Though it rarely gets slathered with as much nostalgic love as A Christmas Story or Christmas Vacation, Scrooged is easily one of the finest yuletide perennials to slip out of Hollywood in the 80s. An adaptation of A Christmas Carol (possibly the most adapted book in film history other than, you know, that Bible thing), the film features Bill Murray at his curmudgeonly best, playing a fictional television executive who would probably exchange notes on how to properly abuse his staff with Kevin Spacey’s character in Swimming With Sharks. It’s a genius stroke of modernization and stunt casting that works so well it probably qualifies as the only adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic holiday tale in which you’ll actually wish that Scrooge stayed evil. Hit the jump for our review of Scrooged on Blu-ray.
Scrooged is an example of Hollywood studio making done right. The film itself is an easily marketed product stocked with A-list talent working for hire, but the combination of talent and material is perfect. Need someone to play an asshole in a comedy who can still be endearing while insisting that antlers be stapled onto mice for a single shot in a hockey television special? Hire good ol’ Billy Murray and the audience will be cheering in the isles. Though I doubt Murray ever considered it, he’s an ideal Scrooge figure. He revels in the bad behavior of the first two thirds of the film and then when he has to pull a 180 and be a happy go lucky Christmas loving fool, he whips out some hyperactive charm to ensure it’s almost as entertaining.
In the director chair was Richard Donner between Leathal Weapon movies and he was an inspired choice. Donner gives the story an epic blockbuster scale and is equally adept and staging the comedy as he is with spectacle. A backgound in directing television in the Golden Age of live broadcast ensures that he knows exactly what he’s satirizing in Murray’s narrisistic executive and nails it. What’s also interesting about Donner is that with a handful of classic Twilight Zone episode and The Omen under his belt, he actually makes the Scrooge hauntings feel somewhat frightening. This is one of the few Christmas Carol adaptations to recognize that it is a ghost story on a certain level and actually play with that aspect, whether it be the rotting corpse with mice crawling out of his head who stands in as Marley or a variety of surreal and disturbing images (ex: eyeballs in cocktails) Murray sees between visitations. Donner stages the scenes like a low key 80s horror movie and they work surprisingly well in a family friendly genre movie way.
The dark comedy bile and gothic horror elements of Scrooged can be attributed to one key and deeply underrated contributor to the project: Michael O’Donoghue (who co-wrote the script with his writing partner Mitch Glazer). O’Donoghue was a dark genius comedy writer who was a key player at the National Lampoon during its prime and the head writer on the first run of SNL. His comedy was viciously dark and satiric, frequently using death, disease, violence, sexual perversion as his go-to comedy subjects. He wrote many screenplays after leaving television, but Scrooged was the only one that was ever produced. Given that it was an obvious Christmas blockbuster, it’s easy to see why it was made over the writer’s more esoteric work, but thankfully it still retains his twisted comedy voice. This is a version of a Christmas Carol where Bob Cratchit is played by Bobcat Goldthwait and sets off on an alcoholic bender after being fired on Christmas Eve before returning to the office to shoot Scrooge with a shotgun. O’Donoghue fills his script with dark and ingenious twists on an overtold tale.
The only real shame about Scrooged is that at a certain point it falls into the motions of the Charles Dickens story to become light and predictable. Sure the ghosts are given interesting twists (like punk rock veteran David Johansen growling through scenes as the Ghost Of Christmas Past as a New York cabbie or Carol Kane’s hilarious abusive, squeaky voiced Ghost Of Christmas Present), but their episodes play out in the expected way. We know how this story will end before it starts and at least there are a few surprises connected with how we get there. Admittedly the giddy conclusion that is played as an orgasm of Christmas spirit feels a little over the top, particularly when it is primarily there to sell copies of the single “Put A Little Love In Your Heart.” Weirdly for a Christmas movie, the film works best in the darkest passages and at times feels a little forced whenever things get too happy. Fortunately, these scenes are forgivable during Christmas season, but I can’t help but feel that this could have been a classic cinematic coal in everyone’s stockings like Bad Santa were it not for the small flourishes of sentimentality. Still, Scrooged is one of the best holiday comedies out there and well worth re-watching year after year.
Paramount’s new Blu-ray features an incredible transfer that really shows off the scale and gloss of Donner’s blockbuster production. The film really benefits from the improved presentation and has never looked this good before. Unfortunately, that’s all the disc has to offer other than a trailer. It’s a real shame considering that with all the talent involved and the occasionally subversive subject matter, there must be some incredible behind-the-scenes stories to tell. Unfortunately that will have to wait for an inevitable special edition release down the road and with this being a Christmas movie, there will be additional releases. Tis the season of excess commercialism after all.