Man, did Richard Donner have a great directing career or what? The Omen, Superman, the Lethal Weapon movies, The Goonies, Ladyhawke…man, I’m a big fan. He brings a lot to Scrooged, which has a great script by Mitch Glazer, who wrote the book for The Blues Brothers as Miami Mitch, as well as Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video, which he co-wrote with the other screenwriter for this movie — and one of my personal heroes — Michael O’Donoghue. Beyond being the first person to say, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” O’Donoghue was a major force at the National Lampoon and a cantankerous venom-spewing force of nature
O’Donoghue refused to write for Jim Henson’s Muppets on SNL, saying “I won’t write for felt,” eventually left the show and came back for the Dick Ebersol season, spray painting DANGER! on the walls, frightening everyone except for Eddie Murphy — Catherine O’Hara left and went back to SCTV — and wrote the never-aired “The Last Days in Silverman’s Bunker,” a sketch that would last twenty minutes, feature John Belushi as NBC President Silverman and have an NBC Nazi logo. He was fired, then rehired when Lorne Michaels came back and wrote a monologue for Chevy Chase that started with “Right after I stopped doing cocaine, I turned into a giant garden slug, and, for the life of me, I don’t know why.” He then told the New York Times that the show was “an embarrassment. It’s like watching old men die” and got fired yet again.
He hated this movie.
He claimed that he wrote a better one.
It’s still a pretty good movie.
Michael O’Donoghue remains an inspiration because nothing was ever good enough and everyone was worthy of his anger.
Bill Murray is Frank Cross, the first role he took since taking four years off after Ghostbusters. Murray and Donner had different visions, so Murray saw this movie as sheer misery. He’s an IBC television executive who has learned everything from his bosses Preston Rhinelander (Robert Mitchum) and the late Lew Hayward (John Forsythe) and as such, he’s created a new version of A Christmas Carol that has a commercial hyping it so upsetting that a woman dies from a heart attack. But hey — Buddy Hackett as Scrooge!
This is a movie that recreates that very same story but somehow does it with some of my favorite personalities, like David Johansen as the cab-driving Ghost of Christmas Past, Carol Kane as the brutal Ghost of Christmas Present and a horrifying Ghost of Christmas Future made up of a Grim Reaper containing TV screens.
Plus Karen Allen, Michael J. Pollard, John Glover (one of my favorites in everything he’s acted in), Murray boys Brian, John and Joel, John Houseman, Bobcat Goldthwait, Mary Lou Retton, Pat McCormick, Paul Schaffer, David Sanborn, Jamie Farr, the Solid Gold Dancers, Lee Majors (The Night the Reindeer Died is amazing and he’s carrying the actual gun from Predator), Robert Goulet, Miles Davis and Larry Carlton.
The end of the film, where Frank has his moment of clarity, was hard for Murray to figure out, so he ad-libbed all of it. Glazer and O’Donoghue thought he was having a nervous breakdown and as the crew cheered the end of the scene, O’Donoghue said, “What was that? The Jim Jones hour?” Donner punched him in the arm so hard he was bruised for a week.
O’Donoghue later said that Donner did not understand comedy and just wanted things bigger. He claims only 40% of what he wanted is in the movie. Murray would later tell Roger Ebert “That could have been a really, really great movie. The script was so good. He kept telling me to do things louder, louder, louder. I think he was deaf.”
You know who didn’t like this movie? David Johansen’s New York Dolls bandmate Arthur “Killer” Kane. According to Rolling Stone, “Around 20 years ago original New York dolls bassist Arthur “Killer” Kane was watching TV when the 1988 Bill Murray Christmas movie Scrooged came on. The sight of Dolls frontman David Johansen in a prominent role sent Kane into such a jealous rage that he beat his wife with cat furniture and then jumped out of a third-story window, attempting to kill himself. Luckily, he landed on an awning and survived with minor injuries. While recuperating in the hospital he saw an ad for a free copy of the Book of Mormon. When a couple of beautiful young women personally brought it over, he was ready to convert. Within a few years the Mormon Church had completely transformed his life — he even worked at the church’s Family History Library Center in Los Angeles. In 2004 his dream of a New York Dolls reunion finally came true, but just three weeks after their comeback show he died of leukemia.”
The real Scrooges were Paramount Pictures executives who demanded that this movie shoot over Christmas. Donner beat them by firing the entire cast and crew at the end of the day on Christmas Eve and rehiring them on the day after the holiday.
I miss the anarchic spirit of Murray and O’Donoghue on Saturday Night Live. Somehow, I’d never seen this until this year and it made me miss the show I used to love.