From the Stereo to Your Screen: Annie Lennox & Al Green & SCROOGED

“Put A Little Love in Your Heart,” by Annie Lennox & Al Green, from Scrooged

1988’s Scrooged always seems to get shunted to the side when we’re talking Christmas genre movies. Black Christmas and Gremlins always get the horror nods, in addition to Santa slashers like Silent Night, Deadly Night and Christmas Evil. The action advent selections are always Die Hard and Lethal Weapon, with maybe I Come In Peace for the heads. Romantic and family movies abound, obviously.

However, with the exception of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, comedies with an acknowledgement of how awfully stressful the holidays can be — and that manage to be funny — are sparse. Somehow, Scrooged always seems to get left aside when lists get put together or people make their marathons.

It might have something to do with the fact that the Richard Donner-directed film is kind of all of the things we’ve previously mentioned, genre-wise — aside from action, of course, but otherwise all over the map. As played by Bill Murray, Scrooged is a retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but with the main character a television executive named Frank Cross.

The specifics might change — with considerably more swearing and ball-kicking than Dickens — but the story’s still pretty much the same: a greedy, lonely man is visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve in attempt to get him to change his ways for the better. Rotten Tomatoes brings up the fact that Scrooged is “hampered by a markedly conflicted tone and an undercurrent of mean-spiritedness.”

Frankly, I think that’s why the damned thing works. The scenes early on are nasty, especially when they come to skewering the excesses of late ’80s television: The Night the Reindeer Died, A Cajun Christmas with Robert Goulet, Solid Gold dancers with visible nipples … it’s all frighteningly on-point.

For the majority of Scrooged, Bill Murray does his Bill Murray -in-’80s-comedies thing, wherein he’s loud, kind of brash, super-sarcastic, and mildly caustic. It’s very much akin to the roles he played in Ghostbusters, Stripes, Meatballs, and so on, but the end of the movie wherein he starts to realize what he’s missing out on is — and maybe this is stretching — it starts to get a little emotional, kind of like what he’s become known for these days. Think Lost in Translation, Rushmore, or The Life Aquatic.

The film’s ending sees the standard finale to any adaptation of Dickens’ classic: Cross wakes up, finds out there’s still time, and gives into the spirit of the season, making peace with everyone he’d been a total dick to not 60 minutes prior. Using the fact that this is live on-air, he starts a sing-along of Jackie DeShannon’s 1969 hit, “Put A Little Love In Your Heart,” and the film fades to black as he conducts the audience watching.

Annie Lennox and Al Green’s version of “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” crossfades in and we go to credits. Their cover made it to number 9 in the US on the Hot 100 in January 1989, and would eventually reach number 2 on the US Adult Contemporary chart. There was also a music video, directed by Sophie Muller, which I was totally unaware of until the Christmas Songs III episode of the Purple Stuff podcast a couple weeks ago.

On the episode, Jay and Matt argue as to whether or not it counts as a Christmas song, but eventually reach the conclusion that, due to inclusion of scenes from the movie and a whole shitload of fake snow, it counts. The lyrics are definitely seasonally appropriate, too, I suppose.

 

Funnily enough, the video’s amazingly low-key for a film with a budget of $32 million. Granted, while Lennox and Green were still name performers, the last big hit Lennox had was with Eurythmics was “Missionary Man,” and even that only made it to number 14. Al Green wouldn’t return to secular music until the following year, either, so this is basically just two amazing voices that could be grabbed for a decent price.

But, yeah: the video is Green and Lennox singing, both dressed in white tops and dancing while snow and sparkles surround them. These scenes are intercut with an almost chronological series of shots from the movie, alternating between Cross being a good guy and being a dick.

You never see Lennox and Green in the same shot. It’s weird. You think you do, based on the way they shot it, making it seem as if the two are looking and interacting with one another, but the two were shot separately and edited together. It’s a good song, if very much of its time — overproduced in a very shiny way — but, man, is that video a strange bird. It’s so absolutely basic for a film which is loaded with special effects. Solid tune, but no surprise the video never made it to my eyeballs until almost 30 years after its release.

Merry Christmas, kids.

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek writes about films scores in his monthly OST column for Starburst Magazine (http://www.starburstmagazine.com), and can be found talking about movie soundtracks via the From & Inspired By podcast (http:///www.fromandinspiredby.com). He was once a punk, but realized you can't be hardcore and use the word "adorable" as often as he does.
Nick Spacek
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