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Blogvent Day 13 – Scrooged (1988,USA)

13/12/2011

Director: Richard Donner      Starring: Bill Murray, Karen Allen, Alfre Woodard, Robert Mitchum, Bobcat Goldthwaite

I have an abiding love of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It is far and away my favourite Christmas related story and has proved fertile ground for many a movie and television adapatation, some more successfull than others and all approaching the text with varying levels of fastidiousness. I’d considered doing a single Blogvent post to cover all my favourite versions of the tale but I don’t think that it would do sufficient justice to them so it only seems fair to warn you that this may well be one of a few mentions of old Ebenezer Scrooge over the next week or so. First out of the gate then is a film that probably strays the furthest from the original source material and yet manages to retain perfectly the spirit of the story, Richard Donner’s 1988 contemporised comedy take on the tale, Scrooged.

The names have been changed and instead of Victorian England the action is transposed to Eighties New York, where Frank Cross (Murray) is the President of a massively powerful television network. He bears all the hallmarks of Dickens’ iconic character until he is visited by the three classic spirits, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future who teach him the error of his ways and open his heart to the plight of his fellow man.

It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t so much an adaptation of the source novel but rather more of a remake of the 1951 Noel Langley adaptation starring Alastair Sim. The love interest sideplot (with Karen Allen as once lost only to be reclaimed love Claire here) is an addition of the 1951 version which I have always felt is a touch unnecessary and far less effective than the permanently lost love Scrooge endures in the book. There is a sly acknowledgement to this within the live production of “Charles Dickens’ Scrooge” (surely they mean A Christmas Carol?) that Frank’s TV company is putting together when we see the scene where Ebenezer is spurned by his sweetheart Belle so that he may pursue his one true love – the acquisition of money being rehearsed in the studio.

That fact aside, the transposition of the story into the modern day is handled beautifully. The cutthroat world of the New York TV biz is a suitable substitute for Victorian money lending and all the main players have been provided for in ’88 friendly alternatives. Frank’s secretary Grace (Woodard) makes for a pleasingly twentieth century Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s nephew Fred is replaced by Frank’s younger brother. Most pleasing though (and memorable) is the reinterpretation of the visiting spirits.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is a vulgar New York cabbie with a cab from hell, Christmas Present is an unruly and violent Christmas fairy type and Future, well, Future pretty much lines up with every interpretation of the spirit that has ever been committed to film although he does have a few little touches to integrate him with the cathode ray tube world of Frank Cross. Of the three, my favourite (in every version) is the Ghost Of Christmas present and Carol Kane’s madcap, slapstick turn as the no-nonsense spirit who is quick to anger is possibly the greatest joy of the film, coming across like a PMTing Glenda the Good Witch from The Wizard Of Oz. Interestingly it’s also the point at which it probably departs the most heavily from the text but it does so with such assured confidence that it gets away with it.

The whole thing is played for laughs, although not at the expense of the main spirit of the story and it is one of those films in which Bill Murray gets to shine. He clearly relished playing the role of the mean spirited, saracastic and savage Frank Cross and his transformation from humbug to humanitarian is extremely convincing. All of the performances are pretty strong (a particularly enjoyable highlight is Robert Mitchum as Frank’s ever so slightly eccentric boss Preston Rhinelander) and the chemistry between Murray and Allen is pretty potent, certainly enough to convince you there is a chance their love could be rekindled after so many years apart.

While it is hardly the best version of the book as it appears on the screen it is certainly one of the funniest and most interesting adaptations of the story and well worth a look. Genuinely funny, family friendly and brimming with Christmas spirit it remains, after more than twenty years, in the upper echelons of the Christmas movie heirarchy and is highly recommended.

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