A Christmas Story
Runtime: 1 hr 34 min
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Bob Clark
Starring: Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Peter Billingsley, Ian Petrella, Scott Schwartz, R.D. Robb, Tedde Moore, Jeff Gillen
All of the story's characters are too quirky.
Review by: SteveRhodes
Added: 8 years ago
In a show full of all the incidents of childhood that happen only in the movies, a typical one has a 4th grader rescued by firemen after he sticks his tongue to a frozen telephone pole. After a triple-dog dare, he is, of course, obligated by the strict code of childhood ethics to inflict certain damage to his body.
Director Bob Clark's 1983 film, A CHRISTMAS STORY, tries to be Cute with a capital C. Set in the 1940s, it is told almost exclusively in voice-over. As the grown Ralphie, Jean Shepherd speaks through heavy narration about the Christmas Ralphie was 9-years-old.
The story is nominally about Ralphie's quest to get an air rifle for Christmas and not just any air rifle -- a genuine Red Ryder. The gun quest serves as a glue to hold together a rag-tag collection of childhood incidents. Ralph, a preppie-dressed kid played by Peter Billingsley, seems chosen for his cloying behavior.
As "the old man," Darren McGavin plays a quirky dreamer and would-be record setting handyman. He becomes ecstatic when he wins a contest and gets the world's gaudiest and most hideous lamp, a single, long nyloned leg with a stiletto heel base and topped with a cheap shade. He puts his treasure in the front window for all his neighbors to admire. His wife (Melinda Dillon) is so embarrassed that she devises a plan to get rid of the monstrosity.
"Every family has a kid who won't eat," Ralphie tells the audience. "My kid brother had not eaten voluntarily in over 4 years." To get nourishment in him, his mothers tricks him with games like "Show me how the piggies eat." Sticking his head in his plate, Ralphie's little brother grunts away as he spreads the potatoes all over his face in a cliche of a disastrously messy kid.
Most of the show's episodes are heavily outlandish. Some do work with one of the best being a daydream sequence in class that occurs when Ralphie turns in his big essay on what he wants for Christmas. He imagines that his teacher and his classmates are so impressed that the students carry him around the room on their shoulders like a conquering hero. He is so taken with this fantasy that his teacher has trouble bringing him back to reality.
When one day, Ralphie accidentally blurts out the F-word (we don't actually hear him say it), he is sure that it is the guillotine for him or worse. His punishment turns out to be the milder and more traditional bar of soap in the mouth.
Every adult in the picture, even the department store Santa Claus pooh-poohs Ralphie's gun wish with, "You'll shoot your eye out." Will he get the gun, and if he does, will he indeed shoot his eye out? Stay tuned.
All of the story's characters are too quirky. Their dialog is sometimes funny but the script's lack of subtlety and effective wit makes for an increasingly tiring experience. Roald Dahl could have turned this material into another of his sardonic masterpieces, but the movie's writing committee of Leigh Brown, Bob Clark and Jean Shepherd simply do not have anything approaching Dahl's talents.
In its simplicity this predictable picture, for all its faults, does possess an undeniable charm underneath. If they could have just gotten Dahl to write the script...
A CHRISTMAS STORY runs 1:34. It is rated PG for a few mildly profane words. The film is fine for all ages.