A Christmas Story (DVD, 2008, 2-Disc Set, Ultimate Collector's Edition) Reviews
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A Christmas Story (DVD, 2008, 2-Disc Set, Ultimate Collector's Edition)

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"I want an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot range model air rifle!"

Dec 19, 2005 (Updated Dec 19, 2005)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:A wonderfully witty script, solid performances, especially McGavin and Billingsley


The Bottom Line: A Christmas Story might not be as sugary as your run-of-the-mill holiday flick, but it's certainly side-splittingly hilarious. A cult classic, to be sure.

Following in the well-trodden footpaths carved by A Christmas Carol, It's a Wonderful Life, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, 1983's collaboration between Porky's director Bob Clark and humorist Jean Shepherd, A Christmas Story, is now a seasonal fixture on TV, thanks to marathon airings on cable networks such as TNT and TBS.

Based in part on Shepherd's book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, the 93-minute film is a witty, sardonic, even a bit bawdy tale of a 10-year-old boy named Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley), whose ardent desire for an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle is met with intense opposition from almost every adult around; his mother (Melinda Dillon), teacher, and even Santa Claus all reply to his request by saying variations on the theme of "You'll shoot your eye out!"

There are several other subplots that are equally and acerbically hilarious....Mr. Parker's (Darren McGavin) now infamous leg lamp, Ralphie's classmate Flick's tongue-on-the-freezing-flagpole incident, and Ralphie's own little run in with the realities of advertising gimmicks in the 1940s. All of these are packed with sight gags and a bitingly funny voiceover by an adult Ralphie (Jean Shepherd).

Narrator: I have since heard of people under extreme duress speaking in strange tongues. I became conscious that a steady torrent of obscenities and swearing of all kinds was pouring out of me as I screamed.

(This style of reminiscence with somewhat humorous commentary was later used, to good effect, in ABC's "The Wonder Years," with a Shepherd-like Daniel Stern doing the voiceovers in that Fred Savage vehicle.)

Although A Christmas Story isn't exactly squeaky clean and is incredibly irreverent at times (it's the only Christmas-themed film where one is bound to hear the father say a line like "Sons of b!tches! Bumpuses!"), it is side-splittingly hilarious and charmingly endearing. After a steady diet of such innocent-and-sweet fare such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and A Charlie Brown Christmas, it's refreshing to watch a movie that celebrates the American family while at the same time milking its flaws for humorous effects.

Ralphie: Oooh fuuudge!
Ralphie as Adult: Only I didn't say "Fudge." I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the "F-dash-dash-dash" word!
Mr. Parker: What did you say?
Ralphie: Uh, um...
Mr. Parker: That's... what I thought you said. Get in the car. Go on!
Ralphie as Adult: It was all over - I was dead. What would it be? The guillotine? Hanging? The chair? The rack? The Chinese water torture? Hmmph. Mere child's play compared to what surely awaited me.

Although I didn't catch this movie during its original theatrical run in late 1983 (has it really been over 20 years?), I did see it, uncut and uncensored, when it was broadcast on HBO in the late 1980s; it now airs (usually in 12 or even 24-hour marathons) on TBS and TNT, with the former station editing out the lines containing the term "son of a b!tch" while, oddly enough, its sister network simply lets the line slide. Watching it on DVD is perhaps better, not only because there are no pesky commercial breaks that disrupt the film's pacing (and no censorship!), but the 2003 20th Anniversary Edition comes with a veritable cornucopia of extra features, including audio commentary by director Bob Clark and actor Peter Billingsley, original radio readings by author Jean Shepherd, two featurettes ("Get a Leg Up" and "A History of The Daisy Red Ryder"), and a decoder match challenge.

[Ralphie is seeing Santa, only he can't remember what he wanted]
Santa Claus: How about a nice football?
Ralphie as Adult: Football? Football? What's a football? With unconscious will my voice squeaked out 'football'.
Santa Claus: Okay, get him out of here.
Ralphie as Adult: A football? Oh no, what was I doing? Wake up, Stupid! Wake up!
[Is shoved down the slide, but he stops himself and climbs back up] Ralphie: No! No! I want an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!
Santa Claus: You'll shoot your eye out, kid.

Director Bob Clark, who filmed this movie in Cleveland and Canada, manages to capture the spirit of the 1940 holiday season while not making it too maudlin, making A Christmas Story the antithesis of the average (and, to my taste, saccharine-laced and cliched) holiday-themed flick. He asks for -- and gets -- fine comedic performances from his cast, and his penchant for showing the ridiculously exaggerated detail, such as the kid who can't move his arms because he is overloaded with winter clothing or that ugly leg lamp (a replica of which is sold at Amazon!), helps make this film the cult classic that it is.

Yes, Rudolph and Frosty are wonderful for kids and even serve as "comfort viewing," but I also like a little bite and wry humor to counteract the seasonal sweetness, so I tend to watch A Christmas Story at least once...or even twice....

Melinda Dillon...Mrs. Parker
Darren McGavin...Mr. Parker
Peter Billingsley...Ralphie Parker
Ian Petrella...Randy Parker
Scott Schwartz...Flick
R.D. Robb...Schwartz
Tedde Moore...Miss Shields
Yano Anaya...Grover Dill
Zack Ward...Scut Farkus
Jeff Gillen...Santa Claus
Colin Fox...Ming the Merciless
Paul Hubbard...Flash Gordon
Leslie Carlson...Tree Man
Jim Hunter...Freight Man
Patty Johnson...Head Elf
Drew Hocevar...Male Elf
David Svoboda...Goggles
Dwayne McLean...Black Bart
Helen E. Kaider...Wicked Witch
John Wong...Chop Suey Palace Owner
Johan Sebastian Wong...Waiter #1
Fred Lee...Waiter #2
Dan Ma...Waiter #3
Rocco Bellusci...Street Kid
Tommy Wallace...Boy in School
Jean Shepherd...Narrator, Man in Line for Santa, Voice of Santa
Bob Clark...Swede
Bill Kravitz...Billy
Jordan-Patrick Marcantonio...Boy Visiting Santa
Christine Powrie...Screaming Girl On Slide After Ralphie

Recommend this product? Yes

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