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‘Scrooged: 35th Anniversary Edition 4K UHD (review)

Paramount

Is there any more perfect combination on paper than Bill Murray’s cinematic persona of “jerk who learns the value of his fellow man” and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a story of redemption and the triumph over cynicism?

Scrooged is Bill Murray, at the height of his powers, paired with one of the most successful directors of the 1980’s in one of the first cinematic attempts I can think of to give a classic tale “a modern edge.”

The tension between director Richard Donner and Murray; between improvisational wit and darkly surreal visuals is the central aspect to Scrooged and the most interesting aspect of reviewing it.

Murray is at the height of his powers here, coming off a four year hiatus after the monster success of Ghostbusters and the dismal failure of personal project The Razor’s Edge.

You can see the twinkle in his eye that brought life to so many SNL adjacent film projects in the 80’s, but he’s constantly competing with a visual style that is bizarre and, at times, strangely grotesque.

Scrooged transposes A Christmas Carol into 1980’s New York with Bill Murray as Frank Cross, a television executive who is overseeing a multimillion dollar production of A Christmas Carol on live television when he is visited by the zombified corpse of his old mentor (John Forsythe) and told that he will be visited by three ghosts who represent his last chance to turn his life away from the cynical chase for money and power its become. Karen Allen plays his love interest, the most serious deviation from the structure of the classic story, and the Bob Cratchit character is bifurcated between Alfie Woodard’s long suffering secretary and Bobcat Goldthwait’s demented junior exec.

An early scene in the film lampoons the need to sell everything with sex and violence as Cross unveils a hilariously violent and depraved commercial for the special. Fifteen minutes later, a mouse pushes a golf ball out of a hole in the back of a corpse’s head and you wonder if perhaps that particular stone is being thrown from a glass house.

There was obviously a mandate to make the story of A Christmas Carol emotionally and psychologically resonate for an audience that’s a hundred years more cynical than the one Dickens was writing for.

Murray seems to take on this challenge by increasing his emotional commitment to the part to the point where he projects a legitimate nervous breakdown and life changing epiphany at the same time. Donner, on the other hand, seems to have looked at this as an opportunity to play with a toybox of first rate effects and create a lot of surreal visuals.

The individual performances are uniformly good. I would give special shout out to John Glover as an odious rival for Cross’ job brought in to “assist” in overseeing the special and Carol Kane who plays the Ghost of Christmas Present with a genuinely hilarious physical presence like if the Good Witch from Wizard of Oz were played by Moe Howard.

Extras include a commentary and featurettes.

This film has been a holiday classic in my house since I can remember but a lot of contemporary critics (and Bill Murray, for that matter) hated it and it wasn’t until I watched it with critical eyes that I could see why. The tonal shifts are legitimately jarring, and the dramatic scenes feel a lot less cozy than they should. It is a confused and confusing movie.

The final arbiter of success though is the comedy and the jokes land more often than they don’t. Scrooged, like many of the SNL alum comedies of the 80’s absolutely still remains funny to this day, and Murray’s performance keeps him deeply sympathetic and makes the final redemption feel harder won than is usual in film adaptations of this classic story.

Recommended.

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