A CHRISTMAS STORY

(1983)
With Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillion, Darren McGavin, Ian Petrella, Jean Shepherd (narrator)
Directed by Bob Clark
Reviewed by JB

     The story of one boy's dream of getting an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle for Christmas,  A CHRISTMAS STORY was not recognized as a classic until it had run on television for several years.  Now it is a Christmas tradition for many, and runs on cable television in a 24-hour marathon on Christmas Day.

     Based on Jean Shepherd's book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, A CHRISTMAS STORY is built out of dozens of personal anecdotes from Shepherd's boyhood memories of his family's Christmases in the 1940s.  For anyone who has seen the film, and by now there seem to be few who haven't, a few random allusions will jog your memory: You'll shoot your eye out!  Oh, fudge!  Be sure to drink more Ovaltine.  I triple dog dare ya!  Fra-gee-lay: it must be Italian.  Scut Farkus!  You purposely used up all the glue!  You look like a deranged Easter bunny.  Deck the harrs with boughs of horry, fa ra ra ra ra....

     As funny as the film is, what really makes A CHRISTMAS STORY a classic is its emphasis on the warmth and love of one poor family struggling to make it through yet another Christmas. Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin are perfect as Mrs. Parker and "The Old Man" (no first names are given), parents to young Ralphie and his little brother Randy.  McGavin gives one of his best performances as the father, whose life is built on little triumphs such as haggling for Christmas trees, avoiding attacks by the neighbors dogs or successfully changing a tire in under four minutes.  Perhaps the most memorable image in the film is the lamp shaped like a woman's leg, a "major award" from one of the father's puzzle contests.  Although the lamp is ghastly looking, The Old Man's pride in actually winning something blinds him to its putridness as he proudly displays it in the front window, to the horror of his wife.  

    Peter Billingsley's star rose quickly in the 1980's and fell just as quickly.  He is wonderful as Ralphie, the boy who wants nothing else for Christmas except the above-mention Red Rider air rifle.  He has just the right touch of hamminess mixed in with his natural screen presence to make Ralphie completely lovable.

     With Hollywood no longer that interested in making Christmas movies that actually have something to do with Christmas, A CHRISTMAS STORY looks better and better with each passing year. - JB

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