Every major holiday tends to bring the same movies back on TV, though sometimes there doesn’t appear to be any apparent rhyme or reason to it. Naturally, they tend to be films of the “heartwarming” variety, the kind that you can watch with your turkey-stuffed extended family without squirming. But some have nothing to do with the holiday – say, Christmas – in question. Take two examples from when I was growing up: “International Velvet,” and “The Sound of Music.” The first is a horse movie; the second about an Austrian family escaping from Nazis. Neither has anything about Christmas. However, obviously “A Christmas Story,” checks off all the necessary boxes for a great December film.
“A Christmas Story,” is based on a novel (“In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash”) set in the 1940’s, of Jean Shepherd, who narrates the movie, as well. His alter ego is played by Peter Billingsley, a blond bespectacled youth, with an eccentric “Old Man,” (Darren McGavin), a long-suffering mother (Melinda Dillon), and hapless younger brother (Ian Petrella). Peter has his heart set on a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, despite the obstacle that everyone thinks it’s a horrendous idea because, as becomes the movie’s mantra, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” Undeterred, however, Peter begins a campaign which involves a series of mostly humorous mishaps, including getting (literally) booted by Santa Claus; trying to butter up his teacher (Tedde Moore); and just being awfully well-behaved in general – but what can you do when you’re confronted by the school bully who has (literally!) yellow eyes? Needless to say, Peter fails spectacularly at each, though he keeps alive the kind of ray of hope that you only have as a kid wanting that one special present. His schoolmates, family and various acquaintances also wind up with their share of humiliation, including Darren – his involves a lewd lamp and a pack of neighborhood dogs, but no one emerges unscathed. There is a happy ending, but there’s a great twist, proving that the Chinese proverb: “May you live interesting times,” is actually a curse.
“A Christmas Story,” perfectly captures many childhood moments of that era and others, such as bundling up so tightly in snow clothes that you can barely move, waiting through an endless line to see Santa, and the excruciating disappointment of getting the most ridiculous present ever from a relative. Fortunately, it also nails the joy one feels as a kid when one does finally get that special gift – and though I’ve always found the narration cheesy and unnecessary, “A Christmas Story” is worth watching for this reason.