Unlike Easter, New Years Day or the summer solstice there’s a wealth of Christmas themed films. Ranging from the saccharine Miracle on 34th Street to the bitter Bad Santa, there’s a Christmas movie out there for every taste. So, in the run up to Christmas, we got our writers to tell us about their personal festive favourite. Next in line is Sophie Watson who shares her love of Bill Murray’s 80s revamp of Charles Dickens, Scrooged.
With A Very Murray Christmas out now on Netflix, it seems timely to revisit Bill’s previous festive offering. Transporting Charles Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ to late 80s New York, cynical television executive Frank Cross gets the Scrooge treatment when his asshole antics go a step too far.
The thing with Scrooged is that it isn’t necessarily the best Christmas movie. It isn’t even the best interpretation of its source material; that honour would likely go to Alastair Sim’s Scrooge or possibly The Muppet’s Christmas Carol. Yet every year it’s the first film of the season to get cracked on, a comforting presence that gently eases me into the festive spirit. It’s the equivalent of coming in from the cold and instantly putting on the kettle for a cuppa; the decision is made instantly without a second thought.
It’s easy to see why it still appeals so much. It feels family friendly whilst retaining an edge, with a vein of jet black humour coursing through its centre. It’s perfect for people of a certain generation; those of us who loved it as kids have gone on to appreciate its darker elements. It’s just about weird enough to be a bit of a curiosity too, with an eclectic cast including Robert Mitchum, Karen Allen, Bobcat Goldthwait and David ‘New York Dolls’ Johansen as the thoroughly deranged ghost of Christmas past.
Then of course there’s Bill himself. The role is perfect for him, with Frank Cross coming across like an exaggerated, untamed Peter Venkman. Scrooge was a miserly old man, but Cross is the ultimate in Eigthies villains: an insufferable yuppie. Murray is unrivalled in his ability to feign sincerity, which makes him the perfect slimeball, but there’s always a palpable heart beating underneath, that trademark hangdog expression the human counterpoint to his manic outbursts.
It is this sort of performance that really highlights how Murray differs from other actors and comedians. His ability to paradoxically be both so present and yet absent from proceedings, his sarcastic comments falling on deaf ears for those around him are meant almost solely for us. It feels as if he’s constantly and very subtly breaking the fourth wall; he literally does during the end credits, encouraging the audience to sing along to ‘Put a Little Love in Your Heart’. It’s a quality that not many can emulate and why, now 28 years on, he’s such a well-loved figure. He both knows and loves his audience: the sign of a true comic performer.
Transporting Dicken’s classic to a modern setting is Scrooged‘s hook, and his performance anchors it nicely. It captures the Eighties zeitgest by acknowledging the commercialism and commodification of Christmas in a way that its source material wasn’t able to. Cross is almost double the bastard that Ebeneezer Scrooge was, with his even more insidious desire to manipulate and control. ‘They will have to be so scared to miss it, so terrified!’ he shouts as he introduces his gloriously brutal alternative to the traditional Scrooge TV spot. He takes everything to the extreme, but in his cartoonish bad guy type way he’s much more honest than your average CEO. As a yuppie that hates yuppies, he’s a man who actively dislikes the industry he works in, which makes his transformation all the more believable.
Scrooged also acknowledges hardship by addressing contemporary issues, and does so without ramming it down your throat. Bob Cratchett this time round is a black woman called Grace, a single parent who lives in a rough part of town. She has an ‘end apartheid’ poster in her kitchen, and her mild-mannered son hasn’t spoken a word since he saw his father killed. Quite how she’s getting paid an absolute pittance to be a television president’s secretary is a bit baffling, but we can go with it. Homelessness plays a large part too, with Karen Allen running the local homeless centre, and Bobcat Goldthwaite turning to drinking on the streets after he’s unceremoniously fired.
A Christmas Carol is a timeless tale, but like many such stories it feels more relevant now than ever. At a time when people have become so polarised in their views, when the right wing hold so much power and have such hatred, it’s comforting to know that people can change. As a grumpy atheist who still loves Christmas, who rejects its commercialism but embraces its core message of peace, joy and reflection, Scrooged is the ideal acerbic antidote.