Daily Grindhouse is counting down the twelve days until Christmas with Twelve Days of A Christmas Carol! From December 13th through Christmas Eve, John Reents will guide you on a journey through different film and television adaptations of Charles Dickens’s novella, A Christmas Carol. There will be George C. Scott and Jim Carrey. Divas and ducks. Originals and remakes. Pornography and plastic dolls. And Muppets, naturally. We’re going to go ahead and assume you already know the story, but if you’re only familiar with one film of A Christmas Carol (or none at all), you may want to check out a plot summary, as different characters appear in different versions. #ChristmasIsAHumbug
SCROOGED (1988, Richard Donner) is probably the most original of all films based on A Christmas Carol. And I only say “probably” because I haven’t seen them all. Sadly, MY DAD IS SCROOGE, A CHRISTIAN CAROL, SCROOGE AND MARLEY, AN ALL DOGS CHRISTMAS CAROL, and SCROOGE AND MARLEY & ME all had to fall by the wayside in this series so I could focus on TV musicals, pornography, and Tori Spelling.
No, SCROOGE AND MARLEY & ME isn’t a thing. I’m as disappointed as you are.
I love SCROOGED. With one exception (coming Thursday), it’s my favorite adaptation of A Christmas Carol. I grew up in the 1980s on prime time. Casting a TV executive in the Scrooge role, and making the proceedings a satire on the increasingly exploitative nature of contemporary television (remember Nightingales?) is pure catnip to my wheelhouse.
For the uninitiated, SCROOGED resets the Christmas Carol story in present-day (1988 at the time) Manhattan, primarily at the IBC Television building (Seagrams Building). Our Scrooge is Frank Cross (Bill Murray), president of television network IBC. Frank is planning a live, all-star production of Scrooge (no, not SCROOGE. Or SCROOGE) to air on Christmas Eve, when the hijinks begin.
While SCROOGED follows the Christmas Carol map, there are a few diversions from the usual route. Jacob Marley and Fezziwig are combined into a single character, a former IBC President who was Frank’s mentor (John Forsythe). Belle is Frank’s ex-fiancée (Karen Allen), who runs a homeless shelter, and appears in the present-days scenes, as well as in the Christmas Past sequence. Bob Cratchit is split into two characters, an executive Frank fires on Christmas Eve (Bobcat Goldthwait), and his much put-upon assistant, Grace (Alfre Woodard). Tiny Tim becomes Grace’s son (Nicholas Phillips), who doesn’t speak.
I’ve said before that the success of any adaptation of A Christmas Carol depends on its Ebenezer Scrooge. As IBC Television President Frank Cross, Bill Murray is surrounded by a fantastic supporting cast (many of whom came from television), but its Murray’s movie from titles to credits. In SCROOGED, unlike any other Christmas Carol I’ve seen, it takes a while for it to set in that Frank Cross is actually an asshole/antihero (take your pick). Even as we watch Frank run over everyone in his life, we still like him and sort of root for him, because he’s Bill Murray, the loveable underdog from CADDYSHACK, STRIPES, and GHOSTBUSTERS. It’s not until he’s visited by Lew Hayward (John Forsythe, as a composite of Marley and Fezziwig) that we remember this is A Christmas Carol, and he’s Ebenezer Scrooge.
And that’s part of SCROOGED’s draw. One of the biggest deviations from the novel, aside from the time, setting, and Solid Gold dancers, is that the spirits visit Frank during the day. Where Ebenezer Scrooge screamed at ghosts from his bed, Frank Cross screams at hallucinations while eating lunch with his boss (Robert Mitchum) and his would-be replacement (John Glover). As the three different spirits visit him through the day, it appears to anyone else Frank Cross is having a very public psychological breakdown. So, when Frank’s redemption plays out on live television — looking very much like another breakdown, but funner — it brings that theme around full-circle.
Obviously, that’s not all there is to SCROOGED. But it’s what occurred to me this time through.
— The main cast is filled out by David Johansen (Ghost of Christmas Past) and Carol Kane (Ghost of Christmas Present)
— IBC’s production of Scrooge features Buddy Hackett (Scrooge), Jamie Farr (Marley), John Houseman (Narrator), Pat McCormick (Ghost of Christmas Present, the Solid Gold Dancers (Scroogettes), and Mary Lou Retton (Tiny Tim, still one of my favorite gags of all time)
— Other cameos include Maria Riva, Lee Majors, Robert Goulet, Anne Ramsey, Logan Ramsey, Michael J. Pollard, John Murray, Brian Doyle Murray, and Joel Murray.
— Hayward/Marley’s chains are a golf bag
— Barbra Streisand recorded “My Favorite Things” for her Christmas album in 1967, and the song has been featured on many Christmas albums since. By those rules, “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” is now also a Christmas song.
— Writing about a movie you love is a lot more challenging than you think it will be.
And Speaking of Egomaniacs in Television…
Tori Spelling stars as talk show host Carol Cartman in A CAROL CHRISTMAS (2003, Matthew Irmas), a Hallmark Channel original! Carol is a talk show host and raging bitch to everyone around her. Gary Coleman plays the Ghost of Christmas Past, where we learn that Carol’s soul was corrupted by her ambitious Aunt Marla, played to manipulative perfection by Dinah Manoff. Much like SCROOGED, Carol was in love with a do-gooder (John Joyce), but left him to pursue her career (at Marla’s insistence). The Ghost of Christmas Present is a faux Dr. Phil who can’t stop speaking in cliches, even when he tries. And he’s played by Shatner! And they’re beamed to each new location!! Tori Spelling is great as Carol, and has one of the singular greatest moments of any Christmas Carol movie I’ve watched: When told the first spirit will visit her at 1:00… she unplugs the clock so 1:00 will never come. Even Dickens wasn’t that clever.
Tags: Al Green, Alfre Woodard, Anne Ramsey, Annie Lennox, bill murray, bobcat goldthwait, Brian Doyle Murray, Buster Poindexter, Carol Kane, Charles Dickens, Christmas, Columns, comedy, Danny Elfman, David Johansen, David Sanborn, Gary Coleman, Holiday Movies, Jamie Farr, Joel Murray, John Forsythe, John Houseman, John Murray, Karen Allen, Kool Moe Dee, Larry Carlton, Lee Majors, Logan Ramsey, Maria Riva, Mary Ellen Trainor, Mary Lou Retton, Mel Tormé, Michael Chapman, Michael J. Pollard, Michael O'Donoghue, Miles Davis, Mitch Glazer, Natalie Cole, New York, Pat McCormick, Paul Shaffer, Richard Donner, Robbie Robertson, Robert Goulet, Robert Mitchum, Tori Spelling, Van Morrison, Wendie Malick, William Shatner