#136) A Christmas Story (1983)

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#136) A Christmas Story (1983)

OR “When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?”

Directed by Bob Clark

Written by Clark & Jean Shepherd & Leigh Brown. Based on Shepherd’s novel “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash” and other short stories.

Class of 2012

The Plot: Based on Jean Shepherd’s childhood in Indiana (or not), “A Christmas Story” is about Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley, older version voiced by Jean Shepherd) and his quest to get a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. Mom (Melinda Dillon) is concerned he’ll shoot his eye out, while the Old Man (Darren McGavin) is more fixated on a “major award” leg lamp. Throw in the neighbor’s dogs, a malfunctioning furnace, and all the fake swearing a PG movie can handle, and you got a holiday classic.

Why It Matters: The NFR highlights Bob Clark’s love for the material, and that the film’s “expertly realized moments reflect an astute understanding of human nature.” Wow, they didn’t say anything this nice about “The Graduate”, that’s for sure.

But Does It Really?: Full disclosure: I didn’t see this film until I was an adult. Everyone’s got that classic film they somehow missed growing up, and this is mine. I enjoyed it, but we’ve already covered my personal favorite Christmas movie. The journey “A Christmas Story” made from cult film to holiday standard is admirable, and the film has more reasons for preservation than others on this list. I liked “A Christmas Story”, but I don’t need to see it every year. And if that upsets you well…go fudge yourself.

Shout Outs: Several “Wizard of Oz” references, plus fleeting shout-outs to “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Frankenstein”. Special bonus reference: The end credits list actors playing the roles of Flash Gordon and Ming the Merciless, despite neither of them making the final cut.

Everybody Gets One: Jean Shepherd was a radio personality who specialized in improvised monologues about his childhood. Encouraged by his friend, author Shel Silverstein, he used these stories as the basis for his novel “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash”. This film is also the only NFR appearance for director Bob “Porky’s” Clark, actors Darren “Kolchak” McGavin and Peter “Ralphie from ‘A Christmas Story’” Billingsley.

Wow, That’s Dated: The casual racism towards Arabs and the Chinese. Also, Melinda Dillon’s hair, but mostly the casual racism.

Seriously, Oscars?: Despite this film doing very well at Canada’s Genie Awards (the bulk of the film was shot in Ontario), “A Christmas Story” only received one major American nomination: a Writers Guild nod for Best Adapted Comedy. The film lost to… “Terms of Endearment”? I mean, it’s kind of funny, but how can a movie with a kid in a bunny costume be less funny than Debra Winger dying of cancer?

Other notes

  • I’ll just reiterate that Bob Clark also directed raunchy teen comedy “Porky’s”. Though to be fair, it was the success of that film (and several horror films) that led to Clark being able to make this movie.
  • Mom gets top billing because she’s a two-time Oscar nominee and the original Honey, goddammit!
  • Ralphie sweetie, I know you’re an adorable kid, but you need to articulate.
  • Even in a child’s fantasy, the black character is the first one to get shot.
  • I am pretty confident that the Red Ryder theme is from the Grand Canyon diorama at Disneyland.
  • Darren McGavin kinda looks like Jim Backus.
  • And then Flick gets his tongue stuck to a flagpole and I start to warm up to this film.
  • That has got to be the easiest unboxing of a crate that big ever.
  • Fantasy Miss Shields gives an F for misuse of a semicolon. I would not do well in her class.
  • I guess my main turn-off with this film is that there’s so much screaming. The kids scream, Mom screams, and there’s no ice cream to be had. This film is periodically very unpleasant to listen to.
  • Someone’s having fun with those scene transitions.
  • I laughed hardest at Randy’s line, “Dad’s gonna kill Ralphie.” The whole run of Randy hiding in the cabinet is hilarious.
  • Jean Shepherd’s description of Santa borders on Rex Kramer territory.
  • A quick anachronism: That Mickey Mouse costume is definitely the ‘70s version. The ‘40s Mickey Mouse costume was a bit more grotesque.
  • Anything you need to know about shopping mall Santas you can learn from David Sedaris.
  • No extended family? Now this is my kind of Christmas.

Legacy

  • “A Christmas Story” wasn’t a huge success when it first premiered, but home video and cable showings helped give the film a cult status. By the late ‘90s TBS and/or TNT aired 24-hour marathons of “A Christmas Story” during the holidays, a tradition that continues to this day.
  • Bob Clark and Jean Shepherd reteamed in the ‘90s to make “My Summer Story” (aka “It Runs in the Family”), based on additional work by Shepherd. Because it had been 11 years between films, the entire Parker family had to be recast. Same goes for the PBS adaptations throughout the ‘90s.
  • Oh dear god, I forgot they made a sequel. To no one’s surprise, the direct-to-video “A Christmas Story 2” takes no inspiration from Jean Shepherd’s stories.
  • Peter Billingsley grew up and shifted his show business career towards producing. He still occasionally acts, most notably in another holiday classic: “Elf”.
  • Like many a classic film whose franchise days are over, “A Christmas Story” was turned into a Broadway musical in 2012. The show did well in its limited engagement, and managed a Best Musical nomination at the 2013 Tony Awards.
  • The musical version will be getting the live TV treatment, because that’s a thing that’s still happening.
  • They brought back Red Ryders because of this film.
  • And finally, I’ll blame “A Christmas Story” for “The Wonder Years”, “The Goldbergs” and every other show where a narrator looks nostalgically at their childhood.

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