“Christmas was on its way. Lovely, glorious, beautiful Christmas, upon which the entire kid year revolved.” -Adult Ralphie narrating in “A Christmas Story”
I first saw the feature when I was a child. I enjoyed it then, but it resonates more now that I’m an adult and have some perspective on my younger years. There were times as a tyke that I also fixated on a toy or game. I can relate to Ralphie Parker, the lead character, and his obsession with a BB gun. The Atari 2600 was the hot item when I was about Ralphie's age, and I begged my parents to buy me the console. When I finally received it, I said it was the “happiest day of my life.”
Another aspect of the film I identify with is the fact that adults act as barriers between children and their youthful whims and desires. Throughout the movie, Ralphie makes his way from one grown-up to another and asks for the toy. He approaches his mother, then his teacher, then a department store Santa – and he's rejected by all. They each tell him the same thing: “You’ll shoot your eye out!” I did eventually get that Atari, but there were months of pleading.
But what makes the film so special and unique is that much of it is the vision of
Jean Shepherd, the radio and TV personality, writer, and actor. “A Christmas Story” is based on his 1966 collection of short stories “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” as well as tales he told on his WOR radio show. He and Bob Clark, the film’s director, wrote the screenplay with Leigh Brown.
Shepherd also narrates as the adult Ralphie and the device creates a wonderful intimacy. It helps the viewer relate to the boy and his life in small-town Indiana. This device of an adult guiding the audience through his childhood was used similarly on TV’s “The Wonder Years.” Shepherd even has a cameo in the movie, playing a shopper at Higbee's department store when Ralphie and his brother, Randy, visit Santa. (Ralphie refers to Kris Kringle as
“The Big Man.”)
Shepherd, as the narrator, has several witty and well-phrased lines. On his father (“The Old Man”) and his propensity for foul language: “He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium; a master.” Or, Ralphie and Randy open their presents on Christmas morning: “We plunged into the cornucopia quivering with desire and the ecstasy of unbridled avarice.” And, on wearing a ridiculous pink bunny suit, a holiday gift from his aunt: “Word of this humiliation could easily make life at Warren G. Harding School a veritable hell.”
The film is essentially a series of vignettes taken from Sheperd’s book and radio program. Here are two of my favorites: Flick, one of Ralphie’s friends, is pressured (“I TRIPLE-dog-dare ya!”) to stick his tongue to their school’s frozen flagpole during recess. Ralphie and his classmates abandon Flick when the situation gets out of control, and the boy is rescued by the police and fire department. There are also several fantasy sequences imagined by Ralphie. At one point, he saves his family from a group of bandits with the Red Ryder rifle he’s nicknamed “Old Blue.” Ralphie is clad in full on western wear, and he spits from a jaw full of tobacco. “He's a dead-eye, ain't he?” The Old Man says proudly.
I'm Eli Natinsky and I'm a communication specialist. This blog explores my work and professional interests. I also delve into other topics, including media, marketing, pop culture, and technology.