No Christmas is complete without Christmas specials, there so many classic holiday films including “It’s a Wonderful life” and “A Christmas Carol” that are viewed so often around this time of year that they’ve become as big of a tradition as opening presents and my favorite Christmas special of all time by far is the 1983 classic, “A Christmas Story”. It has heart, innocence, nostalgia, great characters and a lot of hummer but what is it that makes this such a treasured Christmas gem for everyone?, Lets find out. It was based on two novels, the first was a book titled “In God we Trust, All Others Pay Cash” but the real predecessor is “Red Rider Nails the Hammond Kid”. Both of them were authored by Jean Shepherd who actually provides the narration in this film (as well as a little cameo as that guy in line saying “The line ends here, it begins there”.). These two stories were the prime inspiration for director Bob Clark to make this film. Earlier he directed a Christmas horror movie titled “Black Christmas”, no wonder this film has so much dark comedy.
To explain the plot is something that I can’t do because this film doesn’t have a simple three act structure. It’s just the life of this boy spending Christmas with his family and that’s all you really need to have a good film. “A Christmas Story” was one of the first films that established to me how simply showing someone live there life at a certain time is all you need, because life if interesting, life is fool of conflicts, drama, comedy and genuineness. The thread that holds it all together is that our lead character named Ralphie is obsessed with getting a “Red Ryder BB Gun” and how he tries to get it. I really like this kid because he doesn’t feel like a generic kid character, in fact he almost represents how most little kids are around Christmas, which is self centered but also genuine, innocent and loving. All the emotions, dreams and actions seen in this character are brought to life very well by actor Peter Billingsley, who interestingly would go on to be the producer for the recent superhero movie “Iron Man”. I especially love all his funny and creative daydream sequences, I think every kid fantasized about things like this. Joining him are his brother Randy and occasionally his two best friends Flick and Schwartz. Enter Scut Farkus, a yellow eyed bully character who owns every scene he’s in, I’m really not sure why because he’s just a standard bully but there’s something really memorable about this guy. The best characters who completely steel the film are the two parents played by Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin. These two crack me up every time there on screen and they both seem to be this serial combination of a dysfunctional and yet still very wholesome family.
I must admit, this is a hard film to do justice in a single review because there are things to talk about in every seen. There’s the decoder ring, the pink bunny costume, the soap punishment and the kid getting dared to stick his tong to a flag pole (which is something I’ve always been curious about but never decided to try it myself). I’ll always remember that crazy Santa Clause because I was actually one of those kids who was terrified to go see Santa and that humorous wide angle lens shot of him going “HO-ho-ho!” was simply the stuff of nightmares. Then there’s that hilarious leg lamp, honestly if I could own any one prop from a film, I’d want that leg lamp. I’d gladly put that thing in my living room and read by it while all lit up. But my favorite scene (which is saying a lot) would have to be the part with the Chinese Turkey, (it’s actually a duck) this scene was so funny when I first saw it that I was still laughing at it when the credits were rolling and it still gets me laughing to this day. There’s plenty of fun and memorable lines like (Dad) “FRA-GI-LIE, it must be Italian?” (Mom responds) “No, I think that says Fragile” and the always classic quote “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!”. I’ll admit, this film isn’t quite as funny as “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” but this film has so much more going for it then just hummer.
Watching “A Christmas Story” from beginning to end is like reliving a dream and a memory. Even though it takes place in the 1940’s, this is a childhood that a lot of people can identify with. Some may argue that this film represents child hood more than the actual holiday but one of the biggest attributes of Christmas is memories and that’s what this film is. Everything is told from the point of view of Ralphie through narration while he’s an adult reflecting back on his youth and sharing with us his experiences during this cherished time of his life and that just makes it all the more wholesome. It compares who we were then too who we are now and who we will be in the future and just like the narrator, I too plan to share my holiday experiences with others. There’s also many genuine and subtle moments in this film that are just as memorable as all the comedy, like the kids pressing their faces against the window of a toy store, or Ralphie waking up to a beautiful snowy morning. But my favorite little genuine holiday moment is when the father and wife sit by the lit up Christmas tree while watching the snow fall, with soft Christmas music playing in the background, that’s such a memorable image.
That’s what makes this film such a timeless holiday gem for me, it’s both warmly nostalgic and darkly humorous, giving you a splendid blend of every wonderful feeling you could have while watching a Christmas comedy. It’s for these reasons and more that I look at this movie as the greatest Christmas special of all time. I give “A Christmas Story” 4 ½ stars,
And Merry Christmas!