A Christmas Story Review
By Christopher Null
Pop quiz: A Christmas Story was directed by Bob Clark. What was the film he made immediately prior to it?
Also: They sell the infamous "leg lamp" on the Internet now. (They cost $250!) Clark wanted Jack Nicholson to play the role of The Old Man. These insights and others await the patient viewer who sits through the new Christmas Story commentary track on its special edition DVD -- hosted by Clark and Ralphie himself, Peter Billingsley.
For the uninitiated, A Christmas Story ranks as the best holiday movie ever, better even than It's a Wonderful Life. Based on the book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, it's a period piece set in roughly 1940, telling a series of vignettes about a young boy that's 9 years old in the weeks leading up to Christmas. He faces down bullies, witnesses a dare match over whether a tongue will stick to a frozen metal pole, gets his mouth washed out with soap, and sees the holiday turkey devoured by dogs... and all he wants is a BB gun! But as everyone tells him, "You'll shoot your eye out, kid!"
What makes this film so good? It's so sweet but it has the cynical heart of post-WWII America. None of this happy ever after nonsense; our hero has to have Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant! Billingsley is so perfect as Ralphie that you simply don't want his adventures to end -- and in fact, they didn't; there are two earlier films and two sequels (many made for TV), following the Parker family; none of them have the magic of the central installment. A Christmas Story also has the most hilarious dream/fantasy sequences ever put to film, and the way it pillories our nascent commercial culture ("Be sure to drink your Ovaltine!") makes the film perfect for the whole year, not just Christmastime. I can't think of a single fault.
A second disc included in the DVD release includes a documentary about the film, two short documentaries about the leg lamp and the Daisy Red Ryder gun, plus some precious radio readings by author Jean Shepherd (he's also the narrator in the film). Highly, highly recommended.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 18th November 1983
Box Office Worldwide: $19.3M
Production compaines: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Christmas Tree Films
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Fresh: 46 Rotten: 6
Cast & Crew
Starring: Melinda Dillon as Mrs. Parker, Darren McGavin as The Old Man (Mr. Parker), Peter Billingsley as Ralphie Parker, Ian Petrella as Randy Parker, Scott Schwartz as Flick, R.D. Robb as Schwartz, Tedde Moore as Miss Shields, Yano Anaya as Grover Dill, Zack Ward as Scut Farkus, Jeff Gillen as Santa Claus, Leslie Carlson as Christmas Tree Man, Jean Shepherd as Ralphie as an Adult, Jim Hunter as Freight Man