A Look Back: A Christmas Story

“A Christmas Story,” aired approximately a thousand times in the days leading up to that holiday when I was growing up; one channel even played it 24-7 literally. It was one of those movies that I never wound up sitting through the entire thing in one go, but instead, put the whole story together through multiple viewings. It also spawned a sequel of sorts: a TV movie called “Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss,” in which a distinctly older-looking Ralphie, his younger brother and parents take a summer vacation, and hilarity ensues. A second follow-up was, “It Runs in the Family,” (1994), which I haven’t seen, but if you have ever driven past a house with a tacky lawn display and wondered where in the world the owners got it from, “Ollie Hopnoodle” answers that question nicely.

“A Christmas Story,” stars Peter Billingsley as the young version of Jean Shepherd, on whose book this movie is based and who also narrates. We meet his “Old Man,” (Darren McGavin) whose every wish is somehow hilariously thwarted; his long-suffering mother (Melinda Dillon); and his spunky little brother (Ian Petrella). In some movies, the hero must leave home to go on a quest – and the object is something like a pot of gold or the salvation of a magic world, but here the hero stays in a small radius as he pursues his ideal under-the-tree gift: a Red Ryder BB Gun, and his travails are no less dramatic than if he had hopped a freight and ventured out into the world. In more traditional hero-on-a-quest type movies, the bad guys would be dragons, monsters or evil wizards, but here we have the neighborhood bully with yellow eyes, plus every adult to whom Peter brings up his Christmas wish. You see, no matter what logic Peter employs to persuade them, they remain stubbornly convinced that if he ever gets his hands on one, he’ll shoot his eye out.

First in the chorus of nay-sayers outside his immediate family is Peter’s teacher who is distinctly un-thrilled with her student’s essay in which he expresses his desire for that gun. Next in line is no less than Santa himself (or at least an approximation), who in the most unsentimental manner possible puts the kibosh on Peter’s dreams even quicker than his teacher. The line in which he and his brother wait to see Santa is even longer than the ones the Griswolds get stuck in when they finally reach Walley World, and sadly, his pluck and perseverance aren’t rewarded. Other problems include a run-in with the aforementioned bully; another classmate discovering what happens to your tongue in cold weather; a curse word uttered at exactly the wrong time; a lamp shaped like a leg; an unwanted visit from the neighbor’s dogs; and hideous pink pajamas. However, there is a happy ending.

“A Christmas Story,” despite the narration seeming increasingly affected each year I got older, gives a very funny kid’s eye view of the days leading up to that big holiday. It accurately portrays such events as receiving a disappointing send-away product gift that even someone growing up in the eighties could identify with. It also, I’m afraid, helped give me the impression that parents usually hold back a gift once they’re all opened, which in my case, never happened. But at least, I never received anything as hideous as those pink PJs.

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