Of all of the Christmas movies that I have ever seen, from ghosts visiting misers to businessmen becoming Santa Claus to a shoeless cop stopping terrorists from robbing a high rise, the movie that I feel comes closest to accurately portraying Christmas as I’ve experienced it as both a child and an adult is “A Christmas Story.”
“A Christmas Story” is about Ralphie Parker’s quest to get the present of his dreams, a Red Ryder BB Gun, while dealing with school bullies, the perils of profanity, secret radio messages, and a litany of adults warning that, if he gets his desired gift, he’ll shoot his eye out. The film is set in a non-specific early 1940s timeframe (or possibly even Christmas 1939, since “The Wizard of Oz” has evidently been released), but what the movie has to say about Christmas is really timeless.
And I don’t mean, Peace on Earth, Goodwill Toward Men, Birth of Religious Figures, or anything like that. If you’re a child in the Western World, Christmas is about asking for and hoping that you’ll get the presents on your list. It’s about getting through December at school and waiting for seems like an eternity for Christmas break to begin. It’s about seeing that tree and the decorations going up, which is the first real substantial sign that Christmas is imminent. Maybe all of that sounds selfish and materialistic. Kids don’t see it that way, though. They’ve been told since birth that, if they are good, a magical fat man is going to bring them whatever they want for Christmas. Every ornament, light, and carol is just a sideshow on the way to the main event: unwrapping those presents Christmas morning.
“A Christmas Story” understands this and celebrates it. I wasn’t a kid in the 1940s, but, when I was a kid, I could completely relate to Ralphie’s experiences. Watching the movie now, I find myself relating to the parents more, especially in the Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning sections of the movie. I suppose that was inevitable now that I have kids of my own.
Rather than trying to over-analyze the movie or walk through it scene-by-scene, I think I’d rather let it stand on its own. Instead, in keeping with the episodic nature of the film, here are a few thoughts tangentially-related to “A Christmas Story”:
1) When I was younger, I used to see movies multiple times in the theater. My record is seven times for the 1989 “Batman” movie starring Michael Keaton. “A Christmas Story,” though, may have the record for my quickest return to the theater. I saw it with my brother and a babysitter shortly after it came out in 1983, and then went back the very next night with my parents because I insisted that THEY HAD TO SEE IT! I could be remembering that last part wrong. It was 30 years ago. We did indeed go back the next night, though.
2) While the movie is set in a suburb of Chicago, it actually was filmed mostly in Cleveland and Toronto. My mother lived in Cleveland as a child and told me that “A Christmas Story” brings back a lot of memories. Her grandmother used to shop at the Higbees department store that is shown in the film, the house is very much like the one her family lived in, and Ralphie's classroom is a near-duplicate of ones from her school.
3) Bob Clark, who directed and co-wrote “A Christmas Story,” helmed a wide range of movies in his career. Other than “A Christmas Story,” Clark is best known for directing “Porky’s” and “Porky’s II: The Next Day.” He also directed the Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper film, “Murder By Decree,” and co-wrote and directed the little known sequel to “A Christmas Story,” “It Runs In The Family” (Also known as “My Summer Story.”), which came out 11 years after “A Christmas Story” and starred Charles Grodin as well as two of the Culkin brothers not name Macaulay. Clark was killed by a drunk driver in 2007.
4) Peter Billingsley, who played Ralphie, moved behind the scenes as an adult but hasn’t completely left acting. He is friends with Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn and often works with them on projects. He appeared as the elf supervising the toy factory in Jon Favreau’s film, “Elf” (the blue eyes are unmistakable), and as a scientist in “Iron Man,” which was also directed by Favreau. He also produced “Iron Man” and “Zathura” and directed “Couples Retreat,” which starred Vaughn and Favreau.
None of that really gets to the heart of what makes “A Christmas Story” great. As I said earlier, I’m going to let the movie speak for itself on that one. If you’ve never seen the movie, go watch it. If you haven’t seen it since you were a child, watch it again now. You may find that you appreciate it on a completely different level.
- Alan Decker
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