Movies That Everyone Should See: “A Christmas Story”

In 1983, I was a punk ass little kid. A Hellion.

I was 13. I loved playing games with my Jr High GPA… seeing how close to the deck I could fly without crashing the plane. Spent a lot of time in detention and at the Vice Principal’s office. Drinking and drugs were less than 6 months away. I had already begun my career as a little womanizer. Vandalism was one of my favorite pastimes. It was soon to be joined by petty theft.

I was about to embark on a decade plus reign of terror that would put the kids from “The Omen” and “The Exorcist” to shame.

Why do I tell you this? To set the stage. See, kids like that (me), don’t want to spend time with their families. I would have rather been doing something else. Anything else. I was all about getting AWAY from my family at that age. But when you’re 13, you don’t have a lot of freedom, so you wind up doing what they do on Holidays like New Years.

What I didn’t expect… what none of us expected… was that that day, New Years Day, 1983, would be a day that would go down in Fogarty family folklore forever.

It was the day we all saw “A Christmas Story”.

“A Christmas Story” was written for the screen by Jean Shepherd (in conjunction with Leigh Brown and director Bob Clark). It’s based on his book of short stories, “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash”, along with material from his other works. In addition to being an author, Shepherd spent a number of years as a radio raconteur, regaling audiences with his episodic doses of Americana.

Not only are they his stories being told in “A Christmas Story”, he’s the one telling them. Shepherd is the voice of the narrator in the film (he also has a cameo as the parent waiting for Santa who tells Ralphie he’s not at the end of the line). So when you’re hearing the voice of the grown up Ralphie sharing his childhood experiences, it’s provided by the actual grown up “Ralphie”, sharing his childhood experiences.

This creates a direct connection between author and audience in the movie. It’s one of the many reasons why “A Christmas Story” is such a wonderful film.

The narration is the heart and soul of the movie. If there were an alternate audio track without it, I’m convinced the movie wouldn’t be half as funny. Occasionally, it explains the events of childhood from a mature perspective, but far more often, it aggrandizes them. Makes them sound epic.

Even something as momentous as the Scut Farkus affair, which it came to be known, was pushed out of my mind as I struggled to come up with a way out of the impenetrable BB gun web, in which my mother had me trapped.

With as much dignity as he could muster, the Old Man gathered up the sad remains of his shattered major award. Later that night, alone in the backyard, he buried it next to the garage. Now I could never be sure, but I thought that I heard the sound of “Taps” being played, gently.

The juxtaposition of common childhood events and excessive narrative grandeur is the comedic soul of the film. Toss in a couple of daydream sequences to aid in the effort, and voilà, the mundane becomes the mythical, which in turn is hysterical.

Because, taken at face value, the events of “A Christmas Story” are relatively commonplace. The Family meal. A homework assignment. A child gets his mouth washed out with soap for swearing. The neighborhood bully gets his. And of course, the narrative core, the child who wants a certain Christmas present very badly.

And yet, the movie has a magical way of taking those moments and weaving them together into a tapestry of Americana humor that none of us can forget. Who doesn’t love “Show me how the piggies eat”? Ever “Triple Dog Dare” someone? How many times have you seen “Fragile” on something and pronounced it “Fra-Gi-Le”?

“It. Was. Soap Poisoning…”

Almost every scene in this movie is memorable.

It’s also some of the “cleanest” comedy imaginable. there’s no raunch or bathroom humor, and no actual swearing… even though obviously, swearing is referred to (Oh Fuddddge….). That’s why it was so surprising to me that director Bob Clark’s most notable other projects were “Porky’s” I & II (immediately preceding this film) and “Black Christmas”, one of the few slasher films of note which actually preceded “Halloween”.

The movie’s heart lies in being a child and being a part of a family. Certainly Christmas in inextricably interwoven in its DNA, but the film speaks to the experience of childhood and growing up within a family as much as anything else.

Children daydream (not that adults don’t). Children fight and dare each other to do stupid, regrettable things. Children are forced to wear terrible clothing gifts given to them by relatives who don’t really know them. Watching Ralphie’s experiences remind us of our own youth… even if we can’t relate to the specific events, we can all relate to the overall condition of being a child. Not being your own boss, not fully understanding how the world works, and having an imagination that frequently runs away from you.

No! No! I want an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!

But it’s not just childhood. It’s family. It’s family humor, certainly, but there’s warmth there. The way Ralphie’s mom continually makes sacrifices for her children. The way the father curses and mutters and can barely bottle his frustration. The fear that Randy exhibits when he thinks his father will kill his big brother. The way they all find happiness together at the end.

The Parkers are your classic every family. I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard “My father was just like that” in reference to Darren McGavin’s character. Every time I’ve ever watched the movie with someone, the “My mother had not had a hot meal for herself in fifteen years” gets a “That’s so true”. And I think anyone from a colder clime can relate to the sadistic bundling that Randy is subject to.

We can all see ourselves growing up with that family.

And maybe that’s why MY family took to the movie so well. Because that New Years Day, 1983, after we ate at a local restaurant… we all sat in a nearly empty theatre and watched “A Christmas Story” for the first time.

It was new, it had no name for itself, it took each and every one of us completely off guard. This wasn’t the movie that we’ve seen now 8,000,000 times and can quote verbatim… it was a sleeper, held over in a second run theatre, with practically no one else in attendance.

We belly laughed our way through it. And kept laughing on the way out. Hugs were exchanged and we kept laughing. I remember the most animated car ride home we ever had. Excitedly reliving scenes and quotes and characters and still laughing about it all. We went home a very, very happy family, and the memory has always stayed with us. If any of us, still, brings up that day, all our voices will soften and we get a little affectionate as we share the recollection of a treasured family moment. It may very well be the best day my family shared together growing up.

It’s one of the most personal examples I have of how the magic of the movies can bring joy into people’s lives and create wonderful, lasting memories.

This one is for you guys, Mom and Deb. Dad’s no longer with us, but I know he’s happy thinking about it too.

Merry Christmas Everyone.

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30 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: “A Christmas Story”

  1. Sneaking in while it’s early morning and my own family hasn’t arrived yet….

    I was late to the game on A Christmas Story; I was only 4 when it came out, and the TV has always been o-f-f OFF on Christmas. So I was well into adulthood by the time I finally managed to catch it one Christmas Eve (thank you TBS and your all-day-and-night marathons). I even remember talking with you about it at the time. But I’ve always been aware of the film, because older family members and friends referenced it endlessly, and when I finally got to see it, it was clear why.

    I think a lot of why the movie works so well is that everything is commonplace, even the things we wouldn’t always want to admit to. Who hasn’t had to salvage a holiday from some near-disastrous mishap? Who hasn’t dreamed of some dangerous toy or hobby, and then had exactly what the adults predicted happen? I can even relate to the pink nightmare. One year, my grandmother — who had been getting increasingly “eccentric” every year — got all of us children pink footed sleeper pajamas. I was eleven. This is the sort of memory that never quite leaves you, no matter how much you wish it would. (My brother had it worse, though; he’s 4 years older than me. Where Grandma found pink footed sleeper pajamas in his size, I’ll never know.)

    Great, great choice for the Christmas edition of MTESS. It might be the best Christmas movie ever made. Liked the personal touch on this write-up as well.

    Merry Christmas, Fogs.

  2. Someone I know needs to gift me a dvd so I wont ever miss “A Christmas Story” on Christmas eve. Was jonesing bad this morning. I promise I wont shoot my eye out. Merry Christmas Daniel, to you et all.

    some

  3. As I’m reading this, I’m watching A Christmas Story on TBS. I agree with you 100%. The mix of sounds/music, narrative voice, and the family is what makes this movie. I don’t know how many times I used to fantasize getting an A+++++++ on my essays, only to find a C staring back at me. In my heart, I don’t thing this movie can be remade. Something about that narrative voice and Ralphie’s piercing blue eyes…I don’t think it can be duplicated.

    Merry Christmas and Fararara rara.

  4. Great job, Fogs. The picture was an excellent touch to the perfect Christmas edition of MTESS. I pieced together probably about 2 watches this year during the marathon. Wish I had done my homework before our podcast. I’ve watched it many times since becoming a parent, but the scene that I really connected with the most this year was between the old man and Ralphie after that seemingly have opened all the presents. Watching the Old Man direct Ralphie to the present behind the piano and then opening and loading the air rifle stirred up some awesome feelings. I saw that part on Christmas eve this year and made Christmas morning all the better when my boys opened up the 2 gifts they had asked Santa for.
    Not sure I’ll ever be able to pull the air rifle behind the piano trick on my boys, but there is just something to really seeing and knowing your kids are overjoyed. Glad you have the experience of this movie to resonate your family’s history. Hopefully, we will have a particular moment in our family someday too.

    • Glad you liked the read Jason… and you know what’s funny? That scene you’re talking about happens to be like the only scene I actually talked about this year (as I caught random scenes during the day)… My Brother in law and I lucked into a quiet moment when that scene was on, and we were both saying how much WE liked that scene.

      I was remarking that, you know, we’ve seen it now a zillion times, so there’s no surprises left in it. But on first viewing, audiences were all as surprised as Ralphie. When the presents were all done… I remember thinking “Aw, he didn’t get it? The movie’s gonna end without him getting what he wanted?” and then boom. It was like I got a surprise gift myself.

      Plus the Dad is such an unlikely hero there. Its almost as if he’s clueless to the kids throughout… I mean, not exactly, but it does seem like he’s more wrapped up with the furnace, and the lamp and the dogs and its the MOM who was tending to the kids.

      But the Old man swoops in to save the day like the Millennium Falcon. “Go on kid, you’re all clear. Just dont shoot your eye out!” LOL

  5. Fogs, that was a great movie review. You should become a movie critic. Imagine getting paid to review movies, what a life that would be.

    Christmas story is a great movie that will be played over and over for many years into the future. I liked when he got lamp delivered and he said is this from “Fragile”? What is that someplace in Italy?

    I also thought it was a riot when the kids double dog and even triple dog dared the one kid to stick his tongue to the cold pole outside. Then after he got his tongue stuck the kids are like the bell rang i got to go to class. The kid at the pole is screaming like crazy as everyone takes off.

    As a kid i remember doing stupid things in the winter because other kids dared me to do it. I remember throwing snowballs at cars as they drove by from my back yard. I remember hitting one car in the windshield and the car stopped. And then this guy got out of the car and chased us into the woods. I never ran so hard in my entire life. Not to mention there was a foot of snow on the ground so it was like running thru the Alaskian mountains.

    Merry Xmas

    • Thanks Mike! Yeah, that would be nice… (being paid to do reviews) Maybe one day man. Workin’ on it. LOL

      Meanwhile, yeah, I think that a lot of the joy of this movie is that we can all relate. Just like you say, we can all watch that movie and think back to our own experiences growing up. I know we both can, and I think lots of people can.

      Anyways, yep, this is a good one. Merry Christmas Mike, hope you had a nice holiday this year!

  6. Fogs,
    A truly heartfelt “review” of a classic (that’s still on my embarassing haven’t seen it yet list.) More important than the film itself is the degree to which you acknowledge its affect on you and the Fogarty clan. In the end the movies that are truly special are the ones that produce an emotional tie.
    Great Job – Loved the tribute to the film and family- Awesome Photo! Like the Alex P. Keaton look-
    All my Best Wishes for the New Year-
    G

    • HA!

      I was rocking the Alex P there wasn’t I? That’s right about where the similarities end though.

      Yeah, this is a good one, I’d recommend it. I think the quality of the movie will transcend any holiday differentials you might experience. :D

  7. While watching this with family this Christmas, I came to realize that I actually completely loathe this movie; apart from the dad, I don’t like a single character here, particularly the mother who enables her children to act like cretins and the children who, well, act like cretins. Maybe it’s my dislike of the Santa Clause lie, but I think spending two hours with such a delusional protagonist– who’s so deluded because his parents have connived him into believing in a fat man who flies all around the world and drops off gifts only for gentile children– is just insufferable. I almost want him to get his eye shot out; at least then something interesting would happen.

    I can understand an attachment to that magical feeling of waking up on Christmas and seeing the tree laden with presents, and finding that special gift all wrapped up for you, but it’s sort of weird for me to watch a movie that celebrates the worst aspects of the holiday rather than championing the heart that makes the season really special.

    That’s right. I just blew up A Christmas Story‘s spot.

  8. A great post! Man, I love this movie and watch it all the time! It is a film that every family can relate to. You’re right.

    and I agree with Debbie, the picture at the end made it even more worth the read!

    • Ha. Yeah, people seem to be reacting well to the “personal touch”

      I figure I only get to write this piece once, so…

      Plus, it’s Christmas. Even the grinch’s heart swelled up a couple sizes. :D

  9. Wonderful review!! Made me laugh and cry. Having experienced it originally ( with you, Dad, and Deb) made it all the more special——-a perfect Xmas present!!

  10. Pingback: The 50 Greatest Comedies of All Time - UnderScoopFire!*

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