A Christmas Story – 4 Stars (Excellent)
A Christmas Story is arguably the best Christmas movie ever.
There is no doubt that the 1984 version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge is a worthy contender for the honor. Since I have not seen Fanny & Alexander (1983), I remain a huge fan of A Christmas Story.
Can there be anything greater than Santa coming to your house on Christmas Eve with the perfect gift of your choice? I think not, especially if it is a genuine Red Ryder 200-Shot, Carbine-Action BB Gun for a 9-year-old named Ralphie living in Northern Indiana in the 1940s.
Imagine Ralphie’s dismay when his mother, his teacher at Warren G. Harding Elementary School and ultimately even Santa Claus at Higby’s Department Store tell him “you’ll shoot your eye out.”
A Christmas Story is about much more than whether Ralphie gets the Red Ryder BB Gun he covets. It is about a Midwest family with two boys, Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) and Randy (Ian Petrella), who encounter the normal struggles of growing up.
Ralphie and his friend Schwartz (R. D. Robb) badger their friend Flick (Scott Schwartz, not to be confused with R. D. Robb who plays the role of Schwartz) into pressing his tongue against a steel post to see if it will stick.
Flick, who realizes that he might be wrong in saying his tongue will not stick, is left with no alternative when Schwartz whips a “triple dog dare” on him. To save face, Flick learns a very hard lesson and this film gets some great footage in the process.
Both the boys and the girls watching this drama unfold are horrified at the result and the boys have no problem abandoning Flick when the school bell rings. Flick is left frozen to the post. When their teacher Mrs. Shields (Tedde Moore) confronts them about who is responsible for Flick’s condition, they clam up, realizing “it’s always better not to get caught.”
All of the boys also must deal with the terrifying Scut Farcas (Zack Ward) and Grover Dill (Yano Anaya), the schoolyard bullies. They get pummeled on a daily basis and act like cowards until Ralphie sees Santa at Higby’s and gets another dose of “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”
Ralphie is so agitated with rejection over his Christmas wish that when he is next confronted by the bullies he flies into a fit of genuine rage, charging the much larger Scut knocking him down and pounding him repeatedly in the face. Scut ends up with a bloody face and 100 times the embarrassment of being beat up. This event would forever after be known as the Scut Farcas Affair.
I love A Christmas Story because the exact same thing happened to me growing up in the Midwest. I was small for my age and was constantly picked on by bullies until I learned how to fight back no matter what the odds.
When the Parker family goes out to buy their Christmas tree they encounter a flat tire on the way home. Mrs. Parker (Melinda Dillon) encourages Ralphie to help his father (Darren McGavin) fix the flat.
Ralphie manages to lose the lug nuts during the tire change, and, in fit of fright, utters the dreaded F-word to the shock of his parents. Mrs. Parker demands to know where he learned the word and Ralphie, desperate to come up with an acceptable choice shoots out a name of a friend.
Ralphie, of course, has heard his father cuss time and again, quoting that his father could “weave a tapestry of obscenities that is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.” When their furnace in the basement acts up, Ralphie says “my father dabbled in profanities like an artist dabbles in oils.”
This cussing incident so resonates with me because I grew up in the same kind of environment. I often believed my stepfather had a 200-word vocabulary and at least 50 of those words were cuss words. I probably heard the F-word 10,000 times before I graduated from high school. I used to tell my friends I could speak 5 foreign languages if I got mad enough.
A Christmas Story is loaded with other real life events, including Ralphie’s day-dream about being blind from having to suck on soap for cussing, his father winning a prize lamp shaped like a woman’s leg that he displays in their living room window for all to see, and the secret decoder Ralphie gets by eating Ovaltine for breakfast.
There is also Aunt Clara’s gift of a pink bunny costume that Ralphie is forced to model on Christmas morning, the neighbor’s dogs getting into the house and eating their Christmas turkey, and the surprise on Christmas morning after all of the gifts are opened.
A Christmas Story is based on Jean Shepherd’s book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. Shepherd does a superb job of narrating this film about his childhood. The film is so well done, so authentic to its 1940s time period, so believable and likeable that it gets my excellent rating without qualification.
Director Bob Clark is uncanny in his ability to orchestrate this timeless story. Peter Billingsley is a 13-year-old actor playing the role of 9-year-old Ralphie and does so with incredible facial expressions. Young Billingsley is in the moment and totally professional.
A Christmas Story, a low budget film that was not expected to do well, was released just before Thanksgiving in 1983. By Christmas the film had been pulled from theaters because it was thought to have been “played out.” It was only because of complaints from moviegoers that it was brought back to life.
The film celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2003 with release of a two-disc special edition. There are fans all over the world that treasure A Christmas Story and will not let it die, and I am one of them. I have lived so many parts of A Christmas Story that I feel it could also have been the story of thousands of other young boys growing up in the Midwest.
A Christmas Story is on my personal Top 10 all-time list of favorite movies because it exemplifies family values and the joy of living those few precious moments that define us for the rest of our lives.
A Christmas Story is an amazing film that teaches some of life’s great lessons, including determination, courage, patience, struggle, victory, self-esteem, love, acceptance and belonging. This is truly a classic movie that only those who have lived these experiences will appreciate the most. I am blessed to be one of those people.