Winter of '83: A Christmas Story -

Winter of '83

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  • Starring: Peter Billingsley, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon, Scott Schwartz, Tedde Moore and Jean Shepherd
  • Written by: Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark
  • Directed by: Bob Clark
  • Studio: MGM
  • Rating: PG
  • Run Time: 93 mins
  • Series:

Winter of '83: A Christmas Story

"Ralphie on the double!"

By Rob Vaux     November 18, 2013

A Christmas Story
© MGM/Robert Trate

 It's hard to determine exactly why or how A Christmas Story became a holiday classic. Oh, it's well made and well-oiled, with a broad-based appeal that speaks to a large swath of people. But why exactly? That gets harder to pin down. Something like, say, Home Alone gets a big response from conventional Christmas-loving folks but tends to grate on the hipsters' nerves. Conversely, The Ref or Bad Santa speaks deeply to people who don't care for Christmas, but tends to turn off the holiday warriors who delight in the trappings of Yuletide.

A Christmas Story occupies that sweet spot between them, the same spot claimed by The Nightmare Before Christmas and perhaps the Chuck Jones Grinch, but precious little else.  It's subversive without actually subverting anything, celebratory without ignoring the rougher edges of the holidays. It sets up a seemingly perfect Norman Rockwell vision of America, then pokes fun at it in ways that never undermine its core sweetness. That’s a tough combo to pull off, but in so doing, the film became a permanent staple of the holiday landscape.

By now, the particulars are well-known. A small-town boy named Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) yearns for a Red Ryder air rifle for Christmas, launching an elaborate series of schemes to get Santa, his parents or anyone in authority to answer his prayers. He has his work cut out for him –he could shoot his eye out after all – but his dogged determination to see it through remains undiminished.

The rifle itself is mere window dressing for a look at the typical American family and the ways in which they don't quite match the squeaky clean image we like to attribute to them. Ralphie's mom (Melinda Dillon) endures the slings and arrows of housewife-dom with an ungainly mix of exasperation and patience, while his father (Darren McGavin) coasts through life in a state of willful obliviousness. Ralphie himself has to deal with bullies, disapproving teachers and the occasional triple-dog dare merely as a part of getting through his day. 

The story is inspired by the writings of Jean Shepherd, who provides voice-over narration as an adult version of Ralphie. That's A Christmas Story's most powerful secret weapon: bringing a thick heaping of nostalgia filtered through weary adult eyes that view the bad as fondly as the good. He never lets go of this family's foolishness or hypocrisies, from Dad's fixation on a fetishized table lamp to Mom's coercive used of piggy noises to get her youngest son to eat. The film loves them and mocks them in equal measures, and because Ralphie shares in their shortcomings (again, as viewed from adult eyes), it never looks down on its subjects.

That inclusive quality becomes infectious, inviting us to think back on our own holiday horror shows with a chuckle and a wink instead of any real pain.

It helps too that A Christmas Story absolutely understands what it means to be a kid at this time of year. The world changes for the young at Christmastime, and somewhere along the road, we lose our ability to see things as they do. Most movies of this ilk try to recapture it with heavy-handed schmaltz. A Christmas Story distrusts such easy answers, instead taking an absurdist view that renders it infinitely more appealing to those of us who have yet to experience a perfect holiday (i.e., everyone).

We pick up on the basic formula immediately and the film never lets us lose it again. An underlying sweetness keeps the cynicism from getting out of hand, while the more subversive moments help temper its saccharine tendencies. The production aptly achieves an image of post-war prosperity, where neighbors called each other by name before closing the door and quietly plotting how to show them up. A Christmas Story embraces every part of that equation, creating a holiday classic that manages to be all things to all viewers. That's a present worth celebrating, something most of us have done faithfully every year for the past three decades. Make that three decades and counting; this one isn't going anywhere anytime soon. 


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marcd30319 11/18/2013 4:51:14 AM

 I can't explain the success of A Christmas Story, and theerin lies it's success.

Walker 11/18/2013 5:39:32 AM

This movie did very poorly in the original theatrical release.  It is only with home viewing that it found an audience.

Iridan 11/18/2013 6:22:25 AM

I actually saw this in the theater and loved it then, my girl friend at the time, not so much.

I still think it is a near perfect movie, even after seeing it a hundred times or so.

DarthoftheDead 11/18/2013 7:05:44 AM

 I also saw this in the Theater back in the day and it's the 1st time I ever remember the WHOLE AUDIENCE laughing they're ass's off, especially at the end in the chinese restaurant. My Family and I have been in love with this movie ever since........

Tevii 11/18/2013 7:36:49 AM

Iridan -I agree 100% ....  thats actually how I determine if a movie is great. How many times can you watch it and still love it? So often supposedly "great" movies are released, everyone loves them, but you cant watch it more than once without it seeming boring as hell. To me its not a great movie then.

dnbritt 11/18/2013 7:39:25 AM

My family is split right down the middle on this.  My younger brother and I revere it.  My sister and mom loathe it (my wife's not keen either).  I think my dad quietly appreciates it.  It is holiday perfection.  My wife and I watch Love, Actually, Elf, and then I watch this numerous times every Christmas.

FerretJohn 11/18/2013 4:22:08 PM

I never really understood the appeal of this movie, it's like the Napolean Dinamite of Christmas movies, just pointless and dumb.  Why networks keep giving it full day back-to-back marathons on Christmas I'll never know

almostunbiased 11/18/2013 6:47:39 PM

This was one of my favorites as a kid.  Now as an adult I can watch it every year and laugh over and over again.  My brother and I can quote it.  What it is ..... it's real.  Its exaggerated, but it's everyone's childhood.  I'm not going to argue with anyone who doesn't get it.  I'm glad I do.

ElBaz13 11/18/2013 7:01:16 PM

I remember seeing previews and the movie posters of this film when it came out when I was a kid and I had no interest at the time (being in my "too cool" for that tweens)

But when I saw this in the early 90s, I fell in love with it.

I make it a tradition to watch this every Christmas and now finally introduced my kids to it and they are at that age to enjoy it too.

Every December, I always watch the classics: Scrooge (1958), It's a Wonderful Life, Charlie Brown Christmas, Grinch (cartoon, not the shitty movie), Frosty and this one for sure. Elf just got into the rotation a few years ago and is definitely a favorite of my whole family. Can't believe that was Jon Favreau who did that.

Speaking of directors. Here is some funny trivia. Bob Clark who directed A Christmas Story also directed Porky's. LOL!

Modo 11/18/2013 9:15:58 PM

The nostalgia of the film makes it fun.  Darren McGavin's performance as the "Old Man" is spot on.  It's well written, and the casting is very good on every single character, especially Ralphie, as Peter Billingsley just reminds you of a kid being plucked right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.  Plus, we've all wanted that "Red Rider" B-B gun for Christmas, whatever it was for each of us.  The film plays on that so well. 

Still love and laugh my a** off at the dogs and turkeys.  And I never used to pick at a Christmas turkey in the oven until I saw Darren McGavin do it in the film.  And damn, it's pretty good.  And I still haven't gotten worms yet doing it....  

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