Christmas Comes But Once a Year (Part 37)

on December 23, 2008 by Steve Simels

Looking for a Christmas movie on DVD that isn't It's a Wonderful Life? Well, of course, you could go with one of the at least eight official versions of A Christmas Carol (and we're going to wax rhapsodic about the best of them tomorrow -- see if you can guess which one it is). But if you're feeling a tad cynical this season, there's really only one possible choice.

I refer, of course, to Richard Donner's should-be-a-ubiquitous-classic satirical reimagining of the story, the 1988 near masterpiece Scrooged. Co-written by the late great comic genius Michael O'Donoghue, whose mordantly hilarious vision informs almost every frame.

Bill Murray, in full Man Who Invented Irony mode, stars as Scrooge surrogate Frank Cross, the youngest network president in television history and a SOB who has no scruples at all about stapling antlers onto the head of a mouse. Also on board (in a huge, cameo-filled cast) are David Johansen as the funniest Ghost of Christmas Past ever, Michael J. Pollard as a homeless guy who thinks Frank is Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum as the hilariously senile former network honcho who wants Frank to program a show with a detective who plays with pieces of string (to appeal to an emerging demographic of house pets), and Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim in the televised Christmas Carol within the movie.

The film's genius is to surround the familiar story with a scabrous critique of contemporary pop culture; the station Frank works for, for example, is as devastating (if less prescient) a parody of Fox as the one in Network, and it's a little depressing to view the film now and realize that the holiday programming Frank wants to air in 1988 looks more or less exactly like what you'll actually see on cable this week. Still, the sentimental heart of the Dickens original remains intact here, and if you don't get a little teary at the end, when Frank talks directly to the movie theater audience while the on-screen characters sing along to Al Green's version of "Put a Little Love in Your Heart," then I probably don't want to know you.

Frank has a wonderful bit of dialogue after he wakes up from his Christmas Eve ordeal: "The Jews taught me this great word. 'Schmuck'. I was a schmuck, and now I'm not a schmuck."

Well, now it's your turn -- don't be a schmuck, and just rent this one. Or order it here.

And Merry Christmas to you, too.


Tags: Bill Murray, David Johansen, It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, Scrooged

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