One of the most iconic films of all time, which was hardly noticed when it was released in 1983, “A Christmas Story” directed by Bob Clark stands as a testament to kids and families everywhere that even when everything goes completely wrong during the holidays – there is still hope for a happy ending. A lasting embodiment of nostalgic holidays past, the film captures the simultaneous hope, fear, disappointment, and joy that most people experience during the rush of shopping, family gatherings, and the search for the ultimate Christmas gift.
When the film “A Christmas Story” was released in November 1983, there were few other Christmas movies that families could watch together. However, in many ways this movie was mislabeled when it was deemed a family movie. Written by Jean Shepherd – who was a satirist with many short story memoir pieces published in Playboy magazine – the movie was derived from some very sarcastically nostalgic ramblings by a guy who didn’t really seem to like Christmas very much (Berardinelli). Yet, the movie is replete with lovable yet flawed characters such as Ralphie – who is ever hopeful that he will get his dream gift of a “Red Ryder BB Carbine with a compass in the stock!” Of course, enter Ralphie’s mother who repeatedly says “You’ll shoot your eye out!” and even cackles/sings the refrain (along with his schoolteacher) during one of Ralphie’s many dream sequences in the film.
In fact, Ralphie’s many daydream sequences harken back to the days of Danny Kaye’s portrayal of Walter in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1948) wherein the main character daydreams about being a hero who saves the day and gets the beautiful girl – instead of having to deal with his humdrum reality. During the dream sequences, Ralphie sees things through a fish-eye lens, circular scope, and experiences laughingly melodramatic villains that dance around like Keystone cops or stomp along to Tchaikovsky’s “Peter and the Wolf” music.
The timing for the characters’ memorable Christmas antics is a little hard to place – somewhere in the early 1940s, based on cars and clothes and Ralphie’s dad who complains about the war – but it really doesn’t matter (Berardinelli). Viewers are endlessly enamored by the failings of Ralphie’s brother who gets stuffed into his winter gear and yells “I can’t put my arms down!” only to be ignored by his mother who shoves him off to school anyway. And the unforgettable scene in the snowy schoolyard – when Ralphie’s friend sticks his tongue to the metal flagpole, screaming “Stuck…stuck…STUCK!!” When the firemen arrive to rescue the boy from his predicament, Ralphie warns that instead of owning up to wrongdoing, “Every kid knows it’s best to not get caught.”
But the film almost didn’t get made, because Shepherd himself refused to give in to the charms of Disney, saying “Can you imagine it with Dean Jones and a talking Volkswagen?” (A Christmas Story). But when Bob Clark approached him – the filmmaker who had made a slasher movie called “Black Christmas” – Shepherd finally gave in ten years later, when Clark’s movie “Porky’s” made it big at the box office (A Christmas Story). When asked about whether he felt the film was an important cinematic achievement or a wholesome family movie, Shepherd disgustedly said “my work says: If you think it’s bad now, you should have seen it then…notice that nothing works out for the kid” (A Christmas Story).
After the slow-growing success of the film led to its now-legendary acclaim and a place in the unofficial Christmas-movie Hall of Fame for all time, it could be argued that “A Christmas Story” set a precedent for movies to follow. But since no movie has yet come close to the timeless humor and relatable circumstances of Ralphie and his family and friends, this film will continue to stand as a reminder that sometimes the best stuff in life starts out completely messed up.
- “‘A Christmas Story’ almost didn’t get told.” New York Post [New York, NY], 30 Nov. 2013, p. 028. Infotrac Newsstand, link.galegroup.com.proxy141.nclive.org/apps/doc/A355580542/STND?u=nclive&sid=STND&xid=63f0bf4a. Accessed 3 Dec. 2017.
- Berardinelli, James. (2017). A Christmas Story, movie review. ReelViews, http://www.reelviews.net/reelviews/christmas-story-a. Accessed 3 Dec. 2017.