Another Christmas movie from Bob Clark, the man who gave us the original Black Christmas, this is a very different affair, a celebration of just how great it is to be young and so eager for that big day to come around.
Written by Clark, Leigh Brown and Jean Shepherd (based on Shepherd’s tales and mainly extracted from his novel “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash”), A Christmas Story centres on young Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) and his attempts to guarantee that come Christmas morning he can be the proud owner of a Red Ryder BB gun. But his parents, his teacher and even a department store Santa Claus all say the same thing: “you’ll shoot your eye out”.
The cast are okay (Darren McGavin is great in the role of the father, Melinda Dillon makes a caring, ideal mom and Billingsley himself just pulls things back from being damned annoying to being a kid that you end up rooting for) but this movie is all about the little episodes and the way that everything is depicted.
The movie is full of the stuff of legend, as long as all of your legends were created in your childhood when everything was bigger and better. Seeing if your tongue will stick to an iced lamp-post, watching your father proudly unwrapping some terrible piece of kitsch decor, blurting out your first “f-bomb”, dealing with the one main bully in the neighbourhood, getting that one awful gift at Christmas that you still have to wear/use and try to feign gratitude for – it’s all here, and much more besides.
What the movie does so well, arguably better than any other Christmas movie (and possibly why it remains a solid seasonal favourite in America every year), is show Christmas and the run up to Christmas Day from both perspectives. You get the unbridled enthusiasm and yearning from the kids as they wait to find out what gifts they’re getting and if all of their daydreams will come true and you also get the parents struggling to get everything good while keeping their kids in line. And you also get to see that these divisions aren’t always so clear. There’s a pleasant blurring of the boundaries and a shared joy here that shows the parents thrilled by how happy that their children can be.
As I mentioned at the start of the review, Bob Clark may have made two completely different Christmas movies but he also managed to make, in the eyes of many, two completely classic Christmas movies. A rare thing indeed.
DIRECTOR: BOB CLARK
WRITER: BOB CLARK, LEIGH BROWN, JEAN SHEPHERD (BASED ON THE NOVEL “IN GOD WE TRUST, ALL OTHERS PAY CASH” BY JEAN SHEPHERD)
STARS: PETER BILLINGSLEY, DARREN MCGAVIN, MELINDA DILLON, SCOTT SCHWARZ, IAN PETRELLA
RUNTIME: 93 MINS APPROX