "Scrooged" isn't a perfect film. It has a lot of trouble when it comes to tone. It keeps lurching from being this incredibly black comic satire about how the television industry operates to this heartfelt look at a guy who's really lost his way in life and then back again."<<

    It was right about this time in his 80's career--some time after his good actor reviews for "Tootsie", and before he sank into "Garfield" paycheck roles and retired to art films--that Bill Murray wanted to be a Serious Actor.  Unfortunately, nobody went to see "Razor's Edge" (which he'd only agreed to do "Ghostbusters" as part of the deal to fund), so he spent his time trying to get Serious Moments into all the big-studio comedies he did take.   (Eg., when he can't revive the homeless character in "Groundhog Day")

    As a result, the rare moments the movie isn't trying to throw wacky Mr. Mike TV jokes at us, it's actually a pretty well-meaning Dickens updating--Such as young Scrooge having sitcom memories instead of Robinson Crusoe, or having a kids' show as his first Fezziwig job...And when he gets the equivalent of "If Tim should die, perhaps he'd better do it...", Murray's Scrooge responds with a hurt "That was uncalled for!"  It's one of the few good Serious-Bill moments before we lurch back to Bob Goldthwait with a gun.  -_-

    (And yeah, Nub, we did need two Cratchits--One for the "picked-on" gags, and one for the self-righteous family stuff...And Alfre Woodward NEVER takes a role unless she can be the Lone Font of Angry Self-Righteousness.)

  • I love "Scrooged". It's far from perfect, but Bill Murray is so great in it and it does a better job of reinventing "A Christmas Carol" than do some other versions IMO.

  • I love the promo Bill Murray wants to run for the show, with a nuclear blast and (something akin to) the line "Watch Scrooge because your life may depend on it." Classic.

  • Jim Hill continues his look at the many movie & television adaptations of Charles Dickens' holiday tale. This time around, Jim talks about a 1993 episode of the "Alvin & the Chipmunks" TV series. Which borrows just enough ideas from this classic story

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