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An Ode to ‘A Christmas Story’

Every year at Christmas I find myself sneaking away from the festivities to catch a few minutes of A Christmas Story on the TBS 24-hour marathon. The story centers on young Ralph Parker’s quest for a Red Ryder BB gun for a Christmas present. The movie features elements of the three-act story. In act one, Ralph’s mother thwarts his plan. In act two, it’s his teacher who throws cold water on it and in act three, the big man himself, Santa, nixes Ralph’s wish for a BB gun. At each turn, Ralph is told, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

What I love about this move is the authenticity of the story. Authenticity is something to which each writer should strive. The theme is universal—the desire to bring a little joy into the lives of children of a working class family. The “old man,” Ralph’s dad, is a working stiff who enters contest to win prizes and awards, which leads to a hysterical chain of events when he wins a lamp featuring the fish net stockings of a shapely female leg.

There is no cornball schmaltz in this film (okay maybe the ending is a little corny). The dialogue is dead-on realism, especially the scenes where Ralph interacts with his friends. These scenes are spiced with the kind of braggadocio and one-upmanship that all boys display with their peers.

The scenes where the family are at the dinner table or out shopping are similarly genuine. My favorite line is this thought from Ralph, spoken by Jean Shepherd, on whose work the script is based. “In the heat of battle, my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that to this day hangs in space over Lake Michigan.”

Several years ago, I took my son to visit “the house on Cleveland Street,” the home where many of the scenes were filmed. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, the house has been lovingly restored and serves as a museum and tribute to the movie. It was all there, the tree, the kitchen cabinet where Randy hid, even the infamous leg lamp.

Cleveland was reportedly chosen as the site for the movie based on the willingness of Higbee’s department store to allow the movie crew to film inside the department store during Christmas season.

The movie’s message is open to interpretation, but during my visit to the museum across the street from the house, I read an interview excerpt in which Shepherd said it was intended as a paean to dads everywhere who worked in menial jobs and strove to create a little magic in their children’s lives.

It remains one of my favorite holiday movies.

What is your favorite holiday movie?

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“A Christmas Story:” A Holiday Favorite

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?

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