I swear that this movie was R! I know it was R! There's some light nudity and some drug use in it. At one point in my life, I remember seeing that the movie was rated R. Maybe my DVD even still says "R". Now, everything says it is PG-13. I am always tempted to show this movie at Christmas to my film class, but that would be wildly irresponsible. It's not a classic for almost anyone but me. I only want to show it because it is one of the two movies that makes me tear up. Yup, Scrooged and It's a Wonderful Life. Something about traumatic Christmases or something.
DIRECTOR: Richard Donner
Yup. The guy who directed Superman: The Movie directed Scrooged. These are two of the films that I personally hold dear to my heart. These are the movies where I know that they aren't perfect films, but I absolutely, without-a-doubt love these films. No one can tell me that either of these movies suck because I won't believe them. I try to watch Scrooged every Christmas. I don't know how I didn't get it last year. Part of me feels bad trying to get my wife to sit through it again. I don't think that this movie affects her at all. I get all weepy at the end with Calvin and she just wonders why I'm all choked up. I never cry at movies, guys. I want to. But 100% of the views of this movie, Calvin's resolution makes me weep and get all misty eyed. Tears never fall, but my eyes are full of water and I get all choked up. This might be one of the more forgettable Christmas movies, but I will watch it every year.
The story structure for Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" is perfect. I use it in my English class when we study the plot mountain. It is odd that the longer I teach, the fewer amount of people know "A Christmas Carol", but that is more telling of the culture than it is of the story. Apparently, the two most adapted stories of all time are Sherlock Holmes and "A Christmas Carol". The story resonates, guys. It is so good. But part of me likes the adaptations "A Christmas Carol" more than the actual story itself. I don't often get excited when a straight adaptation comes out for the story. Sure, I get a little moved by the story time and again, but it is the interesting slants on the story that really get me going. Scrooged was the first meta version that I could get behind. I often get distracted thinking about worlds that aren't affected by the pop culture they created. I watched the original Man of Steel trailer back when I was full of hope. While I loved that trailer (and hated that movie), there was one moment in the trailer that rubbed me the wrong way. It showed young Clark Kent running around the backyard pretending to be a superhero while wearing a red towel. That moment never made sense to me because Superman created that trend. I don't need anyone bootstrapping my paradox, thank you very much. That's why Scrooged is such a clever premise to me. Scrooged exists in a world where Charles Dickens's story already is a timeless classic. Sure, in Scrooged, the story wasn't called "A Christmas Carol." Instead, it's "Dickens's immortal classic: Scrooge." I can get past that. (Okay, no I can't, but that's beside the point.) I like the idea that Bill Murray's Frank Cross knows the narrative that he's experiencing and that it still affects him as much as it does. I know that Frank Cross is a bit of a caricature, but he does somehow seem more grounded than Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge always seemed like the miserly thing was a put on because he had to seem somehow evil. Frank Cross is just a bonafide jerk. Yeah, there are moments. Watching him enjoy Bobcat Goldthwait get fired on Christmas Eve is a bit much, but Donner knows that he has to paint this moment clearly to come back at the end. But Frank Cross is a jerk who is encouraged to be a jerk. I love that he's the commentary on the '80s businessman. It's Wall Street all over again.
The most interesting element of Scrooged is that it kind of is a horror movie. I love a good horror comedy and it seems insane to surgically attach it to Christmas. But I was listening to Christmas carols on the radio the other day and I was listening to the lyrics. "And telling ghost stories" was a lyric that always just snuck in there. There is a weird precedent to associating Christmas with scary. The thing about most of the "Christmas Carol" adaptations is that they tend to shy away from the supernatural elements of the tale. The only time that the story normally gets scary is the Ghost of Christmas Future, which is the shortest of the three visits. The story isn't even all that scary. I always found it odd that Scrooge converts only after seeing his own grave. (I know, it's a mix of the fact that he is despised after his death and is alone, but he seems pretty dumb leading into that moment.) But Donner embraces the scariest parts of the stories all through the story. The introduction of Lew Hayward / the ghost of Marley establishes this really cool tone. It breaks away from the weakest element moment of the movie, the IBC promos. I really consider the movie to start here. A mouse crawling out of Lew Hayward's skull as he cracks wise just establishes that this movie is not afraid to go places where the other stories kind of feared to dread. There's that moment where Frank Cross is held high above the street below and the tendons and bones just start crumbling away. This is where the eighties ruled. That practical effect is just so darned cool. I know how it worked and I know that it is an effect, but I also totally believe in the tension of that moment. Also, making the ghosts jerks makes the story work so well. The Dickens ghost mollycoddle Scrooge. Scrooge isn't deserving of pity. I know. We see both Scrooge's and Cross's pasts and they are both very sad. But I like that the ghosts get that Cross had opportunities to make the right choices despite his past and don't let him off the hook. Sure, it plays for laughs, but it is also super insightful to the relationships that these ghosts have with their subjects. ("But when Attila the Hun saw his mother? Niagara Falls.") Also, Donner invites a new element to the story that I really like, Frank's brother. Frank's brother went through a similar childhood that Frank did, but turned out to be a good guy. This adds so much. Frank made these choices, so his torture becomes all that much more satisfying. He deserves to get hit by a toaster.
This is where I'm a hypocrite. I'm never all that for the relationships in these movies. Scrooge never ran off after the girl from the past. He is an old man and he can just live out his remaining years as a servant to humanity. But Frank Cross has Karen Allen! Karen Allen, man alive. You have an interesting IMDB page. I never got Indiana Jones's love for Marion Ravenwood, but I did get Frank Allen's love for Claire Phillips. She makes the perfect foil for Frank. I love the fact that the narrative that Frank never had a lightswitch moment. He became a bad dude through a series of bad, but understandable choices. Claire and he never had the big blowout moment that destroyed the relationship. Rather, he ignored those real moments that needed fostering. He ended up as a royal jerk in the present, but that's because he was encouraged to do the wrong thing time and again until he thought that doing the right thing was a stupid thing. That moment where he is in the shelter with Herman, he sees that the volunteers there are idiots. It's not because he was always that way. He was groomed into becoming that way. I love me some character development. Scrooge does that pretty well. Frank Cross also does that pretty well. Having Claire woven throughout this story really does it for me. She is the one that is focused on in all three timelines and it is effective. I don't necessarily agree that she would naturally turn into "Scrape 'em off" Claire, but that future timeline is bizarre. (Question for other fans of this movie: Donner makes the future very stylized to be scarier and darker than the other portions of the film. But does that mean that the future is somewhat symbolic of what will become or is it meant to be treated as canon? Discuss.) But as much as the film builds up Frank Cross to be this uber-jerk, he also has these moments of sympathy. The first, and least impressive, indication of this change is his reaction to the man being on fire. (That Richard Pryor joke is uncomfortable...) But Donner has these moments where he is fighting to find himself and maintain his comfortable lifestyle. Seeing frozen Herman under the streets is this pivotal moment that Murray just delivers on. He isn't scared or sad. He's angry. He yells at this corpse. I can't help but think of that scene in Groundhog Day where Murray is desperate to save the homeless man. These moments are such dark contrasts to the rest of the films that surround them. I love how vulnerable the movies allow themselves to be considering that they are comedies, through and through.
I did point out that the IBC promos don't really hold their own for me anymore. I used to think that they were funny, but they definitely feel more like warmup gags for me now. If I recommend these movies to anyone, I sit and fidget during the IBC gags. I think that people will think that the tone of the movie is like those moments. Really, those feel like some UHF styled skits that might not be as strong as they used to be. The other thing that is weirdly awkward now is the end involving a hostage situation. I like the premise that Bobcat Goldthwait is holding a gun to people on Christmas, but the political landscape of the past two decades may have made this scene unwatchable. Like, it's Christmas. The end implies that things get better, but a lot of people in that booth are crying and they should be crying. It is dark. But besides those two points, I love the movie as a whole. I love it because of one the most intense and vulnerable speeches I've seen in film. It's not a perfect speech. Heck, it borderlines on completely cheesy. But Bill Murray just spelling out the meaning of Christmas is absolutely everything for me. I love this so much. And then Calvin walks up and says his line and it is perfection. I'm not that moved, but I can definitely feel my heart beating a little harder right now. I love this movie so much.
Like, so much, guys. I don't know how I'll be able to convince my wife to watch it next year. This is my second favorite Christmas movie and I am not ashamed to say it. If you haven't seen it, go in with mild expectations and prepare to have a fun time. The jokes at the beginning are warm ups. Consider the movie something watchable from Lew Hayward on. Also, Robert Mitchum is in this and that's amazing.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.