“I’m feeling really weird about tonight.”
Few Christmas films balance the magic of the holiday with being a good film. I watch certain Christmas films repeatedly because of nostalgia or to get swept away with the love of the season, but SCROOGED is different. SCROOGED is funny, touching, and satisfying.
SCROOGED’s opening scenes are a satire. Rather than jumping in to the Bill Murray-led Dickens adaptation right away, we are instead treated to a series of television promotions for upcoming Christmas specials. Murray, a television executive reviewing the marketing for the supposed lucrative holiday season, listens to his peons present their ideas. The very first thing we see in the film is a picturesque vision of Santa’s workshop at the North Pole. The elves are hard at work and Mrs. Clause is doting on Santa. Just as we are lulled into the typical comforts of Christmas, the workshop comes under attack. Lee Majors, the Six Million Dollar Man himself, shows up just in time to help the whole merry gang defend themselves against the “psychos” who want to seize Christmas.
From here, the film goes on to show us a montage of other silly holiday specials, ranging from a Leave it to Beaver parody to Robert Goulet’s Bayou Christmas concert. While these fake television specials are designed to let the audience know that they are about to watch an over the top satire of 1980s television culture, watching it today has a completely different effect. When I rewatched SCROOGED to prepare for writing this article, it was the night before the Lifetime Network was to air its new Christmas special GRUMPY CAT’S WORST CHRISTMAS EVER. The made for TV movie stars an internet celebrity cat. Somehow the reality of our current television program has become more absurd than the writers of SCROOGED could even imagine.
Our Scrooge figure, Francis Xavier Cross, may seem like a villain of the greed era, but the inherent nastiness of the Scrooge character is still present. Cross is obsessed with money, but seems even more interested in causing misery. After swiftly firing an employee for merely disagreeing with him, Cross orders the man be sent out on to the street immediately. Seconds later, the terminated employee is dropped on the curb by security, clutching the cardboard box of his personal belongings. Cross watches this all from a telescope in his top floor office while barking orders at his assistant. Firing an employee, during the holidays, for no real reason would be bad enough. But offering color commentary of the whole ordeal and pumping his fists in the air to celebrate another person’s pain is a different type of evil. This has nothing to do with money for his network. This has nothing to do with his own financial gain. He is just mean.
As with the success with the original Christmas Carol story, by highlighting Cross’ callousness, the audience delights in the emotional anguish that he will go through while visiting with the three ghosts. Spending time facing the consequences of his life-long selfishness is necessary for Cross’ transformation. He is a bad man and we want to see him punished. Though each of the ghosts causes him deserved emotional pain, the ghost of Christmas present inflicts the pain in a more literal way.
Murray’s performance as Cross is one of the more brilliant performances of his career, however he does get overshadowed by Carole Kane as the second ghost of the night. Her uppity demeanor, combined with the ghost’s love of physical violence, and outstanding on-screen chemistry with Murray are cinematic magic. With the audience’s hatred for Cross boiling, we take great delight in seeing this tiny ghost wallop Cross. She punches him in the face, pushes him down a flight of stairs, and whacks him on the head with a toaster. The slapstick comedy is a welcome break in what could have been an emotionally weighty film. It is also satisfying to see Cross get taken down. He is not in control of the situation and does not know how to interact with these ghosts who have more power than him. Seeing Cross double over in pain is comedic catnip, and one of the most reliable examples of visual humor in cinema.
SCROOGED has a universal villain, prophetic satire, and a small female ghost physically assaulting Bill Murray. There really is something for everyone in this holiday classic.