The video store I rent movies from has an entire section of holiday films. Every year, it seems, there are more and more choices, but of all the movies in this growing seasonal genre, my favorite is “A Christmas Story.” Oh, I can feel the messages coming in already, so let me add this little disclaimer: There are many, many great Christmas films out there, and I would love to hear your opinions.
The original “Miracle on 34th Street” is magical, and “It’s a Wonderful Life” really is wonderful. I also love “Elf,” a delightful, heart-warming, and funny movie, thanks to the comic talent of Will Ferrell. But of all the holiday flicks on the shelf, “A Christmas Story” is the movie I long to see every December, sometimes again and again.
Adapted for film from the writings of Jean Shepherd, “A Christmas Story” is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year. This holiday classic is set in 1940s Indiana and tells the story of Ralphie, played by Peter Billingsley, as he dreams of the greatest Christmas gift he can imagine, a genuine Red Ryder 200-shot Carbine Action Air Rifle. Ralphie’s hopes are squashed over and over by his mother, teacher, and even a shopping center Santa, who all tell him, “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
Jean Shepherd memorably narrates the story, as the grown-up voice of Ralphie. His descriptions are among my favorite parts of the movie. When reminiscing about using a certain four-letter word, grown-up Ralphie speculates that he probably heard it first from his “old man,” played by Darin McGavin. “My father worked in profanity the way other artists work in clay or oil. It was his true medium. . .a master!” the narrator explains. And that’s just one example of the clever writing that takes place throughout the film.
Without question, the movie has an excellent cast, including Melinda Dillon, who plays the doting mother. Statements like “Don’t you give me that look!” and “Starving people would be happy to have that,” make me think fondly of mothers I know.
From Ralphie’s visit with Santa, where he gives the wrong answer when asked what he wants for Christmas, to the famous tongue-on-the-frozen-flagpole scene, the kids in the cast are hilarious and convincing. And I can’t forget Ralphie’s little brother, Randy, who is at the heart of several laughs. Remember the snowsuit?
Though set in a different time, “A Christmas Story” has universal qualities that make it a timeless film. Maybe it’s the anticipation of Christmas from a child’s perspective. Maybe Ralphie’s family reminds us of our own. Maybe it’s the great storytelling. Whatever it is, this movie is worth seeing, again and again.