The movie that brought you "The night the reindeer died" and "Robert Goulet's Cajun Christmas"

This was the first Bill Murray vehicle I saw after Ghostbusters, somewhere in the mid eighties and remember being quite disappointed, as I was excepting something more light and fluffy, not the dark, sometimes painfully cynical adapation of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. The story is of course quickly told: Heartless arsehole Frank Cross (Bill Murray in maybe his best role. Well, apart from Lost in Translation), the president of TV-network IBC is preparing the most triumphant night of his career: a collection of christmas specials for christmas eve, including the famous The Night the Reindeer Died featuring Lee Majors and a AK-47 toting Santa Claus, an alligator studded Robert Goulet's Cajun Christmas and a live telecast version of A Christmas Carol, featuring mice with stapled antlers, a 3/4 naked female dance troop and Mary Lou Retton.


So he is getting visited by his ex-boss (fresh from Dynasty: John Forsythe as a Zombie. Nice sendup of his eternal casting as a charm dripper) who tells him to expect the usual three ghosts: Christmas past, present and future. Of course they arrive, showing him his personal history and the causes of his cynical and mean life, and shazam: he mends his ways, celebrating christmas spirit live on air in a 15 minute monologue, interrupting his own telecast.

And so happy end ensues.

Now of course this sounds corny, and made in 1988 for Paramount by old action head Richard Donner (of Lethal Weapon, for crying out loud), not particulary known for his emotive directing, this turns this into a christmassy rollercoaster that's a bit gory, a bit funny, a bit touching, but always entertaining. This is not because of the rather tiresome dialogue or the sometimes outright stupid script but for exactly two factors: actors and soundtrack.

As an ensemble comedy, this movie just works. Murray, Robert Mitchum, Karen Allen, the incredible Bob Goldthwait (of Police Academy "fame") just feed of each other, helped by numerous cameos of crappy american soap actors. The soundtrack, composed by Danny Elfman and featuring songs by Miles Davis, Danvid Sanborn, Julian Lennon, Buster Pointdexter and of course Al Green and Annie Lennox is bloody awesome and still a perannial favourite of mine.

Watch it for Murray's one-liners, Carol Keane's Ghost of Christmas Present and for "The night the reindeer died", but not more than once a year, and only in December.

Merry Christmas.

No holiday season is complete, in my humble opinion, without seeing this 1988 movie at least once. It has Christmas (of course). It has Bill Murray being top-notch Bill Murray (for better or worse depending upon your Murray-fannage). It has Bill Murray getting hit upside the head with a toaster. Yes, Virginia, yes it does. It has yet another send-up of the classic Dickens tale of the three yuletide spooks plus one upset dead guy. Only this time... well, OK, you can say "only this time..." about any of the 167,989 times this story has been told and retold on TV shows, movies, the internet, video games, and porn. But, anyway, only this time it's funny.

No, no seriously, I know you've heard it before, but really this time it really is funny. I mean, it's got Bill Murray. And did I mention he gets hit with a toaster? And upside the head? Oh and it has Bobcat Goldthwait?

The plot: Bill Murry is a television network executive (IBC) who, over the years, became more and more cynical and greedy and self-centered and... well... rather like Ebenezer Scrooge, which culminates in an epic way when his latest idea is a Christmas special that is an affront to everything decent and loving at Christmastime that would definitely make the baby Jesus cry. The violence and debauchery Frank Cross plans rattles the chains of even his most devoted Yes Men. It is a send-up of the Dickens tale (wait.. wait, that's what this movie is, isn't it? So it's a version of A Christmas Carol with the making a version of A Christmas Carol inside it? Right. OK.) complete with musical dance numbers with nipple-slips and frightening imagery that everybody outside of Frank Cross' deranged mind thinks is just wrong, wrong, WRONG. Oh and did I mention it's a LIVE special? No, not the movie, the special Frank Cross is.. oh! Try to keep up will ya?!

Bobcat plays a schlump who stands up to Cross about the depraved special and is immediately fired for it. Firing people immediately and without hesitation is something Frank is famous for at this point. Bobcat's character Eliot comes back later with a shotgun, and people, Bobcat being his best Bobcat is REALLY funny when he has a shotgun. Trust me. Disgruntled employee + being fired right before Christmas + Bobcat goldthwait + shotgun = workplace shooting hilarity!

So Frank Cross sees the rotting corpse... uh, ghost... uhh, corpse (whatever!) of his former boss who of course was also greedy and cynical but saw the error of his ways AFTER he was wormfood, which of course is too late. Does Frank take this seriously and turn good after this? Of course not! We need the three ghosties of course!

While Frank pushes the holiday monstrosity of a television special on, which by the way has it ALL (Mary Lou Retton, Robert Goulet, and a gun-toting Lee Majors in the horrible part of the special called The Night the Reindeer Died!), he is visited by the Trio of Tannenbaum, the first being David Johansen as rude, crude, cigar-smoking prankster cabbie of Christmas past. LOL as he shows Frank a warm, loving Christmas when he was a child being yelled at by Brian Doyle-Murray playing Bill Murray's father and giving him meat for Christmas. (Brian is actually one of Bill's brothers, but playing his father, but Bill Murray's other brother, John Murray, actually is playing Frank's brother, who is playing the Scrooge-nephew character, sort of, oh! and Joel Murray is in it as well!) The depraved cabbie also shows Frank meeting his ex-girlfriend Claire (played by Karen Allen) and how the sweet, loving romance they had turned sour when he started climbing the corporate ladder. But Carol Kane comes in as the ghost of Christmas present, with a sweet, innocent candy shell wrapped around a very disturbed chocolate center. She's the one who hits him with the toaster when he doesn't obey. She also pokes him, pinches him, slaps him, all while maintaining her wonderful, wholesome, good-hearted smile, this juxtaposition being one of the most hilarious things of the movie. She shows him his secretary Grace (Alfre Woodard) struggling at Christmastime with a sick child, this film's "Tiny Tim." Meanwhile, while not being accosted by spirits, who should Frank run into but none other than Claire, who is running a homeless shelter nearby. Frank starts to let some regret in, almost reconnects with her, ALMOST shows some heart, but, well, he's still not there yet.

So, after the Bobcat-shotgun interlude already alluded to, Frank gets yanked into a future Christmas where of course he's dead and it's all scary and stuff and ends with him about to be cremated.

And, after that, finally, SURPRISE SURPRISE Frank sees the light! He interrupts his live Christmas special from Hell and gives some rambling, hilarious, voice-cracked speech (classic Bill Murray delivery in crazy-mode) about how he's changed and how you should be good for goodness sakes or something and then they all sing that "Put a little love in your heart" song, in one of cinema's strangest endings ever.

So seek this movie out this Christmas season and every Christmas season either on cable, satellite, or at the rental store, or Netflix, or whatever... and... what? Not planning on it?

Did I mention that Bill Murray gets hit with a toaster?

...Upside the head?

Release Date: November 23, 1988
Directed By: Richard Donner
Written By: Mitch Glazer, Michael O'Donoghue
Running Time: 101 minutes
Distributed By: Paramount Pictures
Starring: Bill Murray (Frank Cross), Karen Allen (Claire Phillips), John Forsythe (Lew Hayward), John Glover (Brice Cummings), Bobcat Goldthwait (Eliot Loudermilk), David Johansen (Ghost of Christmas Past), Carol Kane (Ghost of Christmas Present), Robert Mitchum (Preston Rhinelander), Michael J. Pollard (Herman), Alfre Woodard (Grace Cooley), John Murray (James Cross), Joel Murray - Guest, Buddy Hackett (Scrooge)... and as themselves: Lee Majors, Mary Lou Retton, John Houseman, and Robert Goulet.
Rating: PG-13.


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