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On Nov. 23, 1988, moviegoers were greeted by a slightly darker holiday tale. Bill Murray’s Scrooged was greeted as a “scathing satire” and eventually became a holiday staple. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
A leading publication recently documented the number of wackos who are extraordinarily successful business and community leaders. Not surprisingly, the list included a number of entertainment industry heavies. While it certainly was an impressive compilation of megalomaniacs and functional psychotics, those listed could take lessons in chewing-them-up-and-spitting-them-out from Bill Murray.
In Scrooged, Murray stars as a nutso network nabob hellbent on winning the Christmas season. Not merely a scathing satire of the entertainment industry, but a wild and woolly holiday feast, this Paramount release should, in its wonderfully sickening parlance, “scrape off” the boxoffice competition throughout the holiday season.
Bedecked in black-on-black power threads and sauntering with the smug assurance of a fascist dictator, Murray is hilariously convincing as a TV head honcho. With the goofy imperiousness of those who have risen to power because they excel in behaving like children and can think like the stupidest of adults, Murray is impressively sinister in his role of revered network chief. As he sagely appreciates, Christmas means two things: It’s cold, and people stay home and watch TV.
But like real-life network heads who’ve shelled out $40 million for a project, Murray is stuck with a holiday turkey. In this not-too-far-from-reality case, the best his creative people could come up with to fill Christmas Eve is the standard bucket of prestige holiday glop — a live TV version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Story, featuring Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim, Buddy Hackett as Scrooge, Jamie Farr as Marley, the Solid Gold Dancers as your everyday holiday celebrants, and John Houseman as the curmudgeonly Masterpiece-like host.
Stoked crazy by his staff’s ineptitude and fueled by his fear and loathing for the holiday season, Murray launches a series of incendiary promo ads, designed to scare the public into watching his opus. Even by presidential campaign standards, the ads are woefully inflammatory and sicko.
With Network-like disdain for TV, and S.O.B-style regard for entertainment types, screenwriters Mitch Glaser and Michael O’Donoghue have concocted an often uproarious and consistently vitriolic picture of the TV industry. They’ve inventively wound it back around Dickens’ classic tale, with, of course, Murray playing the Scrooge part.
In this splendidly scrambled story, the Scrooge-ish network head is a humbug of the highest order: He bullies his selfless secretary (Alfre Woodard); he rejects his only brother (Brian Doyle Murray) and, indicative of his mean-spirited ways, he fires a longtime employee (Bobcat Goldthwait) on Christmas Eve, ostensibly to save a Christmas bonus. While it may be fun to say “no” all the time and guzzle Stoli in his office, the sharkish Murray finds it’s lonely at the top, and scary too, especially when the network owner (Robert Mitchum) counsels him to pay more attention to cultivating programming for the nation’s 60 million dogs and cats.
In a series of wickedly amusing flashbacks, Murray confronts his past, from his toddler days watching The Lone Ranger and Candid Camera, through his TV beginnings as the network’s resident hippie/mailman and, most painfully, up and through a romance with a bright and modest social worker (Karen Allen). Even the vertically mobile Murray sees the personal and human opportunities squandered and missed along the way. With flickerings of remorse, the cruel-hearted ratings man looks back wistfully on those personal moments, lamenting the emptiness of his own life. Most horrifying, he feels he’s so emotionally retarded he can’t distinguish his own life from TV shows.
Glaser and O’Donoghue have not only boxed up a deliciously disgusting comedy but tied it up with a festive, Dickensian ending. Undeniably, some of the gag sequences are redundant and there are some overwrought comic misfires along the way. There’s also a notable midsection lag that’s only titter rather than belly-laugh funny. Still, director Richard Donner has kept the film on its raucous and gonzo track. Unarguably, it’s energy, nuttiness and charm are in no small measure due to Murray’s hip and sassy performance.
With his deadpan, cut-through-it style, Murray is hilarious as the network czar. His deadpan putdowns — his voice pulsating with flat disdain and his open glare shooting darts — are scrumptiously condescending. Despite the juicy, on-the-edge craziness, Murray is able to layer his outrageous histrionics with an inner sensibility, making his ultimate transformation not only believable but Christmas-cheer uplifting.
Big presents under the tree for the supporting cast, including Alfre Woodard as Murray’s steady secretary, Bobcat Goldthwait as the sniveling Bob Cratchett-like network exec and Robert Mitchum as the doddering network head. A high rating also to John Glover for his credible portrayal of a two-faced L.A. slimeball.
Carol Kane, in a few short and wacky moments on the screens, is a certified hoot as a gussied-up Ghost of Christmas Present. Michael J. Pollard is characteristically crazy/cuddly as a down-and-outer who thinks Murray is Richard Burton.
The technical credits are impressively wrapped and bowed. J. Michael Riva’s production design is dead-on-the-mark funny. The wide array of costumes is wonderfully fitting also, particularly Murray’s line of clothes, from his hippy-dippy duds to his power threads. In keeping with the splendidly rowdy tone, Danny Elfman’s music is full-blasted with holiday spirit. — Duane Byrge, originally published on Nov. 21, 1988.
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