Welcome to The Twelve Ways of Christmas, where we discuss holiday films you’ve already seen or never plan on watching. And why not, right? Every other damn movie site’s doing it, and since when does giving in to peer pressure put you on the naughty list?
With little rhyme or reason, check in from now until The Day That Must Not Be Named for a new entry. And Happy Kwanzaa.
Don’t tell TV executive Frank Cross he’s a “Scrooge” around the holidays. He knows Dickens’ Christmas Carol, considering his network IBC is planning a live in-studio broadcast of it. Richard Donner’s weird, charming, and brilliant Scrooged isn’t a meta commentary on a seemingly endless string of Christmas adaptations. Rather, it infuses a familiar plot outline — a mizerly curmudgeon reassesses his life through the help of three spirits — with new dynamics, placing new characters and designs inside a modern, cynical New York City.
Given that he’s a stickler for perfection, Frank (Bill Murray) expects the most out of his employees at IBC. He abuses the dependability of assistant Grace (Alfre Woodard) and even fires an outspoken critic (Bobcat Goldthwait) of his sensationalized Scrooge promo on Christmas Eve. But Murray isn’t channeling an 80s update of Ebenezer. This is a man who’s as cynical as the cynics come, yet all the highballs in the world couldn’t make him forgotten his former love Claire (a bubbly Karen Allen) — well, with a little help from his grisled spirit of a former boss. Apart from IBC’s “Scrooge” production, there isn’t much in Scrooged to immediately signal the film’s trajectory. (even John Forsythe’s “Jacob Marley” proxy is more rotting east coast snowbird than a tortured, shackled spirit of Dickens). Like its jerk of an executive, Scrooged’s writers have been there, done that, and thus they bend and break the original story to fit their own ends.
The supreme focus, of course, is the redemption of Frank Cross via three spirits. David Johansen’s “Ghost of Christmas Past” is a grimy, cigar-smoking loudmouth of a cab driver who steals Frank away from an important lunch meeting as his fare meter flits back to Frank’s childhood and days as an intern. The slap happy “Ghost of Christmas Present” is played Carol Kane. Seemingly a benign fairy with frilly sparkled wings, her spirit is wonderfully aggressive, smacking peppy reality into Frank as he’s shown the unappreciated love of his brother or the destitution he’s caused for his personal assistant. Pain, like the present, is an immediate experience. Adhering closest to Dickens’ original concept, the “Ghost of Christmas Future” towers over Frank like a statue draped shrouded in ashy cloth, but where a gaping hole for a face once appeared, Scrooged replaces with a television screen. Guiding Frank on an elevator ride down to his own cremation is a dark sight indeed, but “Future’s” resounding sting is its televised visage, a cathode ray of a window into one grouchy executive’s future.
Considering how much of a louse Francis Xavier Cross at the onset, several days of a haunting still seem like an easy bargain for a real workhorse of a spiritual makeover, and removed from his blanket of general callousness, his firing a pushover during the holidays is plenty cold-hearted on its own. Murray doesn’t relish in these moments of cruelty, often playing off Frank’s victims as if they’re outsized nuisances a misstep away from being swatted off his map, and while even a genuine performance from him doesn’t completely sell Frank’s transformation, there’s newfound warmth in his rekindled romance with Allen’s Claire. And against the hypertextured Dickensian landscape Donner has gorged himself on, Frank’s sincere plea for peace on earth, for love among family and friends is a tranformative moment for this scrooge. Via a masterful stroke and a teleprompter, Frank’s selling the millions of IBC viewers tuned in to his live broadcast. Like a board meeting, he’s giving a pitch: tonight, turn off your damn television, America.
Way #2: The Nightmare Before Christmas
Way #3: Jack Frost (1997)
Way #4: Jack Frost (1998)
Way #5: Jingle All the Way
Way #6: Santa’s Slay