A Chradvent Carolendar #12: Scrooged (1988)

I felt this one. I really felt it. The film’s about 1 hr 40 but it took me over 3 hours to watch because I had to keep pausing to breathe. Turns out that when you spend a full two weeks doing nothing but watching A Christmas Carol you get pretty fucking sick of it. Who’d have thought?

Scrooged (1988) is an average Bill Murray film and a poor ACC adaptation. The end.  

Fine, okIn Scrooged Bill Murray plays a mean spirited television executive who was born and bred in New York despite having a thick Chicago accent. It was directed by Richard Donner who did the original Superman.

The first thing I thought when watching the opening (below) is that this is the first big Hollywood film I’ve watched so far this month. The score, the showmanship, the production values, the terrible trite ending.

We start in the middle of a parody Christmas action movie starring Lee Majors, before immediately cutting away to Robert Goulet. If only Leonard Nimoy was narrating, could’ve had ourselves a hat trick.

Our Scrooge is Frank Cross. He is the youngest executive in television history which is convenient because that allows Bill Murray to play him. It’s not mentioned again.

He wields near omnipotent power over his board of executives. He shows them a recut trailer for a live televised version of Scrooge he’s producing and then fires Bobcat Goldthwaite for doing his job. What’s the point of employing people to have opinions if they can’t express their opinions? Maybe I’m being naive.

(Over the following 24 hours Bobcat Goldthwaite becomes an agitated homeless drunk who seeks revenge on Murray. This pays off when, given his job back at the end, he holds a room full of line producers hostage at gun point so Bill Murray can deliver a speech about the true meaning of Christmas. He gets his job back so he can help Bill Murray help him lose his job again? I think it’s meant to taken at face value.)

Murray also bodily harms his subordinate colleagues.

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He flicks Goldthwaite’s earlobe shortly after this

Bill Murray is a cartoon villain who never stops talking. He’s not acting, he’s behaving. There is no differentiation between his characters here and in Ghostbusters or Groundhog Day. I’m sure this is hugely entertaining but the effect of this is that it I have no idea if his character is good at his job. He also delivers every single line with a deadpan dry sarcasm that makes me doubt that he believes anything he’s saying. Is he bluffing? Does he hate his job? I have no idea what he’s thinking at any given point.

He also shouts a lot. He shouts when he’s angry, when he’s confused, when he’s stressed, when he’s trying to be intimidating, it’s exhausting.

There are lots of good jokes here and I won’t list them all. I like the fake 80s sitcom “Father Loves Beaver”, I like that they have Mary Lou Retten as a backflipping Tiny Tim in the movie-within-a-movie version of Scrooge. But all the fun vignettes are overshadowed by a strange, inconsistent tone that is half really grim and half irreverent ad libs.

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Best “do you believe me now” scare yet and a good demonstration of how inconsistent the film is. There is a point earlier in this scene where Bill Murray takes out a gun and tries to shoot Marley. This obviously fails but, as he’s firing the gun, Bill Murray dispassionately yells “Bang! Bang! Bang!”. Did he not want to do this movie?  I completely zoned out at this point. If you don’t care what you’re doing then why should an audience want to invest their time into your performance? That is not normal behaviour, even for a sociopath like Bill Murray(‘s character).

On that topic, from Wikipedia:

[What About Bob’s] producer Laura Ziskin recalled having a disagreement with Murray that led to him tossing her into a lake. Ziskin confirmed in 2003, “Bill also threatened to throw me across the parking lot and then broke my sunglasses and threw them across the parking lot. I was furious and outraged at the time, but having produced a dozen movies, I can safely say it is not common behavior.

Onwards. There are big gaps between ghosts. The next one was promised “tomorrow at noon”.

Bill Murray’s apartment looks pretty similar to Patrick Bateman’s.1988b
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Both are high flying narcissistic businessmen living in 80s Manhattan so they’ve almost certainly done coke and fucked. 

Our Fred here is Bill Murray’s estranged brother, James. James invites him over for Christmas Dinner and sends Scrooge a framed photo of them as children at the end. That’s basically all the interaction we get.

Bob Cratchit is Grace, Bill Murray’s PA, and Tiny Tim, Calvin, is her mute son. Instead of a Christmas bonus she gets a branded towel stressing more than anything else how desperately in need the Americans are of a proper labour movement. Her empoverished life in Harlem and Murray’s affluent lifestyle in Manhattan are a good parallel to the situation in Victorian London on which they were based.

We learn that Tiny Tim stopped talking after seeing his father killed in front of him. Jesus Christ. That’s probably PTSD but in the film it is dismissed offhand as a confidence thing.

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The Ghost of Christmas Past is a New Yawk cab driver. He takes Bill Murray back to Christmas 1955 when he was 4 years old. His cartoonishly evil father gives him five pounds of veal as a present. 

If this fucked Scrooge up so much then why is his brother so well adjusted and normal? Who knows.

We then fastforward to 1968 when Scrooge is…. old enough to have a job in an office? And live alone in an apartment in lower Manhattan with Karen Allen? But we just established that he’d be 17? It’s weird scene and I don’t know what it accomplishes in the plot. I suppose it establishes that Murray is too much of a workaholic to attend the office Christmas party but not so workaholic as to alienate Karen Allen, this film’s Belle. We then get an intensely boring and unnecessary romance scene. It’s not really ever clear why Karen Allen likes Bill Murray so much, he routinely gets angry with her and ends almost every interaction in a shouting argument. Still, for no reason, Karen Allen keeps coming back.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is insanely irritating.

And yet still only the second worst Ghost of Christmas Present.

Bill Murray doesn’t really show any pre-emptive signs of reformation whatsoever. The first two spirits are completely pointless and we may as well just skip to the Future Ghost.

The ghost is pure 80s practical effects joy. Look what Murray sees when he opens up the spirit’s coat, thinking it’s a guy in costume.

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Lots of really nice shots here, including this terrifying sequence where Bill Murray is cremated alive (dead).

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Having now fully reformed, Bull Murray then interrupts the live version of A Christmas Carol he’s been producing for television and has a nervous breakdown where he begs Karen Allen for sex and everybody sings Put A Little Love In Your Heart. Bill Murray breaks character and turns to the audience, quotes Little Shop of Horrors and wishes us Merry Christmas.

Oh, and Tiny Tim finally talks. It took a man having a psychological collapse on national television to get over his PTSD. A lesson for us all, I think, despite the fact that Scrooge and Tim barely interact in this film.

I do not like Bill Murray outside of Ed Wood and I think his ad libs are tacky and overplayed. They’re as bad as any modern Paul Feig film. I will give Scrooged credit for being the only adaptation so far to wrap up Scrooge’s romance plot line. The only problem is that it does that at the expense of everything else.

5 instantly forgettable Bill Murray characters out of 10.


Today’s Chradvent felt mercenary and short. It’s taken me 6 hours to write these 1400 words and I never want to watch another movie again.

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