Christmas is approaching and 9 year-old Ralphie wants only one thing: a Red Ryder Range 200 Shot BB gun. When he mentions it at the dinner table, his mother's immediate reaction is that he'll put his eye out. He then decides on a perfect theme for his teacher but her reaction is like his. He fantasizes about what it would be like to be Red Ryder and catch the bad guys. When the big day arrives he gets lots of present under the tree including a lovely gift from his aunt that his mother just adores. But what about the BB gun? Written by
A Christmas Story touches my heart as does no other film, and I know the reason for this is because it reminds me so much of my own 1950's boyhood. For sure it strikes a nerve in persons of my generation. This is Bob Clark's masterpiece and I know I am not the only person who feels this way.
I am going to assume that, if you are reading this, chances are you have seen the film; indeed, probably have seen it countless times as I have. This is not a film review in the normal sense. It is more a reminiscence and appreciation of a great story captured for all time in moving pictures which, in turn, captured the essence of the time and place of its setting; that time and setting being a typical town in Indiana during Christmas season in the 1940s as we observe a typical family (the Parkers) with two young sons named Ralphie and Randy.
Most of us over the age of 50 can relate very well to the story's key elements. I recall vividly family outings to crowded downtown sidewalks, Mom and Dad squeezing in a season's worth of shopping in one day and doing it under the nose of one who had a visit to Santa Claus on his mind. Staring at the prominent HIGBEES sign in the downtown square, I could almost see the words John A. Brown in its place. Browns was the main department store in my hometown of Oklahoma City and the place where I would make my annual visit with Santa Claus.
I am sure most who have seen the film realize this is Ralphie's story, but Melinda Dillon as the typical 1940's stay-at-home mom and Darren McGavin as the grumpy but kindly father made the story work. The stove in the Parker's kitchen reminds much of the one my grandmother had, and the rest of the house reminded me of the home my other grandparents lived in. As you see, viewing A Christmas Story is always a magical experience for me. It is almost as if Mr. Clark made this film with Tom Fowler in mind.
There are so many comments to make. It will be impossible to relate them all in a short review, but here are some that I know people my age will be most familiar with:
Beautiful toys displayed in department store windows. The agonizingly long wait for toys ordered via mail and learning too late they are not quite what was expected. The excitement of buying a Christmas tree, the joy of setting it up and how much bigger Christmas trees seemed then. Neighborhood bullies who were not nearly as tough as they seemed. Ralphie wanting a BB gun more than life itself. Mom covering trouble for Ralphie to his dad, and the same mom making him eat soap for uttering words -- learned from Dad. Randy sitting underneath the kitchen sink when depressed. A panicky visit to a tired Santa. An unwanted gift from a well-meaning aunt. The furious unwrapping of gifts on Christmas morning. I could go on and on. I will make two more observations and then will sign off and let somebody else speak.
In the film's sweetest scene, we see Dad coming through for his son at the last possible moment. To see the look on young Ralphie's (ably played by Peter Billingsley) face as he unwraps his best and last gift is one of filmdom's true golden moments.
But, for me the best moment was the last. Ralphie is in bed at film's end. We see snow outside and Ralphie dreaming of his wonderful gift, as the story's author and narrator Jean Shepherd, speaking as the grown up Ralphie, realizes this was the best Christmas he ever had, or ever would have.
If you are middle age or older and have not seen A Christmas Story, you are perhaps unaware that you have cheated yourself. Buy or rent the 2003 20th anniversary DVD. It will be the best money you spend this Christmas -- or any Christmas.
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