When I was a kid, I was terrified of Scrooged. I remember watching it on VHS with my family sometime close to Christmas. I was a little bored with the beginning, and waiting for the Christmas stuff to happen. Then came the scene in which Frank Cross [Bill Murray] is visited by his equivalent of Jacob Marley, and he’s gross and decayed. When he holds Frank out of the window and his rotten arm breaks off, I was done.
I think I yelled at my dad for making me watch a scary movie. I felt tricked. This was not a Christmas movie. I wanted to watch a different movie, an actual Christmas movie, but I wandered off to play instead. Cautiously, I came back into the living room a few times to see if anything Christmassy was happening. I liked Carol Kane’s Ghost of Christmas Present, but otherwise, as far as I was concerned, there was nothing redeeming about Scrooged.
I saw it again some time later and realized my mistake. I kind of love Christmas movies, so it’s in my rotation. I watched it again last year while making out my Christmas cards, and was surprised at how genuinely entertaining the movie still is. Sure, it has obviously aged, but there is a great deal of heart that carries the movie through. Obviously, it’s the classic story of A Christmas Carol modernized so it was working with a formula that has proven successful for over 150 years [Dickens’s original novella has never been out of print since it was first published in 1843] and through multiple adaptations. And it’s got Bill Murray basically at his peak—how can you lose with Bill Murray?
I wonder, though, how someone who had never seen it would react to it today. Is it one of those movies that you have to have watched it while young to appreciate it? It seems The Goonies is like that—everyone who I have talked to who doesn’t like The Goonies didn’t watch it until adulthood. It is something of an odd Christmas movie given how much darkness is in it. I still don’t really like the scene that scared me so much when I was a kid. One scene I had forgotten about was when Frank finds a homeless man who had frozen to death as a direct result of Frank’s selfishness. Everything with the Ghost of Christmas Future is dark. But the Dickens classic is also scary in this way. Scrooge is forced to see the error of his selfish, cynical ways in order to find true Christmas spirit. Maybe the original Scrooge doesn’t get visited by a mentally disturbed, shotgun-wielding ex-employee, but I think the spirit is the same.
Scrooged is a prime example of 1980s optimism. When I try to imagine a similar movie being released today I just can’t. I think that’s why I like Scrooged so much. It feels good to watch something so unabashedly heartfelt in today’s cynical, divided world.