A Christmas Story
|A Christmas Story|
theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Bob Clark|
|Produced by||Bob Clark
|Written by||Jean Shepherd
|Based on||In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash
by Jean Shepherd
|Narrated by||Jean Shepherd|
|Music by||Carl Zittrer
|Cinematography||Reginald H. Morris|
|Editing by||Stan Cole|
|Running time||93 minutes|
A Christmas Story is a 1983 American Christmas comedy film based on the short stories and semi-fictional anecdotes of author and raconteur Jean Shepherd, based on his book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, with some elements derived from Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories. It was directed by Bob Clark. The film has since become a holiday classic and is shown numerous times on television during the Christmas season on the network TBS, often in a 24-hour marathon.
The film is set in Hohman, Indiana, a fictionalized version of Shepherd's hometown of Hammond, Indiana. Nine-year-old Ralph "Ralphie" Parker (Peter Billingsley) wants only one thing for Christmas: a Red Ryder BB Gun with a compass in the stock, and "this thing which tells time" (a sundial). While using various schemes to convince his parents to get him this gift, he continually bumps into objections from others saying, "You'll shoot your eye out."
In each of the film's three acts, Ralphie makes his case to another adult and each time receives the same reply. When Ralphie asks his mother (Melinda Dillon) for a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, she refuses. Next, when Ralphie writes an essay about wanting the BB gun for Miss Shields (Tedde Moore), his teacher at Warren G. Harding Elementary School, Ralphie gets a C+ and Miss Shields warns him of shooting his eye out. Later, Ralphie asks a local department store's Santa Claus (Jeff Gillen) for a Red Ryder BB gun, and Santa tells him the same thing before pushing Ralphie down a long exit slide with his boot.
One day after he gets the C+ on his composition, Ralphie is hit in the face with a snowball thrown by the local bully, Scut Farkus (Zack Ward) and his sidekick, Grover Dill (Yano Anaya). Ralphie begins to cry and Farkus teases and taunts him until he snaps. Ralphie charges Farkus and begins to pummel him. During the fight, Ralphie shouts profanity non-stop as he lands blow after blow to the squealing Farkus. When Dill attempts to intervene, Ralphie pushes him away and continues beating Farkus at will. Ralphie's brother, Randy (Ian Petrella), gets their mother who pulls her son off the bully and takes him home. This incident occurs shortly after Ralphie was punished for cursing while helping his father (The Old Man) (Darren McGavin) change a flat tire. Ralphie is worried about the cursing and is sure he will be punished again when his father gets home from work. Instead, Ralphie's mother tells his father about the fight casually at the dinner table. She then changes the subject of the conversation to an upcoming Chicago Bears game, distracting his father and getting Ralphie off the hook in the process.
On Christmas morning, Ralphie looks frantically for a box that would hold the BB gun to no avail. He and Randy received several presents, but he is disappointed because he did not get the gun. As he accepts this fact and sits with his parents, his father points out one last half-hidden present, ostensibly from Santa. As the joyful Ralphie unwraps the BB gun, Mr. Parker explains the purchase to his surprised wife, stating that he had one himself when he was 8 years old.
Ralphie goes out to test his new gun, shooting at a paper target perched on top of a metal sign, and predictably gets a ricochet from the metal sign. This ricochet ends up hitting his cheek and glasses, sending them flying and knocking out a lens. While searching for the glasses, Ralphie inadvertently steps on and crushes the other side. He concocts a story about an icicle falling on him and breaking his glasses, which his mother believes, thanks in part to Ralphie's realistic sobbing. She takes him upstairs to dry his face and forgets to close the door. This allows a horde of the Bumpuses' (the Parkers' hillbilly neighbors) dogs, who frequently torment Ralphie's father, to enter the house and devour the Christmas turkey that is cooling on the kitchen table. Making a last-minute decision, Mr. Parker takes the family out to a Chinese restaurant where they have a hilarious time dining on duck, which adult Ralphie calls "Chinese turkey".
The film ends with Ralphie lying in bed on Christmas night with his gun by his side. Randy is holding the toy zeppelin he received. The voiceover states that this was the best present he had ever received or would ever receive.
Several subplots are incorporated into the body of the film, based on other separate short stories by Shepherd. The most notable involves the Old Man's entering a sweepstakes and subsequently winning a "major award." A large crate marked "FRAGILE" arrives and the Old Man remarks, "Fra-JEE-lay! Must be Italian!" Inside is a lamp shaped like a woman's leg wearing a fishnet stocking. Mrs. Parker does not see its charm and the "battle of the lamp" escalates until she breaks the lamp, infuriating the Old Man. The leg is the logo of the contest's sponsor, the Nehi Bottling Company.
Other vignettes include:
- Ralphie's father (The Old Man) is almost constantly complaining or cursing about something, be it his car or the family's home furnace. The father's cursing episodes are depicted using nonsensical gibberish.
- Ralphie's friends Flick (Scott Schwartz) and Schwartz (R. D. Robb) arguing over whether a person's tongue will stick to a frozen flagpole. Schwartz ultimately issues Flick a "triple dog dare" and Flick's tongue gets stuck to the pole. A suction tube within the flagpole was used to simulate the freezing of Flick's tongue to the pole.
- Ralphie receiving his Secret Society decoder pin from the Little Orphan Annie radio show after weeks of anxious waiting. However, he learns a lesson in advertising, as the secret message proves to be a promotional message from one of the radio program's sponsors, Ovaltine. "A crummy commercial...son of a bitch!" he gripes.
- Ralphie and his friends dealing with the neighborhood bully, Scut Farkus, and his toadie, Grover Dill.
- While helping his father change a flat tire, Ralphie letting slip the dreaded "Queen Mother of Dirty Words," the "F-hyphen-hyphen-hyphen" word (toned down to the word "fudge" onscreen). Later, when asked where he'd heard the bad word, Ralphie falsely blames Schwartz. Ralphie's mother calls and reports this falsehood to Schwartz's mother, who proceeds to immediately spank Schwartz vigorously while still on the phone. Ralphie himself gets a bar of soap in the mouth for saying the word.
- The numerous smelly and bothersome bloodhounds of the Parkers' hillbilly neighbors, the Bumpuses, destroying the Christmas turkey, prompting the family to go out and have Peking duck instead.
- Several fantasy sequences depict Ralphie's daydreams of glory and vindication, including the vanquishing of a small army of villains (dressed in stereotypical burglar costumes of flat caps, black masks, and striped shirts) with his Red Ryder BB gun and obtaining his parents' gratitude, receiving an extremely good grade for his written theme about the BB gun, and parental remorse over a case of "soap poisoning."
- Randy's refusal to eat a meal on his own brings hilarity between him and his mother at the dinner table.
- At the Chinese restaurant, the employees sing "Deck the Halls" and "Jingle Bells" with a stereotyped Asian accent where the English "L" is articulated incorrectly ("Deck the hars with bawrs of hawry Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra.").
- Ralphie's "Aunt Clara" gives him pink bunny pajamas on Christmas morning, much to his annoyance and discomfort. He then claims his Aunt Clara repeatedly believes that he is 4 years old, as well as a girl. His mother is the only one impressed with Aunt Clara's weird gift, as his father says the outfit makes him look like "a deranged Easter Bunny" and allows Ralphie to take it off.
- A deleted scene featured Ralphie on the Planet Mongo saving Flash Gordon from Ming the Merciless with his BB Gun.
- Peter Billingsley as Ralphie Parker
- Jean Shepherd as adult Ralphie (voice)
- Ian Petrella as Randy Parker
- Darren McGavin as Mr. Parker (The Old Man)
- Melinda Dillon as Mrs. Parker
- Scott Schwartz as Flick
- R. D. Robb as Schwartz
- Zack Ward as Scut Farkus
- Yano Anaya as Grover Dill
- Tedde Moore as Miss Shields
In the DVD commentary, director Bob Clark mentions that Jack Nicholson was considered for the role of the Old Man; Clark expresses gratitude that he ended up with Darren McGavin instead, who later appeared in several other Clark films. He cast Melinda Dillon on the basis of her similar role in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Peter Billingsley was already a minor star from co-hosting the TV series Real People; Clark initially wanted him for the role of Ralphie, but decided he was "too obvious" a choice and auditioned many other young actors before realizing that Billingsley was the right one, after all. Ian Petrella was cast immediately before filming began. Tedde Moore had previously appeared in Clark's film Murder by Decree and was the only onscreen character from A Christmas Story who was played by the same actor in the sequel, My Summer Story. Jeff Gillen was an old friend of Clark's who had been in one of his earliest films.
The screenplay was written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, and Bob Clark. Shepherd provides the movie's narration from the perspective of an adult Ralphie, a narrative style later used in the dramedy The Wonder Years. Both Shepherd and Clark have cameo appearances in the film; Shepherd plays the man who directed Ralphie and Randy to the back of the Santa line and Clark plays Swede, the neighbor the Old Man was talking to outside during the Leg Lamp scene.
Three of the semi-autobiographical short stories on which the film is based were originally published in Playboy magazine between 1964 and 1966. Shepherd later read "Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder nails the Cleveland Street Kid" and told the otherwise unpublished story "Flick's Tongue" on his WOR Radio talk show, as can be heard in one of the DVD extras. Bob Clark states on the DVD commentary that he became interested in Shepherd's work when he heard "Flick's Tongue" on the radio in 1968. Additional source material for the film, according to Clark, came from unpublished anecdotes Shepherd told live audiences "on the college circuit."
The movie is set in the fictional Indiana town of Hohman. Local references in the film include Warren G. Harding Elementary School and Cleveland Street (where Shepherd spent his childhood). Other local references include mention of a person "swallowing a yo-yo" in nearby Griffith, the Old Man being one of the fiercest "furnace fighters in northern Indiana" and that his obscenities were "hanging in space over Lake Michigan," a mention of the Indianapolis 500, and the line to Santa Claus "stretching all the way to Terre Haute." The Old Man is also revealed to be a fan of the Bears (who he jokingly calls the "Chicago Chipmunks") and White Sox, consistent with living in northwest Indiana.
Director Bob Clark reportedly sent location scouts to twenty cities before selecting Cleveland, Ohio, as the principal site for filming. Higbee's department store in downtown Cleveland was the stage for three scenes in the film. The first is the opening scene in which Ralphie first spies the Red Ryder BB Gun. The second is the parade scene, filmed just outside Higbee’s on Public Square at 3 AM. The final scene is Ralphie and Randy’s visit to see Santa, which was filmed inside Higbee’s. The store kept the Santa slide that was made for the movie and used it for several years after the movie’s release. Higbee's was known for its elaborate, child-centered Christmas themes and decorations, with Santa as the centerpiece until the store, which became Dillard's in 1992, closed for good in 2002. Higbee's was exclusive to Northeast Ohio. As such, he was most likely referring to Goldblatts in downtown Hammond (with the Cam-Lan Chinese Restaurant three doors down on Sibley Ave.) The parade was filmed at night because, during the daytime, the 1960s Erieview Tower and Federal Building were visible from the Public Square, as was the BP Tower, which was under construction at the time.
The exterior shots (and select interior shots, including the opening of the leg lamp) of the house and neighborhood were filmed in the Tremont section of Cleveland's West Side. The house used as the Parker home in these scenes has been restored, reconfigured inside to match the soundstage interiors, and opened to the public as "A Christmas Story House". The "...only I didn't say fudge" scene was filmed at the foot of Cherry Street in Toronto.
In 2008, two fans from Canada released a documentary that visits every location used in the movie. Their film, Road Trip for Ralphie, was shot over two years and includes footage of the filmmakers saving Miss Shields's black board from the garbage bin on the day the old Victoria School was gutted for renovation, discovering the antique fire truck that saved Flick, locating all the original costumes from the movie and tracking down the real-life location of the movie's Chop Suey Palace in Toronto.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (December 2012)|
Cleveland car buffs donated the use of a number of vintage vehicles for the film, which helped to enhance the authenticity of the production despite a limited budget. During filming in downtown Cleveland, members of a local antique automobile club, following a preset route, repeatedly circled the square.
The Parker family car was a 1937 Oldsmobile Model F-37 four-door trunkback sedan. The Old Man's relationship with his car is revealed in some of the film's lines: "Some men are Baptist, others Catholic; my father was an Oldsmobile man"; "That hot damn Olds has froze up again"; and, "That son of a bitch would freeze up in the middle of summer on the equator!"
Red Ryder BB gun
The Red Ryder BB gun was available beginning in 1938 and remains available today, but never in the exact configuration mentioned in the film. The Daisy "Buck Jones" model did have a compass and a sundial in the stock, but these features were not included in the Red Ryder model. The compass and sundial were placed on Ralphie's BB gun, but on the opposite side of the stock due to Peter Billingsley being left-handed.
Dating the story
Director Bob Clark stated in the film's DVD commentary that he and author Shepherd wished for the movie to be seen as "amorphously late 30s, early 40s," but a specific year is never mentioned.
The mock heroic tone of the narration, filled with such hyperbole as "the legendary battle of the lamp", is matched by the extensive use of familiar classical music themes. For example, when the character Scut Farkus appears, the Wolf's theme from Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf plays in the background ("Farkas" is a Hungarian name and literally means "wolf"). The leitmotifs from Peter and the Wolf are used quite extensively. The piece that plays after Ralphie says "fudge", after the lamp breaks for the second time, and after Ralphie breaks his glasses is the opening of Hamlet by Tchaikovsky. The Grand Canyon Suite by Ferde Grofé is featured prominently in the movie. Movement 3 [On The Trail] provides a suitable Western feeling to a Red Ryder rifle fantasy sequence, and bits of Movement 1 [Sunrise] and Movement 4 [Sunset] were also freely arranged and adapted throughout the score. The music in the dream sequence with Ralphie in a cowboy outfit shooting at bandits, and later when he finally plays with his BB gun outside of the house, is based on the main theme from the classic John Ford western Stagecoach (1939). The harp solo from Benjamin Britten's "A Ceremony of Carols" is briefly excerpted for the scene in which Ralphie observes a snowy Christmas morning from his bedroom window, which follows a segment of celeste music which comes from the latter half of Movement 3 [On The Trail] of Ferde Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite, which plays as Ralphie awakens on Christmas morning. The classroom fantasy scene where Miss Shields is grading Ralph's paper features two excerpts from Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture." Whenever the scene involves the hounds belonging to the Bumpus family, "our hillbilly neighbors", snatches of the American folk tune "Chicken Reel" are heard. During the dream sequence when Ralphie goes blind from soap poisoning, Alphons Czibulka's "Wintermärchen" can be heard. The music when Ralph uses the Orphan Annie decoder is actually a stock music piece from the Bruton Music library called "Footsteps of Horror" by W. Merrick Farran.
Popular music of the time was also used, ostensibly as coming from the radio. This included three Christmas songs sung by Bing Crosby, two of them in conjunction with the Andrews Sisters. While waiting in line for Santa, the music in the background are parts of "Jingle Bells" by Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians from the "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" album on Decca Records. The breakfast scene features Sammy Kaye's version of The Hut-Sut Song quite extensively. Spiritual Christmas songs that appear in the film include "Go Tell It on the Mountain", which is sung by carolers during the opening scene, and "Silent Night," which is heard during the final scene.
Original music for the film's score was by Carl Zittrer, who worked with director Bob Clark on at least ten films between 1972 and 1998; and by Paul Zaza, who has worked with Clark on at least sixteen films, including Murder by Decree and My Summer Story.
|A Christmas Story|
|Soundtrack album by Various Artists|
|Released||November 10, 2009|
In 2009 Rhino Records released a soundtrack album for the film on CD. This release contains no spoken dialogue from the movie, only clips from the original score by Carl Zittrer and Paul Zaza, a version of "Silent Night" by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and the music for the deleted Flash Gordon sequence. The tracklisting is as follows:
- "Bob's Major Award" (title card music)
- "Jogging to School"
- "Black Bart Bites the Dust"
- "Meeting of the Minds"
- "And They're Off!"
- "Truth or (Triple Dog) Dare"
- "Jingle Bells"
- "He Had Yellow Eyes"
- "A Chip Off the Old Block"
- "When Things Seem Hopeless..."
- "Feet, Do Your Stuff!"
- "Ralphie's Brilliant Idea"
- "Ming the Merciless"
- "Don't Look Back"
- "Sleigh Bells"
- "Ralphie's Revenge & the "F" Word"
- "Joy to the World & Silent Night"
- "The Bumpus Hounds Make Their Rounds"
- "Glorious, Beautiful Christmas" (closing credits music)
- "Silent Night" - Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Release and reception
Initially overlooked as a sleeper film, A Christmas Story was released a week before Thanksgiving 1983 to moderate success, earning about $2 million in its first weekend. Vincent Canby's mostly negative New York Times review echoed the more common response. Roger Ebert suggested the film had only modest success because holiday themed films were not popular at the time. The film would go on to win two Genie Awards, for Bob Clark's screenplay and direction.
By Christmas 1983, however, the film was no longer playing at most venues, but remained in about a hundred theaters until January 1984. Gross earnings were just over $19.2 million. In the years since, due to television airings and home video release, A Christmas Story has become widely popular and is now an annual Christmas special. The film was originally released by MGM. Turner Entertainment Co. acquired rights to the film due to Ted Turner's purchase of MGM's pre-1986 library. Subsequently, Time Warner purchased Turner Entertainment, and currently owns the film.
Over the years, the film's critical reputation has grown considerably and it is considered by many to be one of the best films of 1983. Based on 44 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an overall approval rating from critics of 89%, with an average score of 8.4/10.
On December 24, 2007, AOL ranked the film their #1 Christmas movie of all time. IGN ranked the film the top holiday-themed movie of all time. In 2012, a Marist Poll named the film the most favorite holiday film in the U.S.
American Film Institute lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs - Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- "You'll shoot your eye out." - Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) - Nominated
Broadcasting and release
The film first aired on television on HBO in 1985, and quickly attracted a growing following. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the film began airing quietly on SuperStation WTBS and Superstation WGN. From 1988–1992, the film had a short-lived tradition of airing on Thanksgiving night (or the night after Thanksgiving) to open the holiday television season. In 1988, then-fledgling FOX aired the movie the night after Thanksgiving. In 1989–1990, TBS showed it Thanksgiving night, while in 1991–1992, they aired it the night after.
Turner Broadcasting has maintained ownership of the broadcast rights, and since the mid-1990s, aired the film increasingly on TBS, TNT and TCM. By 1995, it was aired on those networks a combined six times on December 24–26, and in 1996, it was aired eight times over those three days.
Due to the increasing popularity of the film, in 1997, TNT began airing a 24-hour marathon dubbed "24 Hours of A Christmas Story," consisting of the film shown twelve consecutive times beginning at 7 or 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve and ending Christmas Day. This was in addition to various other airings earlier in the month of December. In 2004, after TNT switched to a predominantly drama format, sister network TBS, under its comedy-based "Very Funny" moniker, took over the marathon. Clark stated that, in 2002, an estimated 38.4 million people tuned into the marathon at one point or another, nearly one sixth of the country. TBS reported 45.4 million viewers in 2005, and 45.5 million in 2006. In 2007, new all-time ratings records were set, with the highest single showing (8 p.m. Christmas Eve) drawing 4.4 million viewers. Viewership increased again in 2008, with 8 p.m. Christmas Eve drawing 4.5 million viewers, and 10 p.m. drawing 4.3 million, and 54.4 million total. As of 2009, the film had been shown 250 times on the Turner family of networks.
In 2007, the marathon continued, and the original tradition was revived. TNT also aired the film twice the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend (November 25). In 2009, the 24-hour marathon continued on TBS, for the 13th overall year, starting at 8 p.m. eastern on Christmas Eve.
In 2009, the film aired on TBS during a 24-hour marathon on Christmas Eve. The first viewing at 8 p.m. Eastern on December 24 earned a 1.6 rating (18-49) and beat the major broadcast networks (NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX). In 2010, the marathon averaged 3 million viewers, up 2% from the previous year, ranking TBS as the top cable network for the 24-hour period. The 10 a.m. airing on December 25 was seen by 4.4 million viewers, and the 8 p.m. airing on December 24 was close behind with 4.3 million viewers.
Subsequent and earlier works
A sequel involving Ralphie and his family, titled My Summer Story (alternate title It Runs in the Family), was made in 1994. With the exceptions of Tedde Moore as Ralphie's teacher (Miss Shields) and Jean Shepherd as the narrator (the voice of the adult Ralphie), it features an entirely different cast. A series of television movies involving the Parker family, also from Shepherd stories, were made by PBS, including Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss (1988), The Star-Crossed Romance of Josephine Cosnowski (1983), The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters (1982), and The Phantom of the Open Hearth (1976).
In 2000, a stage play adaptation of A Christmas Story was written by Philip Grecian.
In November 2012, A Christmas Story: The Musical, based on the film, opened on Boadway. Written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (music and lyrics) and Joseph Robinette (book), the musical opened to positive reviews. The run ended December 30, 2012. The musical was directed by John Rando with choreography by Warren Carlyle and featured Dan Lauria as Jean Shepherd. The musical received Tony Award nominations for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical (Robinette), and Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre.
- Betamax (1985)
- VHS (1984, 1985, 1993, 1994, 1999, 2000)
- Laserdisc (1985): pan & scan
- Laserdisc (1993): Delux letterbox edition
- DVD (1997, reissued by Warner Home Video in 1999): fullscreen, includes original theatrical trailer
- DVD (2003) 20th Anniversary 2-Disc Special Edition DVD (2003): Widescreen; includes cast interviews, audio commentary, and featurettes.
- HD DVD (2006)
- Blu-ray (2006)
- DVD (2008) Ultimate Collector's Edition: Metal tin case features the same 2003 two-disc special edition, but includes special memorabilia.
- Blu-ray (2008) Ultimate Collector's Edition: Metal tin which features the same 2006 Blu-ray disc, but also includes a strand of Leg Lamp Christmas lights.
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- Official DVD site
- TBS.com's A Christmas Story website
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- A Christmas Story at AllRovi
- A Christmas Story at the TCM Movie Database
- A Christmas Story at Box Office Mojo
- A Christmas Story at Rotten Tomatoes
- "The Man Who Told A Christmas Story: What I learned from Jean Shepherd" by Donald Fagen - Monday, Dec. 21, 2009, at 3:35 PM ET - Slate