For the eleventh film of Christmas my true love gave to me . . . an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!
The director Bob Clark made his name in the late 70s and early 80s with four exceptional films that couldn’t have been more different to each other, starting with perhaps the very first Christmas slasher movie. Pretty much ignored on its original release, Black Christmas (1974), about a sorority house that’s terrorised by a stranger who makes frightening phone calls and then murders the sorority sisters one by one during the Christmas break, is now regarded as a classic of the genre and is one of the finest horror movies ever made. Next came Murder by Decree in 1979 which follows the terrific Christopher Plummer and the velvet voiced James Mason as Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson as they investigate the Ripper murders and discover a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top.
Then came a movie that the Boston Globe film critic described as being “an overblown, over-publicized, overwrought exploitation flick that’s about as funny as the first dirty joke my father told me.” This was obviously written by a film critic with no sense of humour and a lack of any kind of memory of his own sexual awakening. Like a lot of other films the critics didn’t approve of, the public flocked to see Porky’s in 1982. And they loved it. It was rude, crude, and exceptionally funny and it tapped into a vein of teen humour that only American Graffiti had before. Who can forget Lassie or the waitress innocently announcing over the PA system, “Has anyone seen Mike Hunt?”
After the excesses of Porky’s where would Bob Clark go next? Well, in 1983 he would return to the Christmas season and make probably his most treasured film, A Christmas Story, a timeless Christmas classic that’s even better than It’s A Wonderful Life.
For those of you reading this who have yet to see this wonderful little Christmas movie, you are in for an absolute treat. It’s based on Jean Shepherd’s 1940s set novel, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and it tells the story of young Ralphie Parker and his attempts to manipulate his parents into buying him an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle, which he believes is the perfect gift for him at Christmas. His parents, however, are not convinced – in fact they think he’ll shoot his eye out with it.
The film is narrated by Jean Shepherd himself and is filled with joy and a deep love of the story he’s telling and he perfectly captures the skewed logic of childhood.
As for the cast, Peter Billingsley is pitch perfect as the bespectacled Ralphie. Darren McGavin is wonderfully funny as Ralphie’s foul-mouthed but big hearted Dad. “In the heat of battle,” an older Ralphie narrates, “my father could weave a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.” Melinda Dillon is his loving mother who covers for Ralphie when his Dad comes home, and then later makes him eat soap for regurgitating words he’s learned from his Dad. “Over the years,” he recalls, “I got to be quite a connoisseur of soap. My personal preference was for Lux, but I found Palmolive had a nice, piquant after-dinner flavour – heady, but with just a touch of mellow smoothness. Lifebuoy on the other hand . . .”
There are so many brilliantly funny moments: Ralphie helping his Dad change a car tyre – with disastrous consequences; Ralphie’s Dad’s unusual competition prize; the double dog dare and the frozen post; the unwanted present from the aunt who thinks Ralphie is permanently four years old – and a girl; the neighbours’ dogs and the Parker family’s turkey.
Anyone who is middle-aged will be able to relate to the events in this beautiful and funny movie, and it doesn’t matter whether you are from the US or the UK you will easily identify with young Ralphie and his materialistic plight. It is the perfect Christmas film and it is Bob Clark’s masterpiece.
The film critic for the Boston Globe was more enamoured with A Christmas Story than he was with Porky’s. “In short,” he wrote, “A Christmas Story isn’t just about Christmas; it’s about childhood and it recaptures a time and a place with love and wonder. It seems an instant classic, a film that will give pleasure to people not only this Christmas but for many Christmases to come.”
I couldn’t agree more.