Scrooged: Bill Murray’s Deadpan Clashes With The Charles Dickens Classic (Day #12)

Title: Scrooged

Release: November 23, 1988

Director: Richard Donner

Writer(s): Mitch Glazer, Michael O’Donoghue

Starring: Bill Muray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe, Bobcat Goldthwait,

Carol Kane, Robert Mitchum, Michael J. Polland, Alfre Woodard

*Warning, this review may contain spoilers

Let’s face it, there are a few Christmas stories that have been told too many times to even remember or count. One of the mainstay Christmas stories that feel like it has been around since the dawn of time is A Christmas Carol. Originally drafted by Charles Dickens back in 1843, the story serves as a possible analysis by the British of previous Christmas traditions. Since the original story has gone through so many iterations, why not throw a dark comedy starring Bill Murray into the mix? Welcome to the spotlight Scrooged. 

Murray Vs. a Classic

Since Scrooged is an adaptation of the classic, it does skate around the specifics in order to be unique, while still keeping the story’s framework. We follow the successful television executive Frank Cross (Bill Murray) who is visited by three separate Christmas ghosts to rekindle the Christmas spirit and have a more positive outlook on life. Frank Cross is crass and feels like a classic 1980s curmudgeon, in desperate need of a change from his current version of life. Each ghost: Ghost of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future, show Cross moments in his life that could be different based upon the choices he makes now. By the end of the experience, Cross earns his new “appreciation of life” and breaks into song and dance.

Despite Scrooged’s mixed reception upon release, there is plenty of raw talent within the movie’s ranks. Bill Murray obviously takes the bull by the horns and leads the pack, carrying most of the stronger moments upon his shoulders. Murray’s deadpan comedic stylings is perfect for the role, yet it also leaves plenty of opportunity for the rest of the supporting cast to jump in. Boy, do they take advantage of this chance. Alfre Woodard is hilarious as Murray’s secretary, and Bobcat Goldthwait as his most loyal employee brings plenty of sympathy to the movie.

Spectres Galore

In each version of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, we are treated to drastically different designs for each of the ghosts, up to the creative director’s vision. Whether you are talking about the Ghost of Christmas Past (David Johanson) as the insightful undead cab driver or the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come’s Grim Reaper-inspired appearance with a television for a face, each are distinctively new designs that fit right into the main theme. However, the Ghost of Christmas Present’s (Carol Kane) Sugarplum Fairy-esque design adds plenty of absurdity to an already absurd film.

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Even though this was a major contention for many test audiences and critics, I personally appreciate the effort Scrooged gave to balance its emotions. Some people may say that the film is too overly sentimental, yet others on the other side of the spectrum say its too mean-spirited. Scrooged tries to keep its balance between both sides of the spectrum, failing brilliantly as the tone is thrown all over the place. Apparently, this was due to creative differences between Murray and director Richard Donner. Despite this, Scrooged is a fun, even if a bit dry and deadpan, experience.

Apparently, the ongoing riffs between Murray and Donner are widely considered to be the main cause of the mess of movie audiences received. Murray and Donner had drastically different visions for the film’s events, which is why the tone is completely out of whack. In order to compromise, each side had a few different shots and cuts in from their preferred story. Murray has gone on record saying that working on the Scrooged set was like “pure misery”. Murray even approached legendary critic Roger Ebert to talk about the experience, since Ebert angrily gave it a 1 star rating. Donne has mentioned Murray in a much more “PC” way, saying that he was “superbly creative but occasionally difficult.” So both were power-hungry assholes… gotcha.

With Scrooged finally entering in its third decade of age, you’d expect that the dry humor would have elevated to cringe since its release. However, I would say that is just the opposite! Sure, many of the jokes and references are dated and no longer relevant, but for a first-time viewer the jokes hit like they were fresh. Perhaps this is due to Murray’s delivery and comedic timing, or maybe I just lucked out since it was my first time. Reading online, Scrooged is beloved or just passed by, just like original 1988 audiences. I know fellow Modern Neon author David is a fan and I’m officially joining the club. What about you? How do you feel about Scrooged?

Just like that, another Christmas classic in the books! Fun fact, this is my first time watching Scrooged in my life and I’m glad I finally watched it. Sure, Scrooged isn’t anything spectacular, perhaps even more of a mess. Yet at the same time, it is a great mess to watch during the holidays.

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Thanks for reaching the end of the article! This piece is apart of our Modern Neon Christmas Bonanza, where we are looking at 25 of our favorite or well-known Christmas movies.  So click through to see the previous and next movie, or go back to the home page to find your favorite movie!

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