I tried to put together a list of 5 great Christmas movies and couldn’t because who are we kidding? 5 great Christmas movies? There is only one Christmas movie out there of worth and that’s Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story. Props and all to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – shitter’s full, friggin’ Christmas star and all of that – but really, is there movie that matches the wit, humor, and true portrayal of the American Christmas? Not a chance. It’s a Wonderful Life…overrated fantasy nonsense. Miracle on 34th Street is okay, but doesn’t stand the test of time. That’s why it’s been remade 146 times. Elf is typical unfunny Will Ferrell ridiculousness. White Christmas? Do we really ever need to hear that song again? Bing Crosby is a badass and all, but…
Is any other Christmas movie worthy of playing 12 consecutive times over a 24-hour period? I don’t think so. Seriously, if you had to hear Jimmy Stewart say Zuzu 98 times, you’d probably want to punch your grandma. Twice.
Game. Set. Match.
Instead, I will give you 5 reasons as to why A Christmas Story is the only Christmas movie you need to watch this holiday season as well as five fantastic alternate posters for the film.
5) The true depiction of the horrors of childhood showing that the holidays offer no exemption from bullshit.
Bullies, terrible gifts given by family members (see bunny suit below), punishment for swearing, cruel mall Santas and elves and broken glasses – all terrors of childhood and all are things our protagonist, Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), unfortunately incurs or meets throughout the film. A Christmas Story shows that just because it’s a holiday, it doesn’t mean you aren’t going to get shit on. Life is tricky that way and even though the tough parts Ralphie goes through are moderated by a halfway hopeful ending, this is no pat Hollywood all-turns-out-right-in-the-end denouement.
4) The ancillary characters provide as much, if not more, humor than the main family.
From the “I like the Tin Man” kid (David Svoboda) to Schwartz’ (R.D. Robb) iconic egging of Flick (Scott Schwartz) to stick his tongue to the frozen flag pole to Sweed’s (director Bob Clark) conversation with the Old Man (Darren McGavin), screenwriter Jean Shepherd wove a tale of unending laughs courtesy of these characters. Some of the finest film writing of all-time. And don’t forget, this story was released as a book (also written by Shepherd) first, In God We Trust and All Others Pay Cash, and may well be one of a handful of films that are better than the book from which they were adapted.
3) The final scene in the Chinese restaurant.
Even after the debacle that was the Great Turkey Robbery by the Bumpus dogs, the Parker family in this film is still able to concentrate on the most important thing and that’s the family. The setting for the final scene is another stroke of pure writing genius by Shepherd, who is able to take the shitty moments from just before and turn them around using humor as the best band-aid. The staff rendition of “Deck the Halls” is absolutely priceless and the capper is when the Peking duck comes out with the head still attached. The perfect ending to the perfect movie. Watch:
2) The Narration read by Jean Shepherd himself
Shepherd was a lifelong radio guy known for his monologues, so it’s no wonder that the narration flows so perfectly. He has a natural flow that he clearly honed during his days on the radio. These little bits that adds with the narration help bridge the gap between novel and film and really paint a far better picture than just showing what happens pictorially. I would argue that the narration in this film is the best I’ve ever seen/heard in adding to the film rather while breaking that old rule of telling us something rather than showing us. And as a testament to the power of Shepherd‘s radio work which translated so seamlessly to this project, Jerry Seinfeld openly admits that Shepherd taught him how to be funny. That’s quite an endorsement.
Shepherd’s cameo from the film – a father waiting in line with his son to meet Santa.
Here are a few nuggets from the film:
– “Over the years, I got to be quite a connoisseur of soap. My personal preference is for Lux, but I found Palmolive had a nice piquant, after-dinner flavor. Heady, but with just a touch of mellow smoothness. Lifebuoy on the other hand…”
– “My father worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium. A master.”
– “Schwartz created a slight breach of etiquette by skipping the triple-dare and going right for the throat.”
– “Holy smokes, it was 6:45. Only one thing could have dragged me away from the soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window.”
Without these little asides, there is no way this movie strikes nearly the same note and tone. Nor would it give us ancillary and important information about the characters. Here is an example of how well it works:
1) Darren McGavin as The Old Man
While this is ultimately Ralphie’s tale, the star of the show is the Old Man, played about as perfectly as possible by Darren McGavin (may he rest in peace). A typical 50s father insulated from the bulk of the family goings-on by the mother (Melinda Dillon), the Old Man is mollified by his newspaper, car and furnace issues and keeping the neighbor’s dogs off his property. He exists largely as a crotchety bogeyman (Daddy’s going to kill Ralphie!), a foul-mouthed authoritarian with a keen eye for a deal and a penchant for word puzzles. Obviously, this pays off for him and the family when he wins the leg lamp. “Mind power, Sweed. Mind power.“
Dumb ratten-house stickel-pfeiffer!
But he has a soft spot which we don’t really see until the end when he gives a dejected Ralphie the surprise of his life – the Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time. We really see that he is a nostalgic man, happy to give the forbidden gun to his son because he had one when he was a kid thus changing our entire perception of him. He comes through again when he rallies the family after the Bumpus Dog Incident when they go to the Chinese restaurant. A well rounded character with many flaws and several good attributes as well. Who can’t identify with this character or project him onto someone they know?
This film hits close to home on a number of levels, especially since it takes place in Northern Indiana where some of my family are from and I having been born and raised in Indiana myself (M-TOWN!). It also adds to my theory that all good things come from or start in Indiana – Michael Jackson, Larry Bird, Steve McQueen and James Dean, Rev. Jim Jones (if you’re going to be a crazy-ass cult leader, is there anyone better?).
So I will gladly accept any challenges to my assertion that this is the only Christmas movie worth watching. I’ve never seen any better, nor do I think anyone will ever do it better. This year is it’s 30th anniversary, so I’ve been expecting it to hit the theaters again. After all, I live in Indiana where the film is set. Only a small theater close to me in Spencer has been the only one to show it. Damn. It.
So until then, prepare yourself for the 24-hour marathon on TBS starting at 8:00PM on 12/24 and ending at 8:00 PM on 12/25. If you need a break from typical family hubbub, click it on and enjoy the ride.
And if you’re a fan of the film and are interested in some of the cuts that were made to the film, I found this on the web. Flash Gordon would have made a nice cameo…
Here’s the original theatrical trailer: