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‘Twas days before Christmas throughout the Midwest,
And young Ralphie Parker was clearly obsessed
With gaining the gift of a grandiose gun,
A Red Ryder air rifle second to none.
His teacher and Santa and Mom had no doubt
That, if he received it, he’d “shoot his eye out,”
But still he would dream of the glorious day
When he’d get the gun from the Christmas display.
As Ralphie’s friend Flick found his frozen tongue trapped,
As bullies tormented them till Ralphie snapped,
As Ovaltine ads disappointed the scamp,
As Mom and Dad fought over one gaudy lamp,
As imprudent words left him sampling soap,
He planned and held onto his undying hope:
The gun of his dreams. Though that Christmas had sighs,
He got and remembered both woes and his prize.

Sometimes, I find it difficult to imagine a time before certain films entered the pop culture stream; A Christmas Story is one of those films. Though set in an ambiguous ’30s-‘40s era in Indiana, it holds a ubiquitous nostalgia that even those whose childhoods were far-removed from that time and place can find plenty to which they can relate. In a way, Jean Shepherd’s novelized sketches of one hilarious Christmas seem to capture the very essence of childhood during the holidays.

Shepherd himself narrates the familiar vignettes with casual grandiloquence, while Peter Billingsley portrays his shrewd younger self. Ralphie is an engaging “everykid,” whose solecism and sporadic brattiness are easily forgiven, since after all, who wasn’t an occasional selfish rascal when growing up? Though Ralphie’s parents seem like tired stereotypes (the blustering, foul-mouthed patriarch and the dense, unassuming mother), they both are treated affectionately throughout, even in their parental judgments, and become more sympathetic as the film continues. They feel like real parents, not always getting along nor indulging their children as much as they might wish, but capable of unexpected kindness that sticks in a child’s memory just as strongly as pink bunny pajamas.

Every moment of this film is a paradigm of Christmas reminiscences, from Ralphie’s over-the-top fantasies to the oft-repeated assertion that BB guns can only end in ocular injury. Why A Christmas Story was coolly received upon its release, I’ll never know; perhaps nostalgia wasn’t “in” in 1983 or critics just couldn’t recognize an instant classic when they saw it. Regardless, it has risen to its due popularity over time and is typically repeated for the entirety of Christmas Day on TBS. Some Christmas movies focus on its true meaning, like The Nativity Story; some put the emphasis on wonder and vague holiday spirit, like The Polar Express; some just happen to be set at Christmastime, like Die Hard; and some are eternal portraits of yuletide Americana, the best of which is A Christmas Story.

Best line: (Ralphie’s narration, after he spills the F-dash-dash-dash word) “Over the years I got to be quite a connoisseur of soap. My personal preference was for Lux, but I found Palmolive had a nice, piquant after-dinner flavor – heady, but with just a touch of mellow smoothness. Life Buoy, on the other hand…” (young Ralphie) “YECCHH!”

VC’s best line (the more obvious): (Ralphie’s mom, his teacher, and Santa Claus) “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

Rank: 55 out of 60

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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