There have probably been more movies made of A Christmas Carol than any other classic story. Many have the original Charles Dickens setting. Some have modern settings. Scrooged uses a unique setting and format. The format and having Bill Murray playing the character of the person who gets the Ebenezer Scrooge treatment sets Scrooged apart from the other Christmas Carol adaptations.
While other comedic actors have played the “Ebenezer Scrooge” role they normally play the role straight.[i] Bill Murray gave the move the full Bill Murray Treatment. How much someone likes Scrooged probably depends on how they feel about Bill Murray. Roger Ebert gave Scrooged one star. He wrote “This entire production seems to be in dire need of visits from the ghosts of Christmas.”[ii] The MPAA rated this movie PG-13 and the UK rating is PG. There is foul language and some gore. This article contains spoilers.
[i] Jim Backus, Henry Winkler, and Jim Carey have played the Scrooge character in movies.
R RogerEbert.com, Scrooged, By Roger Ebert, November 23, 1998, Scrooged movie review & film summary (1988) | Roger Ebert, last accessed 11/11/21.
Story and Deviations
The film opens at the North Pole. Santa and Mrs. Clause are in the workshop with the elves. A bright flash approaches the workshop. Santa yells, “Incoming!”. There is an explosion and a ground assault. The workshop has a large arsenal of its own. Santa and the others arm themselves. Lee Majors shoots his way into the workshop. The announcer gives this promo’s pitch for The Night the Reindeer Died. Next is a promo for Bob Goulet’s Old-Fashioned Cajun Christmas. The trailer has Robert Goulet singing as he paddles a raft through a swamp. Frank Cross (Bill Murray) asks to see the promo for Scrooge. The promo has John Houseman sitting by a fireplace speaking about an airing of a live show performance of A Christmas Carol, titled “Scrooge”.
The promo doesn’t impress the network president, Frank Cross. Cross shows the employees at the meeting the promo he made. Meek employee Eliot Loudermilk (Bobcat Goldthwait) accurately described it as “looking like the Manson Family Christmas Special”.[i] Loudermilk sheepishly brought up his concerns to Cross. Cross seemed to accept his input. When Loudermilk left the room Cross told his secretary, Grace Cooley (Alfre Woodward), he was fired and gave her instructions on what action was to take. Grace reminds him it’s almost Christmas. Cross thanks her for reminding him and tells her to call accounting and tell them to cancel Loudermilk’s Christmas bonus.
Cross isn’t just heartless in his pursuit of success. He is obnoxious. He looks at those who celebrate Christmas as fools to be exploited. He gives out two items as Christmas gifts; a towel with the company logo and a VCR. The VCRs are for people who are of monetary value to him. The others, including Grace and his brother James (John Murray) get a towel.[ii]
Cross has other issues. “Scrooge” is more complicated than a live show. Other live events will be shown during the broadcast. His boss, Preston Rhinelander (Robert Mitchum), wants him to fit something for pets during the show. Bruce Cummings (John Glover) is brought in from the west coast to “assist” Cross. Cross correctly realizes Cummings is after his job.
Cross gets a nightly visit from his old boss, Lew Hayward (John Forsythe), who has been dead for five years. Hayward makes a dramatic entrance and Cross empties his handgun into him. Cross makes gunshot sounds when he runs out of bullets. There is the Three Stooges routine of showing liquor springing out of gunshot holes. Cross balks, and Hayward gives Cross a gory and terrifying demonstration.
Cross is to meet his first ghost at noon the next day. Before the ghost arrives Cross sees some strange happenings. Bruce Cummings and Preston Rhinelander are with him in a restaurant when Cross sees what no one else sees. Cummings takes this as a sign Cross is losing his mind and an opportunity to take over the production.
The Ghost of Christmas Past (David Johansen) arrives as a cab driver. The Ghost is in a typical New York taxi of times past and a stereotypical attitude of New York cabbies of times past. The meter shows the year and runs backwards to 1955. Cross sees his parents. He is taken to his first meeting with Claire Phillips (Karen Allen). A year later they are living together. Then Cross loses her when he chooses his career over a Christmas Eve dinner with their friends.
Cross finds himself on the “Scrooge” set during a dress reversal. He makes his way to Claire’s soup kitchen. He meets some of the homeless and some of the staff. He tells Claire the staff is incompetent. He tells Claire if she wants to save someone, she should save herself and Cross leaves with the obligatory “bah humbug”.
Cross comes back to the set and Cummings is running the production. When everyone leaves for a meal break the Ghost of Christmas Present (Carol Kane) appears. She slaps Cross around and takes him around to various people he knows. She leaves him in a very bad situation.
Cross is at the studio as “Scrooge” is ready to go live. Cross sees the play’s Ghost of Christmas Future and freaks out, in front of Bruce Cummings. The real Ghost of Christmas Future (Robert Hammond) is about to appear to Cross when a shotgun armed Loudermilk interrupts. Loudermilk is drunk, and a bad shot. Loudermilk chases Cross around the office. Loudermilk has Cross cornered when the elevator door opens. Cross is in the elevator with what he thinks is the stage ghost. A disturbing view under the cloak sets Cross right.
Cross sees some of the results of his action and inaction. He also sees his own funeral. Claire turns out just like Cross. Christmas Future convinces Cross he must change his ways. Loudermilk might not give Cross the opportunity. Cross convinces Loudermilk he has changed his ways. The ending is schmaltzy.
[i] The reference is to Charles Manson the infamous leader of a cult that went on a murder spree.
[ii] John Murray is Bill Murray’s brother. Bill Murray’s brother Brian Doyle-Murray plays Frank Cross’s father in 1955.
Future Predictions, Time Capsules, Disconnects
Live TV performances of classic movies became popular in recent years. There were live performances of The Sound of Music, Beauty and the Beast, and A Christmas Story. Preston Rhinelander made Cross add door mice to the play because he believed the network should begin programming for pets. Cross thought the idea was crazy. Now Ruku has some channels for cats and dogs.[i]
Scrooged depicted the ever-present smoking in America in the 1950s & 60s. This includes Frank’s mother, Doris (Lisa Mende), smoking while she’s pregnant with Frank’s brother James. Doris warning her son not to stay too close to the television set way typical of the time. There is the late ‘60s wild office party where one woman, bottle in hand, stands on a desk. Another woman (Rebeca Arthur) sat on a copier and passed out copies of the photostat to everyone.[ii] The employees were pairing off. The Scrooge promo showed acid rain and highway shootings. Acid raid was a hot topic in the early ‘80s. There was a spate of highway shootings in California in 1980. When Grace told Cross an elderly woman died of a heart attack while seeing the Scrooge promo, he considered it a stroke of luck. Incidents, such as heart attacks, while watching the movie Jaws (1975) and The Exorcist (1973) provided good publicity for these movies. The Ginsu knife set Frank gave Claire were sold by people calling in their order. Such infomercials were in their infancy at the time. The Ginsu knives and other such commercials were memorable.
The television show Solid Gold ran from 1980-1989. Is showed the top pop music songs for the previous week. The Solid Gold Dancers performed for the week’s top 10 hits. The last show aired in 1988. Cross has an illusion a waiter was on fire. Cross dumps water on him. When he realizes it was only an illusion Cross apologizes by saying he thought the waiter was Richard Prior. Richard Prior accidentally set himself on fire in 1980.[iii]
Scrooged requires a lot of suspension of disbelief. In reality Cross and Loudermilk would be facing charges that could give them 25 years to life. Scrooged shows some of the issues with remaking a classic in a current setting.
Eliot Loudermilk and Grace Cooley play Bob Cratchit like characters. Loudermilk makes for a good modern Bob Cratchit. He lacks social skills and is easily intimidated. He is the perfect victim for an abusive boss. His difficulty expressing himself would make it difficult to find a job equal to the job he had. The character works well in the late 20th century and today. Cooley is problematic. She is an executive secretary to the president of a major television network. She has been working in her job for at least a couple of years. Her position should earn her a good salary. The only reason for her to work for an obnoxious superior is if she’s paid well. Not giving her a Christmas bonus would be ample reason for her to look for another job. It’s established money could give her son a better chance of recovering from his mental condition. This would give Cooley more impetus to find a better paying job.
Claire’s decision to separate is difficult given the context. Frank is playing a dog in a children’s show. It’s Christmas Eve. The network president invites him to go out to dinner with him and he can also take Claire along. Claire expects Frank to turn down this golden opportunity to have face time with the network president so they could spend the evening with their friends. Lew Hayward was probably using this as an opportunity to size up Cross to see if he could move up in the network. Granted Frank could have presented the situation better to Claire. Claire should have realized turning down Hayward could have exiled Frank to a dead-end career at the network. Assuming her attitude didn’t change, she would have forced Frank to make similar judgement errors with executives at other companies.
[i] Roku introduces pet-friendly streaming remote, last accessed 12/1/21.
[ii] The photostats were relatively modest, it showed her wearing panties.
[iii] Richard Pryor joked about this incident in Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Robert Sacchi