Soundtrack Saturday: “Scrooged”

I wasn’t going to resurrect another holiday Soundtrack Saturday post, but I couldn’t help it. A) This is such a great movie, B) It has a great soundtrack and C) I wanted an excuse to reintroduce you all to that bananas Unicef “Put a Little Love In Your Heart” clip. This was originally posted in December 2009, and was the last installment of A Soundtrack Saturday Christmas. Enjoy and have a great holiday!

Since the moment I first saw Scrooged (1988),  it instantly became one of my favorite holiday films. I mean, you have to love any adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol that includes the Solid Gold Dancers and casts once-and-future New York Dolls frontman David Johansen as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

The problem I faced was that the soundtrack album for Scrooged is woefully out of print. I was having a hell of a time finding most of the tracks, and I really thought I might have to scrap this post altogether and find another film. But I was determined to write about the movie, so I soldiered on and managed to find the entire soundtrack, thus saving my dream of A Perfect Soundtrack Saturday Christmas.

If you’ve never seen Scrooged, I’m sure you have your reasons, e.g. you don’t like Christmas movies, you hate Bill Murray, you’re angry at Johansen for the Buster Poindexter years. If that’s the case, then maybe I can change your mind, because this is a funny film whether Christmas is your thing or not.

By telling you that Scrooged is a Reagan-era update of A Christmas Carol, I probably don’t need to dig too deep to describe the movie’s plot. Directed by Richard Donner (Murray reportedly asked Sydney Pollack, who directed him in 1982’s Tootsie, to take the reins first), with a screenplay by Mitch Glazer and former Saturday Night Live writer Michael O’Donoghue, it stars Murray as Ebenezer Scrooge surrogate Frank Cross, a ruthless TV network executive.

Frank is a miserable son of a bitch. He overworks his poor assistant, Grace (Alfre Woodard), who gets to spend very little time with her family, including her troubled, mute son, because of her boss’s demanding schedule. When one of Frank’s employees, Eliot Loudermilk (Bobcat Goldthwait), disagrees with an approach Frank wants to take to advertise the network’s live Christmas Eve broadcast of “Scrooge,” the umpteenth adaptation of A Christmas Carol (wink wink), Frank fires him. He also neglects his relationship with his brother, James (Murray’s real-life brother John), thinking so little of it that he tells Grace to send him a bath towel emblazoned with the network’s logo for Christmas.

After many displays of dickish behavior, Frank gets a special visit from his dead mentor, Lew Hayward, played by Dynasty‘s John Forsythe. (Side note: when I first saw this movie, I was 100 percent shocked that it was Blake Carrington under all that makeup.) Lew tells his former protegé that if he doesn’t change his ways, he’ll end up just like Lew, a prospect Frank doesn’t really seem to mind. Since the network honcho needs a little convincing, Lew tells him that he’ll be visited by three ghosts.

The whole experience shakes Frank up, prompting him to leave a message on the answering machine of his ex-girlfriend Claire (Karen Allen), who he hasn’t seen or spoken to in years.

Now, you know how the rest of this goes, right? The first ghost to arrive is the Ghost of Christmas Past (Johansen), and in this version of the story he takes the form of a New York City cab driver. (Personally, if I were to be visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, I would want it to look and sound exactly like David Johansen.) He takes Frank on a supernatural trip to revisit his childhood, his first job at the network, his first year with Claire, and their subsequent breakup.

He then meets the Ghost of Christmas Present, a masochistic fairy played by the glorious, scene-stealing Carol Kane. She delights in beating the crap out of Frank as she shows him Christmas Eve at Grace’s home and his brother’s.

Before the third and final ghost gets a chance to visit, a very drunk and angry Eliot returns to the network’s offices with a shotgun, threatening to kill Frank, who’s momentarily saved by the Ghost of Christmas Future, a grim-reaper type with a TV screen for a head.

This specter shows Frank a future in which Grace’s mute son winds up in a mental institution and do-gooder Claire turns into a bitter, uncaring social climber, not unlike Frank. Finally, he witnesses his own cremation, then begins experiencing it from inside his coffin. As he feels the heat of the flames, he finally realizes what a jerk he’s been and asks for a second chance in order to make things right.

Frank wakes up in his office just as the live “Scrooge” broadcast is ending. The new-and-improved network exec rehires Eliot and enlists his help in securing the control booth as he steps in front of the rolling studio cameras and proceeds to deliver a lengthy monologue about his discovery of the true meaning of Christmas.

Scrooged marked Murray’s first lead role in a comedy since Ghostbusters four years earlier. It opened the day before Thanksgiving in 1988 and was a sizable hit, debuting at number one and earning $60 million, which was pretty good for a holiday movie back then. It even got an Academy Award nomination for Best Makeup.

I’d like to say that I saw it when it was in theaters, but I’m not 100 percent sure I did. I do know that when it came out on video my brother and I demanded our parents let us rent it — three weekends in a row. And we watched it pretty much every time it aired on cable.

The Scrooged soundtrack even spun off a hit song, the Annie Lennox-Al Green cover of Jackie DeShannon’s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” The single reached #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. and was a hit in various other countries as well.

As I mentioned earlier, the soundtrack album is long out of print. It doesn’t include the wonderful score by Danny Elfman, but it does feature almost all the songs you hear in the film. For those who’ve seen Scrooged, you may have noticed that Miles Davis, Larry Carlton, David Sanborn, and Paul Shaffer appear in a cameo as a street band playing a jazz rendition of the classic Christmas carol “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” Luckily, it’s included on the album.

We also get a hip-hop/dance track from Kool Moe Dee, “Get Up ‘n’ Dance,” which is the song the Solid Gold Dancers are gyrating to during the rehearsals for “Scrooge,” plus there’s Natalie Cole’s take on “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire),” David Johansen-slash-Buster Poindexter’s cover of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl,” and a wonderful gospel-choir version of U2’s “Sweetest Thing” performed by New Voices of Freedom.

I’ve compiled the entire soundtrack for you, including two songs that weren’t on the album: Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs’ “Wooly Bully” and “I Second That Emotion” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles. I also thought I’d share a couple of visual representations of “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”: the official video for the Lennox-Green version and a very special version sung by a motley crew during a 1979 TV special benefiting UNICEF (if you only watch one of the clips, I beg you to watch this one).

Miles Davis, Larry Carlton, David Sanborn, and Paul Shaffer – We Three Kings of Orient Are
Kool Moe Dee – Get Up ‘n’ Dance
Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs – Wooly Bully
Smokey Robinson & the Miracles – I Second That Emotion
Natalie Cole – The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)
Buster Poindexter – Brown-Eyed Girl
Annie Lennox and Al Green – Put a Little Love in Your Heart
New Voices of Freedom (featuring Adriane McDonald and George Pendergrass) – The Sweetest Thing
Mark Lennon – A Wonderful Life
Dan Hartman and Denise Lopez – The Love You Take
Robbie Robertson – Christmas Must Be Tonight

  • DwDunphy

    Merry Gibbmas, Kelly!

  • EightE1

    Awesome as always, Kelly. Looking forward to another year of Soundtrack Saturdays.

  • Jill

    Merry Xmas, Kelly! Also looking forward to 2010's future Soundtrack Saturdays.

  • rwcass

    Call me crazy, but I just saw “Precious,” and the casting of “Scrooged” reminds me of Lee Daniels's film, though I would include Richard Donner under the umbrella of “casting” here, because I don't think he'd directed a comedy before “Scrooged.” Had David Johansen been cast in such a large movie role before “Scrooged”? And had John Forsythe ever been in a comedy? And would Michael O'Donoghue ever again be attached to something considered “heartwarming”? (Wikipedia says he hated the final version of the film, however. I assume he wanted it to be darker.)

  • Michael Burke

    Always liked this movie, and the Lennox/Green cover had a life outside the film if I recall.

    Thanks Kelly!

  • jhallCORE

    Great column. Carol Kane was great in the film and I thought the pairing of Annie Lennox and Al Green was inspired. Enjoy the holidays.

  • BobCashill

    Donner cut his teeth directing episodes of GET SMART, GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, and THE BANANA SPLITS; his first film was the Peter Lawford/Sammy Davis, Jr. comedy SALT AND PEPPER and prior to SCROOGED he directed THE TOY with Richard Pryor, not that it had a laugh in it. (Probably Pryor's worst film, though there's much competition.) Forsythe starred in the hit comedy show BACHELOR FATHER for five years, and Johnasen had just had a small part in MARRIED TO THE MOB, so the casting wasn't that…precious.

    Given the talent involved SCROOGED was considered a boxoffice underperformer in 1988, but it's picked up an audience over the years.

  • rwcass

    I forgot about “The Toy” (it still would've been interesting to see how Pollack handled “Scrooged”), but was Forsythe actually going for laughs on “Bachelor Father” or was he the straight man like Brian Keith was on “Family Affair”?

    I noticed on IMDB that Johansen had been in “Married to the Mob” earlier in '88, but it looked like he had a small part in that. His lead role in “Car 54, Where Are You?” came later, of course.

  • revme

    From what I've read — like in the great bio of O'Donoghue, “Mr Mike” — he was irritated that there was a lot of improvisation from Bill Murray; O'Donoghue is a person who wants a tight-ship when a film is involved, and the words as written and all that, but Murray wasn't so much into that, and Donner didn't reign him in. (He pointed to the ending bit with Murray talking to the audience as a crucial example of what caused his hatred.)

    THAT SAID: I really love _Scrooged_, and that ending bit doesn't bother me at all, I think it's funny. And it's the credit sequence, so the film is basically Over Anyway, so it doesn't bug me that Murray more-or-less broke character.

  • rwcass

    Thanks, revme! I would imagine Paramount didn't want to rein Murray in, either.

    O'Donoghue never seemed like a happy camper to begin with. Does “Mr. Mike” mention how he told the new cast of “SNL” in 1981 that it was their job to get the show canceled? That he was at the head of a “Viking death ship” or something like that? I always liked Tim Kazurinsky's quote about that get-to-know-you session: “Can't we at least keep the show on long enough so I can buy a house?”

  • revme

    That's true — but damned if he wasn't a brilliant writer, though. I think it includes those bits (it's been a while since I read it), but it DOES include a great sketch he wrote for SNL that was never made, because Fred Silverman (head of NBC at the time) was so offended he refused to air it.

    The bit was called “A Dog Runs Off With The End Of The Script Theater”. Sort of a Masterpiece Theater kinda thing, only, well, what it says on the tin. That week's epsidoe of DROWTEOTST was called “The Good Reason”. It takes place right at the end of WWII, and an American GI busts in to the office of a really high-ranking Nazi (maybe even Hitler in the script, but I don't think so, seeing as HItler was in a bunker, but whatever) and says “OK, you evil son of a bitch, you caused this horrible war that killed so many people — my friends fighting in the war, POWs, not to mention the Holocaust. I'm gonna relish killing you where you stand right now” and the Nazi goes “NO! No, wait! I can understand that you're angry, and you have every right to be, but we had a REALLY good reason!” and the GI goes “What the fuck? What kind of good reason could you have? That's crazy.” And he goes “No, trust me, it's a REALLY good reason.”
    “OK, Fine, what is this 'really good reason' you could have for causing all this pain, suffering and death.”
    “I'll whisper it to you.”
    And the Nazi does, and the GI just drops his gun and goes, “WOW, you were right, that IS a really good reason. I'm so sorry.”
    “That's all right – you didn't know. You couldn't know.”
    Just then, a Russian Army Officer comes in and says the same thing as the GI originally did — that the Nazi's an evil bastard who was responsible for the deaths of his comrades and the Holocaust and all that, and the Nazi again goes “Wait, hear me out, I had a really good reason!” and the Russian is already surprised but is absolutely gobsmacked when the American goes “HE DOES! He really did have a REALLY GOOD REASON!” The Nazi again offers to whisper it to the Russian, does so, and the Russian concurs that, against all odds, it was really indeed a good reason.

    Then, a bunch of emaciated Jews come in who'd just been released from the camps, and they're understandably livid about all the suffering and deaths of their family members and friends they've endured for the past 6 or so years, and the Jews' spokesman threatens to kill the Nazi in revenge. And the Nazi, of course, says “Look — I completely understand; in your position, I'd be enraged with me too — but, trust me, I had a really good reason. I'll whisper it to you.”
    And the GI says “Wait, wait — it IS indeed a really good reason — trust me on that one — but whispering it to EVERYONE would take forever; why don't you just SAY it aloud so everyone can hear?”
    And the Nazi agrees, and goes “OK! OK! This is a really, really good reason — and I know as soon as I tell you what it is, you'll all agree and forgive me, even though everything you suffered, you ALL suffered, is an inhuman amount of pain and grief.”
    The Jews are skeptical, but curious as to what could POSSIBLY be a good enough reason for EVERYTHING they've gone through and the deaths of 6 million of their kind, including their family members, their friends, their spiritual leaders, everyone.
    “The Good reason IS –“
    and just then, a big, shaggy dog runs through the set with the last page of the script in its mouth, leaving the actors to just stand there awkwardly.

    Silverman's objection was the sheer idea that there could have been a good reason for the Holocaust — even though that's the point of the joke, that there IS none. Ah well. It's still hilarious to me.

  • jasonhare

    John Denver! Donna Summer! Barry Gibb! Olivia Newton-John! Earth, Wind and Fire! Andy Fucking Gibb! Rod Stewart! ABBA! HOLY SHIT THAT WAS AWESOME

    Soundtrack Saturday makes my weekends so wonderful. Thank you for all your fantastic posts, Kelly! Can't wait until we're working in the same office and I'm standing over your shoulder (in my Christmas sweater) as you write them.

  • KellyStitzel

    Of everyone, I knew you'd love that clip the most, Jason. I admit – I watched it ten times in a row after I found it. I was mesmerized at everything that was happening, particularly Henry Winkler rocking out and Gilda Radner looking frightened.

  • KellyStitzel

    Also. Rod Stewart totally doesn't know the lyrics, nor does he seem to know what the hell is going on.

  • jasonhare

    I totally did not see Gilda or Henry after three viewings, and had to check again after you mentioned. Holy crap, this is so awesome. And they all kind of look like they're looking at cue cards.

  • KellyStitzel

    Is that Henry Fonda standing next to Gilda?

  • jasonhare

    I don't think so, but I'm pretty sure that's Kris Kristofferson behind Andy Gibb.

  • Jeff

    Great piece, great tunes. Don't forget Robert Mitchum in this, either. Small part, but still badass.

  • KellyStitzel

    Oh, yes. Love Robert Mitchum, especially the scene when he's insisting that cat's will be a huge demographic for the network.

  • cdorso

    Quite possibly the best Christmas movie ever — you read my mind by posting this today, as I had a hankerin' for that Annie Lennox/Al Green song. Thank you, thank you, a million times, thank you.

  • rwcass

    Yep, that's ol' Kris, and the description on YouTube does say that's Fonda standing beside Gilda.

  • rwcass

    Ha! That was a great description of the sketch that you gave. I laughed out loud at the punchline.

    Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad's book “Saturday Night” describes a sketch cowritten by O'Donoghue for the first show of “SNL's” 1981-'82 season called “The Last Ten Days of Silverman's Bunker,” in which recently fired NBC programming chief Fred Silverman was compared to Hitler and the network was renamed the Nazional Broadasting Compay. New programming chief Brandon Tartikoff liked it, but it never made it to air.

    The book also says that the sketch you described was written for the Halloween '81 episode hosted by Donald Pleasence; he would've played the Nazi whispering the “good reason” to everyone.

    Another sketch O'Donoghue cowrote about a family who lived too close to a nuclear power plant was to feature a prop that was meant to look like a “blow hole” — overexposure to radiation would cause every mutated human to have a new orifice in the future — ended up looking like “a cunt with ears, and it was deeply disturbing,” according to O'Donoghue. The authors wrote, “The props people took out some of the teeth and hair and muted its purple color down to lavender, but it still looked like a vagina.”

  • KellyStitzel

    I can't stop watching that clip. I'm pissed that it cuts off. The Andy Gibb/Rod Stewart bit at the end is seriously so hilarious I can't deal.

  • revme

    Thanks! I laughed out loud when I read the sketch in _Mr. Mike_, and then promptly started describing the sketch to whomever would listen… I like it, and I would have aired it were I in charge of NBC. Perhaps this is why I am NOT in charge of NBC.

    I think _Mr. Mike_ referenced the 10 days In Fred Silverman's Bunker sketch, but otherwise, I don't know really anything about it…

    The Blow Hole sketch doesn't even really ring a bell at all for me — did that one air? I'm thinking it did from your mention of the prop guys but, dang — I wanna see that. I tend to find comedy best when it's at least slightly disturbing. But what do I know — I love _The Dark Backward_.

    While I was always more of an SCTV fan, I did like the early SNL — and I find it definitely pretty interesting, just because of the wealth of talent they had, particularly starting out.

  • rwcass

    I was more of an “SCTV” fan too. Did you hear about the reunion in Chicago last week?

    Those early-'80s episodes of “SNL” are interesting to see now mostly because of Eddie Murphy. He dominates every sketch he's in, even when he's not trying to. However, those early-'80s episodes featured some relatively short sketches compared to the last quarter-century or so, when even the thinnest premises are stretched out to five minutes or more. (NBC showed some of these episodes five years ago when they were airing old episodes at three in the morning on Saturdays. They eventually replaced those reruns with some poker show.)

    The “Saturday Night” book says that the “blow hole” sketch did air, but without the disturbing prop.

  • revme

    That was GREAT — I didn't know about it, but that was a cool article. I would have loved to have been there. Hopefully some cameras were smuggled in…8)

    Sketch-stretching is the main problem with SNL for me — it'll be a lame premise to begin with — maybe something that could get a couple laughs in 2 or 3 minutes, but at 10, it's just painful. I can see why — with a live show, it might not seem worth it to do short sketches (that aren't taped like the ad parodies), but still.

  • rwcass

    Here are two more articles for you about the reunion:

    Bob Odenkirk said on one of the “Mr. Show” DVDs that a reason sketches run long on “SNL,” which he wrote for in the late '80s and early '90s, is because the production team had already spent $20,000 on a set, so why not showcase it? Odenkirk's method for “Mr. Show” was: Who cares about the set? Make it as flimsy as it needs to be.

    But the main reason seems to be filling up enough segments in a 90-minute show that can't be edited later. That's also why there's no room for improv on “SNL,” despite what most people think. Of course, there's room for 90 seconds of applause following some lame celebrity cameo …

  • Jeff Johnson

    And for those interested in the Danny Elfman score, there's a cool 8-minute suite on Elfman's “Music For A Darkened Theatre Volume 1″ CD.

  • rwcass

    Sooooo … I was right about Forsythe?

  • rwcass

    Sooooo … I was right about Forsythe?

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