Welcome back to BEHIND THE TREE. Today, we ease into a lighter side of the supernatural with a more Christmas-themed ghost story. It’s the most famous Christmas ghost story of them all- A CHRISTMAS CAROL, which currently has (seemingly) 5,000,000,000 adaptations to its name.

The sheer amount of options seems insurmountable, so most people pick a few favorites. I have my own (the Muppets and George C. Scott versions), but one other has a place in my heart. That is Richard Donnor’s 1988 version, SCROOGED, starring Bill Murray.

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The Plot

Frank Cross is the mean-spirited head of the IBC TV network. Cross is putting on a live taping of A CHRISTMAS CAROL (called SCROOGE) on Christmas Eve and makes other horrific demands of his staff and crew. Cross ignores the season, including an invitation from his brother.

However, on the day of the broadcast, Cross is visited by the ghost of his former employer. As expected, Cross is visited by the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, changing his heart while also reconnecting with his long lost love.

Casting Credit

I said there have been a lot of CHRISTMAS CAROL adaptations, and there have. It takes a great deal for one to stand out. SCROOGED succeeds for a number of reasons. First of all is the performance of Bill Murray.

Murray is the kind of actor who thrives on making a horrible character funny. As a result, he succeeds with Cross, who brims with over the top evil. Even when he threatens to kill his staff for not making a gripping enough ad, Murray has just the right inflection to make it funny.

Muarry succeeds at the transformation angle as well (as fans of his similar work in GROUNDHOG DAY can attest). The film works to give Cross some early sympathy, as he deals with an opportunistic ‘assistant’ and a boss who wants TV that appeals to cats(?). Muarry runs with that, as the stress of the day and the ghosts breaks down his layers to show a good person inside.

The rest of the cast shines as well. Alfre Woodard and Karen Allen shine as Cross’s suffering secretary and do-gooder, former love, respectively. Comic Bobcat Goldwaithe gives a perfect performance as a former employee turned revenge seeking psycho; his trademark mutterings give way to a hilarious pursuit of Cross with a shotgun.

The human Ghosts are also joys. David Johanssen acts with every fiber of his New York background as the cigar-chomping, taxi driving Ghost of Christmas Past. Carol Kane is wonderfully demented as a punch drunk pixie version of Christmas Present.

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Design, Comedy, and Depth

The look of SCROOGED plays an important role as well. The on-air set of SCROOGE replicates the feel of old-school CHRISTMAS CAROL films, while also looking incredibly fake. Ghosts get just as much work as the sets. Frank’s old boss looks every bit a moldering corpse, especially when a rat exits the back of his skull.

The shining moment is the Ghost of Christmas Future. The Ghost is a towering figure in black, with damned souls clinging to its skeletal rib cage. A unique effect is the TV screen that replaces its head. It’s both in tune with the movie and horribly frightening.

All of this wouldn’t work if SCROOGED didn’t bring the humor. Thankfully it does just that, but not only with the cast. The entire atmosphere of the film satirizes TV and the desperation of getting viewers.

The opening advertises insane fare like Robert Goulet’s Cajun Christmas and Santa fighting terrorists with Lee Majors. Aside from the set design, SCROOGE is being broadcast from multiple countries at once. It stars Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim and has the Solid Gold Dancers forced in.

SCROOGED
Now I want to know how this show was supposed to work…

The whole thing works as a giant satire of holiday TV and how networks try so hard to grab viewers they miss the point entirely. At the same time, the movie knows when to pull back from the humor and let the emotion come through. Frank’s visions of the future and his sad past receive the proper depth. The secretary’s struggling family and mute son also color the story without overpowering it.

Final Thoughts On SCROOGED

In conclusion, SCROOGED stands as a unique take on an oft-tired story. It works by having a metaphor (the SCROOGE show) as a plot point, not being overly faithful to the material, and a great cast. It’s funny, but not afraid to be dramatic either.

If you’re tired of the same versions of CHRISTMAS CAROL every year, pop this one in. It’s something new, and you might discover why, for some people, it’s not Christmas until Bill Murray yells at them.

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