- A Christmas Story
A Christmas Story
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Bob Clark Produced by Bob Clark
Written by Jean Shepherd
Narrated by Jean Shepherd Starring Peter Billingsley
Music by Carl Zittrer
Cinematography Reginald H. Morris Editing by Stan Cole Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Release date(s) November 18, 1983 Running time 93 minutes Country United States Language English Budget $4,000,000 Box office $19,294,144
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, including material from his books In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, and Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories. It was directed by Bob Clark. The film has since become a holiday classic and is known to be shown numerous times on television during the Christmas season, usually in a 24-hour marathon.
The film is set in Hohman, Indiana, a fictionalized version of Shepherd's hometown of Hammond. Nine-year-old Ralph "Ralphie" Parker wants only one thing for Christmas: a Red Ryder BB Gun with a compass in the stock, and "this thing that tells time". 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 he is told the same thing. When Ralphie asks his mother for a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, she refuses. Next, when Ralphie writes an essay about wanting the BB gun for Miss Shields, his teacher at Warren G. Harding Elementary School, Ralphie gets a C+, and Miss Shields warns him. Later, Ralphie asks a local department store's Santa Claus 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 at him by the local bully, Scut Farkus, who then begins to tease and taunt Ralphie. Ralphie eventually snaps, standing up to Farkus and starts beating his face up. During the fight, Ralphie begins to use profanity non-stop as he lands blow after blow to the squealing Farkus. Ralphie's mother shows up, pulls her son off the bully, and takes him home. This part of the film occurs shortly after a scene in which Ralphie gets into trouble for swearing while helping his father fix a flat tire. Ralphie is worried about the swearing and is sure he will be in big trouble 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 his brother have quite a few presents, but he is disappointed because he did not get the gun. His disappointment turns to joy as his father points out one last half-hidden present, ostensibly from Santa. As Ralphie unwraps the BB gun, Mr. Parker explains the purchase to his 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 just below his eye, which causes him to flinch and lose his glasses. While searching for the glasses, Ralphie inadvertently steps on and crushes them. However, he concocts a story for his mother about an icicle falling on him and breaking his glasses, which she believes. Meanwhile, a horde of the next door neighbor's dogs, which frequently bother Ralphie's father, manages to get into the house and eat the turkey that had been prepared for the Christmas feast. 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 the narrator 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 (Ralphie's father's) entering a sweepstakes, and winning a "major award". A large crate arrived, and inside was a lamp shaped like a woman's leg wearing a fishnet stocking, much to Mrs. Parker's displeasure and the Old Man's delight. The "battle of the lamp" escalates until Mrs. Parker breaks the lamp, infuriating the Old Man. The leg was the logo of the contest's sponsor, the Nehi bottling company (the details of the contest were not made clear in the film).
Other vignettes include:
- Ralphie's father (aka the Old Man), is almost constantly complaining or swearing about something, be it his Oldsmobile car or the family's home furnace. In the US English language, which the movie used for all dialogue, the father's swearing episodes are depicted using nonsensical gibberish.
- Ralphie's friends Flick and Schwartz disputing over whether a person's tongue will stick to a frozen flagpole. Schwartz ultimately issues Flick a "triple dog dare" (the coup de grâce of dares used by the kids), and Flick's tongue gets stuck to the pole, much to his terror. 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, and missing out on the daily "secret message" (which to a kid appeared very important) Ralphie finally is able to participate. However, he learns a lesson in advertising, as the secret message turned out to be a promotional message from one of the radio program's sponsors, Ovaltine.
- Ralphie and his friends dealing with the neighborhood bully (See Semiotics of Bullying), Scut Farkus (Zack Ward) and his toadie, Grover Dill (Yano Anaya).
- While helping his father change a flat tire, Ralphie letting slip the dreaded "Queen Mother of Dirty Words," the F-dash-dash-dash word. He does this after his father knocks a hubcap from his hands, spilling the lug nuts into the snow, where they instantly disappear. Later, when asked where he'd heard the bad word, Ralphie falsely blames his friend, Schwartz, and does not mention that his father utters the word daily. After Ralphie's mother telephones Schwartz's mother to inform her that her son had been responsible for passing along the bad word to Ralphie, we hear Schwartz getting what appears to be the thrashing of his life at the hands of his hysterical mother. To keep a PG rating, Billingsley says "fudge" on camera (the narration points out that he really did not say "fudge").
- The numerous smelly and bothersome bloodhounds of the next door neighbors, the Bumpuses, including the dogs' destroying the Christmas turkey (prompting the family to go out and have Peking duck instead, resulting in a giggling fit on the parts of the mother and the boys).
- 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" (related to his cursing).
- Mrs. Parker's efforts to bundle Randy to protect him from the cold weather by wrapping him in sweaters and a jacket so tightly that he is unable to put his arms down, followed by Randy's being knocked down and unable to stand up on his own (his only defense when they are confronted by Scut Farkus).
- 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 stereotypical Asian accent, where "l's" are substituted with "r's." ("Deck the hars with bawrs of horry," "Jingre Bears Jingre Bears Jingre are the Way")
- Ralphie's "Aunt Clara" gives him bunny pajamas on Christmas morning, much to his annoyance and discomfort. He then claims his Aunt Clara believes that he is a 4-year-old girl. His father calls the outfit "a deranged Easter Bunny", to which Ralphie's mother does not agree, but she allows him to only wear the gift when Aunt Clara visits.
- 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 also 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 film 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."
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. Critics were severely divided on the film, with the majority of reviews on the negative side. Leonard Maltin proclaimed it a "Top screen comedy". 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 a perennial 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 is considered by many to be one of the best films of 1983. Based on 43 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an overall approval rating from critics of 88%, with an average score of 8.3/10. A Christmas Story was on the ballot for the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Laughs list.
The film first aired on television on HBO during the mid-eighties 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 the American 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, now a part of the TimeWarner umbrella of cable networks, has maintained ownership of the broadcast rights, and since the mid-1990s, airing the movie 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 8pm EST on Christmas Eve garnered a strong 1.6 rating (18-49) and beat the major broadcast networks (NBC, ABC, CBS, and FOX).
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, The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters, and The Phantom of the Open Hearth.
In the year 2000, an authorized stage play adaptation of A Christmas Story was written by Philip Grecian and is produced widely each Christmas season. In 2003, Broadway Books published the five Jean Shepherd short stories from which the movie and stage play were adapted in a single volume under the title A Christmas Story (ISBN 0-7679-1622-0), with stories including: "Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder nails the Cleveland Street Kid", "The Counterfeit Secret Circle Member Gets the Message, or The Asp Strikes Again", "My Old Man and the Lascivious Special Award that Heralded the Birth of Pop Art", "Grover Dill and the Tasmanian Devil", and "The Grandstand Passion Play of Delbert and the Bumpus Hounds". This collection was also released as an audio book (ISBN 0-7393-1674-5), read by Dick Cavett.
The book Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd (2005, ISBN 978-1-55783-600-7), has several sections which comment on the movie A Christmas Story.
- 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.
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 years). Other Indiana references in the dialogue include a mention of a person "swallowing a yo-yo" in nearby Griffith, Indiana, 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. Higbee’s 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 decades as a cornerstone of Public Square, as well as for its elaborate child-centered Christmas themes and decorations (e.g. the Twigbee Shop), 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—there were no Higbee's stores in Shepherd's hometown. 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 where Ralphie lived 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 fan film 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 film makers 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.
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. At the end of filming each day, the cars were thoroughly washed to remove road salt, and parked underground beneath the Terminal Tower.
The Parker family car was a 1937 Oldsmobile Model F-37 four-door trunkback sedan. The Old Man's bittersweet relationship with his car is made clear early on in the film, as 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!"
Transit fans will notice several Toronto Transit Commission PCC streetcars in a couple of scenes.
Ralphie's Red Ryder BB gun
The Red Ryder BB gun was available beginning in 1938 and for many years afterward (and indeed, still is), 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 (Ralphie) 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." The film is not specifically about a given year, it is about a particular time in American family life. The film appears to be set roughly around the tail end of the Great Depression but before the United States involvement in World War II. There are references throughout the film that viewers enjoy linking to particular years, and if one connects a reference to a particular year, the movie can be dated as being as early as 1935 or as late as 1947.
One thing that does stand out is the use of the Wizard of Oz characters during the parade and at the department store. That film came out in August 1939. Clark used the visual aspects of the "Oz" movie to depict the characters look in Christmas Story.
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, but 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, again, 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 Associated Production 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 back ground are parts of "Jingle Bells" by Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians from the "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" album on Decca Records. 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 Recorded 1983 Genre Instrumental, holiday Label Rhino Records Professional reviews
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 and a version of "Silent Night" by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. 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
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- ^ "Road Trip for Ralphie". roadtripforralphie.com. http://www.roadtripforralphie.com. Retrieved December 6, 2008.
- ^ Warner Home Video (2003). Daisy Red Ryder: A History (DVD extra). Warner Video.
- ^ "Air Guns: Pyramyd Air Report". pyramydair.com. March 4, 2005. http://www.pyramydair.com/blog/2005/03/what-is-bb-gun.html. Retrieved June 20, 2010.
- ^ Monger, James Christopher. "Review: A Christmas Story Original Soundtrack". Allmusic. http://www.allmusic.com/album/r1660659. Retrieved 12-02-2009.
- Official DVD site
- TBS.com's Christmas Story website
- A Christmas Story at the Internet Movie Database
- 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
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