I find holiday movies are either really good or really bad. The bad ones are filled with treacly “sentimental hogwash,” as Henry Potter said in the classic movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. Another favorite of mine is the 1983 movie, A Christmas Story, the tale of nine-year-old Ralph Parker’s quest for a Red Ryder BB gun. The great holiday movies are like novels; the story arc contrasts the joys of the season with the every-day struggles of families and individuals to make a better life.
A Christmas Story was based on the work of raconteur and radio talk show host Jean Shepherd. The setting was Hohman, Indiana, which was based on Shepherd’s childhood home of Hammond, Indiana, a steel mill town outside of Chicago.
The story arc centers on Ralph’s quest for a BB gun for Christmas. In a successful novel, the protagonist faces obstacles on the way to achieving his goal. Ralph certainly encounters his share of obstacles. When he asks for a BB gun, his mom and teacher warn him that “you’ll shoot you eye out.” Ultimately, Ralph’s quest proves successful, but he has a mishap with the gun and breaks his glasses.
Not only is the story hilarious, the acting and the writing are brilliant. My favorite line, narrated by Shepherd, is when Ralph observed, “In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that to this day still hangs in space over Lake Michigan.” I wish I had written that line. The dialogue in the movie is authentic and sharp. Note to Disney scriptwriters: if you want to learn how young boys really talk to each other, pay attention to how Ralph, Flick and Schwartz interact.
Two years ago, I took my son to visit “the old house on Cleveland Street,” which is now a Christmas Story museum located in Cleveland, Ohio. During the tour I learned what Shepherd intended as the lesson behind the movie and it surprised me. I always thought the movie was about Ralph’s quest, but it was about “the old man.” Shepherd said his intention was to honor fathers everywhere who struggled in menial, dead-end jobs to save a little money just so they could create a little magic for their children. That’s what the BB gun was all about.
Every family has holiday traditions and one of ours is to catch part of the TBS 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story. It never fails to bring a smile to our faces.
To my fellow writers, best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season
What is your favorite holiday movie?