With those six simple words not only were dreams of an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle altered forever, so were the normal holiday movie traditions of Americans across the country. As popular as this feature is today, this did not take hold until quite recently. When A Christmas Story opened in theaters back in 1983, the studio that produced the film had no confidence in it, thus launching the film in only 886 theaters. By the end of its run, the film pulled in a disappointing $19 million and its television rights had been sold off quickly without a second thought. It wasn’t until the TNT television network began to offer numerous viewings of the classic holiday comedy over the festive season did the film begin to finally be accepted by the masses. Now A Christmas Story has joined the ranks of such other yuletide treasures as It’s a Wonderful Life and A Charlie Brown Christmas as a true staple of this special time of year.
The story fellows the adventures of a young boy set against the Christmas holiday in the 1940’s as he dreams of the perfect holiday gift. Ralphie Parker is like any other typical young boy in the 1940’s but there is something that does set him apart from the rest of the pack. His aspirations for an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle, the one item that he believes to be the perfect Christmas present. Unfortunately for young Ralphie, he faces stern opposition from his mother who believes the toy will “shoot his eye out”. He receives no help from his father who is too busy holding off the Bumbus hounds or shouting at the furnace, so Ralphie seeks to find higher help for his cause, the big man himself: Santa Claus. But even this last splint of hope is dashed to pieces with those devastating words coming from the “jolly” fat man himself, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” All hope seems lost for poor Ralphie but if only he knew what Christmas Day would bring! The plot for A Christmas Story is one of the most wonderful concepts ever attempted in a holiday feature film and what makes it so memorable is the fact that many elements, no matter how elaborated, can be related by one family or another in some point in their lives.
The biggest highlight of the comedy has to be how each character is cast perfectly. Peter Billingsley, who takes on the role of Ralph Parker, showcases a delightful performance despite his relatively young age. Many of the funniest moments of the feature come from his reactions alone to certain situations. Melinda Dillion gives a wonderful if not eerily familiar performance of Ralphie’s typical 1940’s mother. She works perfectly opposite Darren McGavin especially over the battle of the broken leg lamp. McGavin more then likely outshines them all with his over-the-top performance as Ralphie’s Old Man. His shoutings of “Don’t anybody move!” and “Notafinga!” will likely stand the test of theatrical comedic time but it is his overall good fatherly nature that makes every audience member feel as if they are witness a part of their own familiar past. Though he is not remembered by his name, Jeff Gillen does a hilarious take on the mall-Santa, stingy elfs and all. And Jean Shepard, who wrote the book on which this film is based on, gives a perfect off-beat narration of the film with perfect tones and comments for each situation as it happens in the feature. The narration works almost as well alone as the actions performed in A Christmas Story.
Overall, Can the Christmas season be fully complete without at least viewing of A Christmas Story? You can try but all bets are that even the “Grinchiest” person can’t escape the irresistible personality of this yuletide comedy. There are so many wonderful things going for this film that it is hard to pick out the flaws. If anything, the last portion of A Christmas Story tends to drag a little bit near the end unlike earlier parts where actions were performed in a much quicker pace. In a way like Christmas Vacation, many of the elements within A Christmas Story connect with someone at one point or another based on their own Christmas experiences with their family. Though some would not like to admit some of the more embarrassing memories (aka looking like a pink nightmare on Christmas morning), we can all relate to young Ralphie’s blight of getting the perfect Christmas gift when we were his age. But in the end, we realize that family, no matter how embarrassing or bumbling they may be, is what is the most important during the holidays. That is one memory that we should always keep close to our hearts no matter what time of the year.
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