The build up to Christmas now finds us at Bill Murray’s 1988 modern day retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Directed by Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon / The Goonies / Superman), the film represented Murray’s first return to a comedy lead role since the 1984 Ghostbusters (in fact he’d only really had one full lead role in that time which was the dramatic The Razors Edge of the same year).
In Scrooged, we meet Frank Cross, TV network executive obsessed with ratings and ensuring that his big live Christmas day special is as successful as possible, regardless of the impact to those involved. Not only is he struggling with this, the network president (Robert Mitchum) has appointed as young up-comer to work with Frank and he may well be after Frank’s job…
This all changes one evening when Cross is visited by a former boss, Lou Hayward, who died a number of years ago in a freak golf accident. Hayward informs Frank that he will be visited by three ghosts over the course of the night.
As the evening plays out in line with the famous Dickens’ story, we meet a crazy taxi driver ghost, a surprisingly violent fairy and monstrous ghost of the future. Through this, Frank is not only attempting to get through the evening, keep his job, and deal with disgruntled former employee Eliot Laudermilk played by Bobcat Goldthwait (in what I consider the role of his career – I know all the Police Academy stuff – but this is my favourite of his work). Additionally there is the complexity of former love of his life played by Karen Allen.
What we’ve got here, is an absolutely classic Murray performance. He bounces all over the range from heartless executive, to dry sarcasm to screaming breakdowns, and he doesn’t miss a beat. So many of Murray’s best moments are either as part of a ensemble (Ghostbusters / Caddyshack / Stripes) or smaller roles like Kingpin, but I have always considered this his best work as a full on star of the film, with Groundhog Day probably second.
The supporting roles of Allen, Alfre Woodward (as long suffering secretary to Cross) and John Glover (as the recently hired executive) help ground the film in a sense of reality whereas the ghosts – especially David Johansen (Christmas Past) and the spectacular Carol Kane (Christmas Present) add fantastic moments of humour.
But not only is it classic Murray – it is a classic Christmas film. I have loved this film since the first time I saw it. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation regular gets more attention than it in lists of best seasonal films, but for me Scrooged beats just it based on the sheer gifted performance of Murray. It is one of the greatest performances of Murray’s career and for me a hugely underrated christmas classic.