We’re now in week four of Christmas. Really. Christmas Day is officially once every December 25, right? Somewhere along the line, someone — very probably someone who owns a shopping mall chain — erased the numeral specific, and turned all of December into Christmas.
Actually, that’s too generous. I started hearing Christmas music in stores on November 1st this year. November 1st! Like the otherwise relentless Headless Horseman and his aversion to bodies of water, these demons of consumerism haven’t yet found a way to cross the Halloween threshold, but since Thanksgiving doesn’t have much in the way of identifiable tunage, they can stampede right over that one. I know how these corporate coyotes think – people hear Christmas themes and they start buying like crazy.
You don’t have to agree, but I’m calling it like it really is. The day after Thanksgiving is a shamefully, even despicably, early time for the major corporations to start pummeling the universe with Christmas songs and broadcasts. The day after Halloween – that’s legitimately criminal. Is it about the religion or the spirit anymore, or is it about selling CDs? Gross. It’d be all worth it if people all got with the program, but take a ride on the subway. Most people are the same miserable, self-serving assholes in December that they are all year round. Again, don’t get me wrong, I like the Christmas season mighty fine, but I have to admit that at just about this time every year, I’m just a little bit looking forward to December 26th.
As long as they slip Bill Murray’s SCROOGED into the programming every once in a while, I know I can make it through another day of getting knocked around by pushy commuters while being bombarded by that god-awful Paul McCartney song. SCROOGED reminds me of what it could and should be about.
People who know what they’re talking about, when it comes to Bill Murray movies, usually point to QUICK CHANGE as the most underrated Bill Murray movie. And they’re right (that‘s a longer talk for another time), but I would also submit this one for consideration.
SCROOGED isn’t as thoroughly hilarious as it might be, mostly because Bill Murray plays it so MEAN for much of the movie (‘course, he is basically playing Ebenezer Scrooge after all), and there are a couple genuinely creepy moments (which I won‘t spoil if you haven‘t seen it yet but of course it’s to do with Christmas Future), well evoked by director Richard Donner, composer Danny Elfman, and cinematographer Michael Chapman (TAXI DRIVER).
But mainly, Bill keeps things real damn funny. No one plays the detached sardonic cynic with secreted reserves of sensitivity better than Bill Murray. He also does a pretty decent Richard Burton impression, which is very random.
Also, I love the supporting cast. SCROOGED has got Karen Allen, the coolest lady in all of 1980s cinema. She was the voice of sanity in ANIMAL HOUSE, the girl who brought Starman to Earth, and the indisputable greatest girl Indiana Jones ever met, and she’s really lovable in all her scenes with Bill Murray here. The rest of the ensemble is filled out by weird, memorable cameos and surprising supporting turns from unexpected places. And best of all, this movie even has room for the eternally badass Robert Mitchum as Bill’s boss. (Which makes sense. How many other actors could fill such a role?)
But moreover, this is a crucial showcase for the greatest working film comedian. Murray made this movie in 1988, after four years of virtual seclusion from movies, so it obviously meant something to him for this to be his return to cinema screens. I really think that the final segment of the movie, where Bill Murray makes the case for Christmas spirit directly to the camera in a combination of singing and pleading, is one of his all-time best performances. I don’t know how much of it was scripted, but it sure doesn’t feel that way. It looks just like someone genuinely pouring their heart out. Sure, it’s more than a bit corny. But big-time emotional moments like that always are.
I don’t know about you, but those look like real tears to me. That’s not Hollywood actor bullshit. That’s a guy speaking his heart. That fucking moves me.
He was so often misunderstood as strictly sardonic or detached or cynical in his approach, but I would maintain that there has always been at least one passing moment of authentic humanity in any Bill Murray comedy performance, no matter how out-there the surrounding film, whether it be GHOSTBUSTERS (note the way he looks at the statue of the devil dog when he thinks Sigourney Weaver is gone forever), GHOSTBUSTERS II (that brief moment when he addresses the baby with “I should have been your father”), and yes, even in the elephant movie. That’s why more serious-minded indie filmmakers like Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola, Aaron Schneider, and Jim Jarmusch were able to snap him right up and do wonders with him. And that’s why he’s one of the all-time great film comedians, and certainly why he’s my personal favorite.