The Ringer on the Perfection That is Scrooged
Inspired by this excellent 2018 Ringer article celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Scrooged, the Richard Donner helmed retelling of Dickens’ story starring a mid-career Bill Murray who appeared to be careening full speed towards his late career surge in a way few actors or comedians ever have, I’d like to take a look back at some of the cultural touch points that factored into Scrooged in rather delightful ways.
The End Credits
It’s such a bizarro-world movie, it’s only appropriate to start at the end. What could have possibly been a nod to Ferris Bueller’s fourth-wall-break “You’re still here? Go home.” break at credits’ end, at the end of Scrooged, Murray as the Scrooge-esque TV executive Frank Cross addresses the television audience or just as likely breaks the fourth wall and addresses the movie-going crowd as only he can. While Mary Lou Retton, Buddy Hackett, the perpetually under-utilized Alfre Woodard, and so many others sing along to Al Green and Annie Lennox‘s cover of Jackie DeShannon’s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” Cross — at this point fully redeemed in a way no Scrooge before him ever had been — shouts at the audience to sing along, as though he were deejaying a party, “Now the women… the REAL women….” Six Christmases ago, I had the unique experience of seeing Scrooged at a midnight screening in a theater in Bill Murray’s hometown of Chicago presumably, if the man in the Venkman flight suit was any indication, teeming with Murray fanatics, and everyone actually sang along.
For an out-and-out fan of the movie-going experience (to the chagrin of friends and family, I have since childhood insisted on arriving early, staying for the full run of the credits, lauding the older theaters with hundreds of seats and dare I say it, a balcony, and lamenting — pre-COVID — to no one in particular the tragedy that had become the sixteen seat, fully-reclinable, theatrical experience. Crowd participation at a movie theater actually matters, especially to comedy. I cross my fingers that theater owners writ large will get wise to the ways of the Alamo Draft House who have made the experience fun for the masses and fully expect the masses to pack their spacious theaters), I loved the experience of singing a corny song at full volume, to a movie screen with perfect strangers while Bill Murray, wearing a corny top hat, sang along with Karen Allen who, to misquote the Ringer article that inspired this post, seems to be in perpetual beam mode.
Seven Things You Probably Didn’t Know
Missing from this excellent Cinefix video, on the couch with the Murray brothers? None other than Mitch Glazer, Bill Murray’s longtime friend, de facto manager, subject of perpetual torment, and the screenwriter of Scrooged, their first project together.
That Miles Davis Cameo & An Otherwise Inconsistent Soundtrack
Miles Davis plays a street musician in the film alongside heavy-hitters David Sanborn, Larry Carlton, and David Letterman’s band leader Paul Shaffer. Their version of “We Three Kings of Orient Are” plays over the scene in which they appear, as well as on the soundtrack, distributed by A&M Records. There’s so much to learn from the soundtrack. The whole thing is utterly inconsistent and almost unlistenable as a complete album with tracks bouncing from an uptempo 80s-synth-heavy duet between Dan Hartman and Denise Lopez to a grasping-for-relevancy effort from Kool Moe Dee to a rank version of The Band’s “Christmas Must Be Tonight” performed by lone Band member, the soulless Robbie Robertson, but the jazz track from Davis et al showcases the virtuoso arguably at his late career best, and solely on the strength of my in-theater experience, I’ve come to prefer Lennox and Green’s version of DeShannon’s classic. Worth noting: Lennox’s former partner in life and in music Dave Stewart produced her track with Green.
Like the soundtrack, the movie is probably too loud and too inconsistent, but I still try to watch it every year. At the very least, it is a good reminder not to get too wrapped up in one’s work… lest this happen.
My favorite passage from Rob Harvilla’s article for The Ringer is this one in which he deftly explains how Scrooged manages to pack into it almost everything we love about every other kind of Christmas movie:
Scrooged tosses all of that—the nostalgia, the misanthropy, the goopy sentimentality, the cartoonish violence and Spielbergian horror imagery just gnarly enough to spook young children—into the noisiest possible blender. Its 1988-specific theme, TV Is Rotting Our Brains, more or less positions it as a Christmas reboot of Network, which might seem like an awfully dated concept now, until you watch it again with your family and observe that they all spend half the movie staring at their phones. Murray’s performance is so caustic for so long—“The bitch hit me with a toaster,” he observes, of the Ghost of Christmas Present—that his eventual redemption has to be very lengthy (and extra loud) to be remotely convincing. The whole thing is remarkably shrill, which, alas, makes it remarkably well-suited for our fraught present moment.
You can watch Scrooged: