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By the same creative genius who wrote Christmas Story, this is a
sendup of Ralphie's life as a teenager.
James Broderick plays "the old man" in this episode. Haven't seen this since a PBS showing over 20 years ago. One scene that stands out follows: One of the Parker's neighbors orders an entire house by mail from Sears. It arrives in railroad boxcars on a siding in town. All the fathers go down with the premise of helping unload the house kit from the cars. The beer starts to flow and it becomes a drunken ballet of opening hundreds of crates of house parts. Then it begins to rain and the hapless home buyer is abandoned by his inebriated friends. If you can find a copy of it anywhere, watch it!!!
This is Shepherd's first full length American Playhouse film, and all the stops are pulled. The great James Broderick establishes the original Old Man, a performance to which the other Old Men strive to hit. Everyone loves Darren McGavin in A Christmas Story, but somehow Broderick best captures the ennui of the real character: life is hard and it happens, and it's best to look from a slight distance with awe and amusement. These films really are about the Old Man, as narrated by Ralphie, relating the fast and bewildering trip from childhood into adulthood with nostalgia and soft focus. There are more hard lessons and subtle narrative humor truer to Shep's radio programs in Open Hearth than the subsequent, but also glorious films. This one sets the bar, with a shoestring budget, Orpheum organ music, perfect narration, and loosely connected stories. It's much like the sleeker and loved films from the 80's, but with a freshness that the others can't beat. Meet the leg lamp, meet mom and the Old Man, meet nearly silent Randy, and of course the earnest rube Ralphie. This one is low budget joy, and because it is great, it gave birth to the rest. "It was alive, unparalleled glory..." Yes it was. See this. It's now full length on the infoweb.
I've seen this once, way back in the winter of '76.... but it still
remains as my favorite comedy... Why this is not screened more often or
available to buy is beyond comprehension... the leg-shaped lamp, the
afore-mentioned fiasco with the train full of boxed house parts... It
is well-scripted, and funnier than anything else I've EVER seen... this
is total brilliance... if anyone out there has a copy, PLEASE let me
If there's one film that will have you weeping with laughter until your gut muscles ache, this is it.... if you EVER get the chance to see this, do NOT pass it by.... you will remember moments in this film for the rest of your days...
One of America's finest humorists Jean Shephard narrates his awesomely
hilarious memory of prom night in The Phantom of the Open Hearth. With
a wonderful cast playing hapless everydays he provides comic blow by
blow of the hopes, dreams and disappointments permeating their mundane
Prom night is quickly approaching and Ralph Parker has yet to summon the courage up to ask the class beauty to attend with him. At home his blue collar dad receives news he has won something for the first time in his life. Ralph's mother meanwhile frets over the mounting gravy bowl substitutions down at the Orpheum on dish night. From these three situations Hearth bursts forth with uninterrupted humor and wry observation from start to finish all of it described by Shephard with impish enthusiasm.
Produced by PBS TV the film achieves in brilliant fashion what a big budget, star powered vehicle would destroy, it's satiric Rockwell lived in feel without precious set design calling attention to itself or the mega star mixing so well with the locals. Co-directors David Loxton and Fred Barzyk give a well worn feel and look to every scene filling it with rich characters , even if they only have a line of dialogue, that takes the humor in another direction while keeping the story on track. They also show no hesitance in employing archaic sound effects which works well here.
David Elliot as Ralph handles his awkward teen years well while Barbara Bolton as the mother provides an ideal stone faced straight man. As "the old man" James Broderick laments touchingly without becoming maudlin. The rest of the cast from his buds to adults like the fast talking tux renters and the under duress movie theatre manager and the "good at math" Wanda Hickey ably fulfill their roles and provide the film with a wealth of incidental material. The Phantom of the Open Hearth is a warm and very funny look back in humor.
Everyone loves little Ralphie in A Christmas Story, wouldn't you like to see what he went through in high school? Wouldn't you like to see what his prom was like? This PBS movie predates Christmas Story, but is just as funny, if not more so, than the more famous later work. Jean Shepard again narrates his own story.
This satirical, funny, but also rueful PBS film looks at teenage life
in middle America in the 1950s and is well adapted by humorist Jean
Shepherd from his own writings.
Really a series of episodes, without much of a plot, but lovely details, and pretty strong acting all around -- although the adults seem a touch exaggerated and the teens a touch underplayed in a way that makes me think the intent is to look at the adult world through the slight distortion of teenage eyes.
For me, this was stronger than the PBS produced follow up six years later 'The Great 4th of July and Other Disasters'. While that had a bit more wacky fun, this had more heart, and tartness to go with the sweet.
I saw PHANTOM when first broadcast and many times since. For my money it tops all adaptations of Shep's stories, including A Christmas Story. James Broderick is THE Old Man, playing him without the broad strokes Darren McGavin slathered on him in ACS. Barbara Bolton's spot-on on Ralph's mom, too. And watch Flick! The slightly sardonic, anti-nostalgia edge Shep favored on radio and in print holds sway here--it's as if Shep knew this might be his best (and only) shot at a film version of his stories, and he and all connected hit the notes. Yes, the complete 76-minute version (not the edited hour version played years ago on Disney) can be found with a little online searching. Don't miss it! Excelsior, you fatheads, and FLICK LIVES!
Yes, this was written and narrated by Jean Shepard years before he did
A Christmas Story, yes, it has many of the same characters in a time a
few years later than that classic, and yes, it even has a first draft
of the leg lamp story that plays such a prominent part in the more
famous movie. But this is nowhere near as good as A Christmas Story.
The movie does has some moments that are funny, particularly during the prom (there's a lovingly horrific description of a corsage), but it also has a lot of moments that aren't particularly funny. And while little boy Ralphie's narcissism is amusing and relatable, I had less sympathy for Ralph, whose attitudes towards women need an attitude adjustment.
The movie is also rather poorly directed. It's done by the people who did the much better Between Time and Timbuktu, and has some of that movie's abstract and surreal touches. Unfortunately, that is totally wrong for the film. There are two cross-cutting scenes in which that two scenes don't in any way support or comment on one another. There's also this weird cutting to the "open hearth" that never resonates.
It's an somewhat interesting movie with some good scenes, but overall it's just not very good.
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