Is it the best Christmas movie line of all time?
Well, maybe–and maybe not. But it’s definitely in the top ten.
The nineteen eighties were not especially known for producing many great works of art. It is sort of a lost decade. Gone were the avant- garde and ground-breaking films of the seventies. Granted, some of them didn’t come off all that well. But at least there was the attempt. Instead, the eighties–well, it was sometimes pretty dismal, with film makers worshipping the gods of profits, rather than creativity. It was the decade that coined the phrase “fill and spill” at the new mall multi-plex theaters.
It was all about the money.
Who would have guessed that the Christmas season of 1983 would produce both an endearing, and enduring instant Christmas classic.
A Christmas Story is based on the short stories and anecdotes of author Jean Shepard. It consisted basically of elements taken from his book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.
Jean Parker Shepherd (1921-1999) was a radio and television personality. He was also considered to be a pretty darned good raconteur, right up there with the greats–Will Rogers and Mark Twain. A Christmas Story concerns his own childhood (in a semi-autobiographical sense) and he narrated the film, as well as co-scripted it.
The plot is simple. Nine-year-old Ralphie Parker wants only one thing for Christmas. A BB gun. Yes, a parents worst nightmare. His request is rejected by everyone, but none more vociferously than his mother, who declares–“You’ll shoot your eye out!”
He gets the gift from dad anyway.
And the game is afoot.
There is an outrageous table-lamp (a major award) a tongue stuck on frozen pole, a malfunctioning furnace, double and triple dog dares, and in the funniest scene of the movie, Ralphie manages to toss a box of tools while helping his dad changing a flat tire. Out of Ralphie’s young mouth come the famous line “Ooooh, Fuuudge! Of course, as the adult Ralphie narrates–“I didn’t say Fudge.”
“I said the mother of all swears.” The twenty-four karat gold-plated number one worst ever swear word of all time.
Time freezes as Ralphie waits for his father’s reaction. I won’t spoil the fun by telling you what it is–just in case you haven’t seen the movie.
I had the pleasure a few years ago, to attend the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle, to see a local production of A Christmas Story. It was great, sprinkled with top-notch local talent. The man and the boy playing Ralphie and his father were terrific. I will always remember how incredibly long the freeze-frame lasted after Ralphie said the famous word.
It seemed to go on forever. I sat and wondered how long they could keep it up. The answer was, of course, for as long as the audience kept laughing.
It went on for a very long time. My sides kind of hurt.
The movie is likewise a gem. Director Bob Clark earned two Genie Awards. In 2012, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Peter Billingsley plays Ralphie, and Darren McGavin is “the old man,” Ralphie’s father. It is one of the best roles of his lifetime. Melinda Dillion plays the mother.
The movie is set in the fictional Indiana town of Hohman, a version of Mr. Shepard’s hometown of Hammond, Indiana.
Director Clark stated in the film’s DVD commentary that he and the author wished for the movie to appear to be set, late thirtyish, or perhaps early forties. A specific date is never mentioned.
The film unfolds over a variety of lush classical music. A good choice, providing a counterpoint to the stereotypical American mid-west bible-belt set-piece.
All in all, a lot of fun and another great creator of Christmas spirit and cheer. There is just about time to squeeze in a viewing before Christmas. It is available from Amazon as both a DVD and instant viewing–as well as being widely available in stores ranging from big-box to the corner drugstore–at least in the weeks leading up to the grand holiday.
It is also playing at the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle through the end of the year.
Give it a view if you can. It is a real keeper. You might just get stuck on it.
Thanks so much for reading.
Next up, Auld Land Syne . . . a heart-felt look at 2014. What (and who) we have lost, and what (if anything) we have gained.
Until then . . . Goodnight. And sweet dreams.