Deranged Easter Bunnies,
B.B. Gun Wielding Blind Cowboy Poets
and Spatial Tapestries of Profanity!
It must be... A CHRISTMAS STORY!
It was November of 1983 when my incredibly kind and considerate mom decided to bring my friend Thomas and I to see a cute new Holiday film called A Christmas Story. At the last minute, Jason wandered up and she ushered him into the Chevette too. This was, even they would admit, mostly out of boredom. We were a trio (out of an overall quintuplet) of nine year old ruffians whose legendary strings of profanity and frank description of sexual desire for both grown women and girls our own age had already begun to get us thrown out of public places and private establishments alike. Yep, it was safe to say there were no kids like us!
I won't reveal what lyrics we made up for the opening "deck the halls" credit sequence (though I will disclose that my contribution involved a creative, repugnant and possibly illegal new use for holly), but I can tell you that as soon as the kids got started on that screen, we were practically topped. And yeah, we shut up and we left it to the masters.
First of all, there was Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley, who fast became my idol), then following slowly behind was his little brother Randy (Ian Petrella), then Ralphie's evil genius friend Schwartz (R.D. Robb) and his well meaning, if gullible sidekick Flick (Scott... uh... Schwartz... why didn't he just play Schwartz, then?).
This is, of course, the most famous adaptation of the brilliant Jean Shepherd's semi-autobiographical anecdotes and strange tales, though it wasn't the first or the last. As the title would suggest, A Christmas Story is Shep's remembrance of his Christmas Adventures (through the persona of his alter-ego Ralphie). While this is adapted from a number of his published and unpublished works, A Christmas Story is primarily based on his novels In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories. As mixed as that may sound, it's fascinating to note how well the screenplay by Shep, Leigh Brown and director Bob Clark fits together as one cohesive and consistently hilarious piece. But then, why wouldn't it? After all... Ol' Clark had plenty of experience with screwball comedy having directed... uh... well... Porky's... and he'd had plenty of experience with Christmas movies after having directed the influential slasher film Black Christmas.
Ahem... Uh... Moving on.
More, much more, than he wants his two front teeth, the Ralphienator is obsessed with a certain BB Gun, way cooler than a Daisy... it's the Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time! Brilliant!
One problemmo... his doting mommy, played by Melinda Dillon is convinced that he'll shoot his eye out if he gets one. Meanwhile, his dad, played by the great, great Darren McGavin is busy creating great audio art forms of profanity while locked in mortal battle with the family's evil furnace. Naturally, Ralphie is getting desperate and depressed.
Okay... let's look at this real quick... Ralphie's mom is the crazy Devil's Tower artist from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and his dad... is KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER!!! Personally, I think I'd be a pretty happy kid. I mean, my mom was all kind and considerate to bring us, but if she'd, you know, slayed a few vampires while making sarcastic quips at the cops before driving off in her light blue mustang to the sound of typing and flat narration, I'd have been the coolest kid this side of Sunnydale!
But on the way to this fateful Christmas Day, when Ralph may or may not find his new weapon (weapon of choice-ah) he must contend with psychotic and sadistic bullies like Zack Ward's Scut Farkus, along with the evil Robin to his evil Batman, Yano Anaya's Grover Dill, a badder than bad Santa in the form of Jeff Gillen, a strict, if strange teacher (Tedde Moore's Miss Shields), the deep disappointment of a coded Little Orphan Annie message, the taste of Soap, and a near constant montage of fantasy sequences the likes of which Family Guy, The Simpsons and South Park combined have yet to equal.
All of these things, to varying degrees, work their way into his plans to get that Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time! Brilliant!
A Christmas Story is jam packed with hilarious subplots from the now infamous "Leg Lamp" sequence, the psycho neighbor's dogs, the "Pink Nightmare", The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Christmas Dinner and, of course, o-huh-huh-huf course, the Triple Dog Dare relating to sticking one's tongue to a frozen light pole. And it's all strung together by a torrent of profane, wildly comical and maniacal obscenities, the likes my friends and I had never heard... from other kids, that is.
This was made all the cooler by the fact that A Christmas Story is set during Shep's own childhood in the 1940's. Remove Ralphie's cardigan, vitalis and glasses and give him a duck tail, a Mister T earring and a satin jacket and that was me on that screen, dudes and chicks. The story is made not only accessible but actually timeless by Jean Shepherd's hilarious, stolid narration of his own story (credited here as Ralphie as Adult). This wasn't the only story of his that he narrated (in fact, you fans might want to look up his radio and audio record work), but this still stands as one of the coolest Shepherd works of all time. His deep voice alternately sounds like a Kid's Show host, a irony pumping Disk Jockey and a genius stand-up comic, barely able to keep from laughing at his own jokes. I love this guy... I truly love this guy!
Darren McGavin gives Shep a run for his deadpan money. There's a nice slice of Kolchak in "The Old Man", with a whole plate full of good old fashioned American Everyman Dad. He's not only constantly watchable in this film, but he delivers some of the most memorable moments, not just because of the writing, but in the way he interprets it. Bravo! Peter Billingsley is excellent as the young Ralphie, handling that Shep comic style beautifully, but also managing some ticklish physical comedy, facial expressions to keep you cracking up and even moments of cool drama and pathos. It's a big mix, but it works... as well as the jigsawed connectivity of the story elements that Bob Clark keeps cohesive and coherent and always comedic. As great as Bob Clark and his cast, particularly Billingsley and McGavin (the amazing Kolchak) are, this Jean Shepherd's movie, and he manages to upstage even himself with his collection of incredibly funny one-liners and connective narratives alike.
Make no mistake, while this one is a treat for people of all ages above nine, it's also a film to show your kids as early as you're comfortable doing so. Sure, it's a family film, but it's a family film packed with Sexual Innuendo, experiments in wordy dirds, cartoonish violence and an almost scary cynicism. But, and I mean this, it is all in good fun. Hey, I had my daughter watch it! But then... she's seventeen! Shep has a rapier wit and a sarcastic and mocking take on Traditional America (specifically mid-sized towns in Illinois), but it's clear he's satirizing out of love, not malice. As Edgy as A Christmas Story can be (which is relative), it never crosses the line from the positive to the negative, and it leaves the viewer feeling pretty darned good as the credits roll with a Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra!
Every step of the way, it's a good time, and it's even more influential on Comedies (specifically animated Television comedies) than Black Christmas has been on the slasher film. Surprisingly, this wasn't the major hit it could have been in its initial run (though it was a modest success). For a time, I found myself to be the only kid quoting A Christmas Story, and when other kids got the joke, it was like sharing a secret handshake or... a message decoded from the Official Little Orphan Annie Decoder Pin. Eventually, A Christmas Story became a TV Staple around the Holidays and everybody and their cousin's nephew's best friend's dog's fifth flea was walking around saying things like "Oooh fuuudge!", even well after they were safe in uttering the real "F-dash-dash-dash" word. And I say... Viva Le Ralphie. The more the Merrier. Peter Billingsley is KING! If you don't agree, then you need your mouth washed out with soap... and you're not gettin' Lux or even Palmolive... fuuudge no, you're getting YECCHHY Life Buoy, and you're gonna hate it. Deal with it, Pink Boy!
Four and One Half Stars out of Five for A Christmas Story! It's funnier than a naked jog with the Tickle Monster and as timeless as Billy Pilgrim! Now, if you'll excuse me, every Jean Shepherd book, record, movie, TV special and radio blurb calls me in a sarcastic chorus, and I must obey. Be Sure to Drink your Ovaltine, watch out for the Bumpuses' dogs, mind your pronunciation of "Fragile" and be open to the Dinner Duck's welcoming smile... oh, and respect the lamp, and mind your tongue, young people! See you in the next Real Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time!
Hey, what's that behind the desk?
Santa must've left it.
Go ahead... click here and open it...
It's a Brother Kneumsi 180 Proof Butt-Load of Movie Reviews!
Oh, yeah, sure, you can exchange it for something better if you want!