Christmas time is here, which means holiday movies are all the rage. But some of the best holiday movies aren’t uplifting tales of the triumph of the human spirit. Welcome to Dysfunctional Holiday Theater.
One of the most beloved Christmas stories of all time is Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” where three ghosts visit the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge to show him the error of his ways and to treat the people in his life better. It would definitely not be a Dysfunctional Holiday Theater to feature that uplifting story. Instead, we turn to probably the best adaptation of the story, the 1988 Bill Murray comedy, Scrooged.
This was, I was surprised to see, Murray’s first starring role since The Ghostbusters in 1984. The man just could not get away from ghosts in the 1980s. First, he’s busting them and then he’s being visited by them. Some weird professional choices there, don’t you think?
In Scrooged, Murray plays Frank Cross, a television executive who mistreats all of his employees as he prepares for a live telecast of his own version of “A Christmas Carol” on Christmas Eve. The only thing Cross cares about is himself, alienating himself from his only brother and the only woman who seemed to ever care for him. With the live telecast just a day away, Cross is visited by the three ghosts Dickens made famous – they really don’t stray too far from the source material here.
With each successive visit, Cross’ self-centered and closed off nature starts to melt away. My favorite is the Ghost of Christmas Present, played by the brilliantly insane Carol Kane, who brings Frank to his brother’s place, to hear how his brother still loves him, despite how Frank ignores him. And, of course, the Ghost of Christmas Present nails Frank with a toaster to bring him back to reality.
One of Frank’s despicable acts at the start of the movie is to fire an employee who tries to speak out against one of Frank’s decisions on Christmas Eve. The employee, played by Bobcat Goldthwait, gets increasingly agitated at his fate until he tries to kill Frank with a shotgun during the live telecast. But his visit coincides with Frank’s visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future, who finally gets through to Frank. So, things don’t go as planned.
I’ve always felt the movie somewhat falls apart at the end, as Murray’s portrayal of Cross goes from the selfish high-powered executive to the free-wheeling, fun-loving Cross trying to make amends, but you knew the happy ending was going to come. This is “A Christmas Carol,” after all. Still, despite falling apart a bit at the end, it’ll always be one of my favorite Christmas movies.
Fun fact: The movie was directed by Richard Donner, with a score by Danny Elfman. So, the director of Superman: The Movie worked with the composer of Batman (a year before Batman came out) to make what I consider to be one of the World’s Finest movies!