Christmas was on its way, and there was one thing little Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) wanted more than anything for his present: a Red Ryder air rifle. But the problem arose of how to bring up the proposition to his parents, after all a gift of a gun was not something his mother (Melinda Dillon) would be entirely amenable to, so Ralphie had to tread carefully to plant the idea in her mind. However, once the subject came up in conversation, what do you want for Christmas, Ralphie?, when he gingerly suggested the air rifle and his heart sank at the reply: "You'll put your eye out!"
If there was such a thing as a Meet Me in St. Louis for the nineteen-eighties, a work which traded on nostalgia for a bygone age for the audience to lose themselves in, then A Christmas Story was it. There were no musical numbers, what director Bob Clark's adaptation of Jean Shepherd's stories traded in was humour, all based around the characters whose motivations had been made obvious to all of us watching, but endearingly not quite to the characters themselves, so we could see Ralphie's obsession with the gun was a childish whimsy, yet also why it would seem the most important thing in the world to him when that was really his familiy.
Similarly, Ralphie's father has his own trials to endure, and his own preoccupation as well, all wonderfuly played by Darren McGavin, as he is the proud winner of a lamp in the form of a woman's shapely leg. His wife is less than enamoured with this oversized objet d'art, which just makes it funnier that he insists on placing it in the front window for all to see, and eventually matters come to a head when the inevitable happens: a lingering question of whether the lamp jumped or was pushed remains. As you can see, other than the plot thread about the rifle, the material was presented in episodic fashion, much like the Vincente Minnelli seasonal classic.
Which meant one incident followed another in much the way that memory consists in the mind: you don't recall the flow of time as events progress smoothly, it's more like you pick out highlights (or lowlights) and they make up the patchwork of your remembered past. Clark, who had recently waxed nostalgic in a very different manner in Porky's, had an excellent grasp on this and Shepherd, who narrated, delivered ideal tales, which rendered this film more than many others as one of those where you could reminisce over your favourite scenes, with so many standing out. The little boy with his tongue frozen to the flagpole, for example, is almost this film's defining moment.
Mainly due to it being the kind of thing that would come back to you had it happened in your own schooldays, it really seems that authentic. In the same way, when Ralphie and his little brother Randy (Ian Petrella) get to visit Santa at the department store, and he is worrying that he has to mention the air rifle, the experience is not warm and cosy but fraught with an near-nightmarish pressure, Santa himself being at the very least unprofessional and wanting to get each now-traumatised child on and off his knee as quickly as possible. His observation as Ralphie blurts out his wish is as predictable as it is amusing: the kid feels the world is against him when really it's doing its best to make him happy in the circumstances he finds himself. A Christmas Story holds a place in North America as a holiday classic where the message is non-commercialised and true to the spirit of the season, but is not so well known elsewhere, which is a pity when it all fell together with such pleasing delight. Music by Paul Zaza and Carl Zittrer.
American born, Canadian-based writer, producer and director with a varied career, he rarely stopped working in the industry from his 1970s horror Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things onwards, with cult classics like chiller Deathdream, Black Christmas (the first of the North American slasher cycle), Murder by Decree (a Sherlock Holmes mystery), sex comedy Porky's and its sequel, and A Christmas Story (a cult comedy that has become a seasonal favourite) all winning fans. He was responsible for such derided films as Rhinestone and the Baby Geniuses movies as well. At the time of his death in a car crash he was working on a remake of ...Dead Things.