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A Christmas Story Review

A critique of a classic

By Kylecovey SmithPublished 11 months ago 13 min read

Since the Holidays are coming up, I thought I’d review a film which I think is perfectly appropriate for the occasion. And what better title to review than the timeless classic known as “A Christmas Story”? Since this movie was released in the year I was born in, this is yet another film that I’ve known pretty much my whole life. And I have seen this movie at least several times during my childhood. Now, what made this movie so special is that it wasn't really a Christmas story as the title implies, but rather, it was a drama with a few moments of humor here and there. And once you start watching it, you will quickly realize this isn’t your typical Christmas themed movie. It doesn’t revolve around the legend of Santa Claus and the myth about him traveling across the world to bring toys to children. No, this is a more realistic story that tells us that sometimes what we want isn’t really what we need. Originally released November 18th, 1983, this film is set in the 1940s, long before the time of the film's release, and long before digital age which we live in today. Anyway, the story in this film is basically a drama story told in the form of a narration by Ralphie when he has come of age, as he shares his childhood experiences with the audience about what happened to him on that particular day during the Holiday season. And needless to say, it was a Christmas that he would remember for a VERY long time. And let me tell you, this movie sure has left quite an impression on me that lasted for just as long. I watched this movie 30 years ago as a kid. And 30 years later, it’s high time I did a review of it. Though, keep in mind, I haven’t seen this movie in ages despite that I remember very specific parts of it by heart. So forgive me if some or all of these scenes are not in the correct order.

So anyway, our story begins in a quiet neighborhood in the fictional town of Hohman, which was basically a fictionalized version of Shepherd’s hometown of Hammond, Indiana. Local references in the film include Warren G. Harding Elementary School and Cleveland Street (where Shepherd spent his childhood). Anyway, the movie has at least four different subplots which I will go over as I review this film. Besides the main plot point with Ralphie desiring a BB gun, there are also the subplots involving Ralphie’s father winning a “major award”, and the prize is a lamp in the shape of a leg wearing a high-heeled shoe and a fishnet stocking, which Ralphie’s mother “accidently” breaks. And this is one of the scenes I remember the most from this film. Upon the mother breaking the lamp, Ralphie’s father comments “You were always jealous of this lamp!” to which Ralphie’s mother exclaims “That’s ridiculous! Jealous of what?! That is… The ugliest lamp I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE!” The father orders “Get the clue”, to which the mother sneers and confidently says “We’re out of clue.” This angers the father, who grumbles “You used up all the glue on purpose!” Ralphie narrates “The old man stood quivering with fury. Stammering as he tried to come up with a real crusher. All he got out was…” and the father exclaims “Nadafinga!” To this day, I have absolutely no idea what that’s supposed to mean. Even as a child, I had trouble understanding how that could be an insult so much as an exclamation of anger. Much like how we usually say things like “How dare you?!” or "How could you?!" And so Ralphie’s father finally manages to get some clue to fix the broken lamp. But then it breaks on him soon after he reassembles it. Upset and frustrated, he takes the remains of his lamp and throws it away. Admittedly this part made me laugh. Just as it did Ralphie’s mother. Now I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure she broke the lamp intentionally.

The main plot, with Ralphie’s desire to have a BB gun as his main gift for Christmas, is perhaps the plot I remember the most since that's what the movie focused on throughout. And I also remember the scene with the people dressed in elf costumes who were mean and impatient as hell; telling kids like “Quit dragging your feet!” and “Hurry up, kid! The store is closing!” Not to mention this movie’s take on Santa Clause himself was well… Evil. Yes, you heard me right; I said evil. Okay, not evil as in “Malevolent entity who wants to take over the world” type evil. But he wasn’t a very nice guy. But I guess I can understand him more or less. I mean I don’t hate him with a vengeance like I do with Todd Ianuzzi from Beavis and Butthead or Blackthorne Shore from Inhumanoids. After all, some of the kids who sat on his lap didn’t really wish for anything other than just scream like girls before he sent them down the slide. Meanwhile, Ralphie, desperate to make his wish (even though it’s pointless since it’s just a guy in a Santa Clause suit), races past the crowd to get to Santa. But when he is finally mounted on his laps, Ralphie remains silent upon being asked what he wanted for Christmas. Santa asks him “How about a nice… Football?” to which Ralphie’s narration says “Football? Football? What’s a football?” Santa, having wasted enough time with Ralphie, has his helpers send him down the side. But in the last second, Ralphie finally speaks up, and tells Santa what he wants in a rather fast pace and incomprehensible manner. Seriously, I could BARELY understand a word he said in that one part. Santa responds to this by saying “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid! Merry Christmas.” And then with one foot, he gently taps him on the head, and sends him sliding down.

There’s one scene where Ralphie’s mother dresses him in a pink bunny costume, to which he is understandably embarrassed about, and Ralphie’s brother laughs at him. Hey, it could have been worse. Believe me, I can think of worse things to dress up as. Ralphie’s mother is adored by how her son looks in the costume. But his father has an opposite opinion, and says that he looks like a “deranged Easter Bunny” and a “Pink Nightmare”. He then asks his son “Are you happy wearing that?” to which Ralphie nods “no”. He then asks “You want to take it off?” to which the kid nods “yes”. There’s also this one part where Ralphie’s family was getting ready for a Christmas dinner, with a roasted turkey prepared. But through a narration from Ralphie, he says “When our joy is at our highest, and when all is right with the world, the most unthinkable disaster descends upon us.” And in this case, a group of dogs belonging to the next door neighbor come barging their way into the house, make a complete mess of the kitchen, and devour the turkey. All before leaving the house and Ralphie’s enraged father catches them in the act. This results in the family having dinner at a Chinese restaurant instead. In an earlier scene, Ralphie’s father exclaims to the dogs “Go find your own food, you smelly buggers!” Another part I remember well is where Ralphie got in trouble with his mother for exclaiming “Oh fudge.” And in the next shot, Ralphie is seen with a huge red soap bar in his mouth as punishment for using profanity (even though the word fudge hardly even counts as profanity unless used as a substitute for shit or fuck). His mother takes the soap bar out of his mouth, and asks him where he first heard that word. Through a narration, Ralphie reveals to the audience that “Now I had heard that word at least 10 times a day from my old man. My father worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium, a master. But I chickened out, and blurted out the first name that came to mind.” And in this case it was Schwartz. His mother, unconvinced, says “Oh, I see.” And then she jams the soap bar back in his mouth, and then she calls Schwartz’s parents on the phone. And when she tells Schwartz’s mother about where she heard the word from, Schwartz’s mother freaks out, exclaiming “WHAT?! WHAT?!! WHAAAAAT???!!!” And through the sounds on the phone, we hear the mother mercilessly beating on Schwartz.

I also remember that in certain parts in the film, there was this witch who taunted Ralphie. When Ralphie received a C+ on his grade in school, the witch appears by the door, taunting and laughing at him for his failing grade. He then looks down at the paper to see a message written that reads “PS, you’ll shoot your eye out!” And when Ralphie looks up again, he sees the witch and a jester, who both simultaneously taunt him, singing in a mocking sort of manner “You’ll shoot your eye out! You’ll shoot your eye out!” For a long time, I had trouble deciphering on whether or not the witch and the jester were real, or if they were just a figment of Ralphie’s imagination. But nevertheless, the witch and jester used to creep me out as a child with their general appearance and the way they teased Ralphie. Another scene I remember well is where Flick and Schwartz argue over what would happen should someone stick their tongue on a frozen flag pole, engaging in a risky and delicate nuance of phrase during which Schwartz dares Flick to stick his tongue to the pole. Flick reluctantly goes along with it. But as soon as He sticks his tongue to the frozen flag pole, he gets stuck, and his friends desert him as school begins. During class, the teacher Miss Shields demands to know the whereabouts of Flick. The students remain silent until one of them points outside the window, and the teacher is shocked to see Flick with his tongue stuck on the frozen flag pole. She rushes to his aid, and the fire department and police arrive at the scene too. They somehow and miraculously manage to free Flick from the flag pole, without accidentally tearing off his tongue in the process. When I saw this as a child, I was like “Oh my God… That’s not something I’d want to do…” And believe me, I wouldn’t recommend this to ANYBODY. This scene has taught me an important lesson; never take dares if you know for certain they are dangerous and or life threatening.

There was also a neighborhood street bully by the name of “Scut Farkus” (hey, I didn’t name him, that’s what he’s called), who terrorizes Ralphie and his friends whenever he’s in their presence (as you would expect a bully to do anyway). Scut Farkus was basically the main antagonist of this film. Although he doesn’t really do anything that would really warrant him being a serious villain. That is unless you count bullying others to be along the lines of villainy like I do. And his partner was a kid named Grover Dill. What’s really interesting about Scut is that whenever he appears on screen, a familiar tune plays in the background. And wouldn’t you know, it’s the exact same theme song that was used for the wolf from Disney’s “Peter and the Wolf”. Yeah, no joke. If you were to see that version of the story of “Peter and the Wolf”, then you would instantly recognize the tune that plays whenever Scut shows up on screen. It’s unmistakable. But then again, I guess it’s a fitting song for Scut considering his status as a bully. Scut first appears when Ralphie, Flick, Schwartz, and Randy are walking down the streets, and he laughs maniacally at them. He pushes Randy down and scares Ralphie and his friends. They run into Grover Dill, who scares them back to Scut Farkus. Scut grabs Schwartz and makes him say "uncle" and pushes him away. Grover then scares them away. Grover then gives Scut a friendly punch, with Scut punching him back. Later in the movie he chases after Ralphie and his friends in fast motion. After school he again chases Ralphie and his friends in fast motion. Later, before school, he scares Ralphie and his friends, and Grover tells Ralphie to come to them. Ralphie and Schwartz run off, leaving Flick, who Scut forces into saying "uncle" as he gets him in a tight and uncomfortable grip. What’s really weird is that in Ralphie’s narration, he commented that Scut had yellow eyes (they looked more brownish to me), and that his right hand man Grover had green teeth (even though they looked perfectly normal to me).

After school Scut hits Ralphie with a snowball and tells him that when he tells Ralphie to come, he better come. Ralphie starts crying, and Scut mocks him and calls him a crybaby, laughing at him maniacally. But then, Ralphie finally snaps, and charges Scut, knocking him to the ground. Ralphie then proceeds to mercilessly beat up the bully. When Grover tries to help Scut, Ralphie knocks him down, and Grover runs away, saying he was gonna tell his dad (even though he never does). The other kids come and watch, and Randy, Schwartz, and Flick squeeze through the fence to get a better look. They all cheer and applaud Ralphie for standing up to Scut. Randy takes Ralphie's glasses, which had fallen off during the fight, and runs to get their mom. While beating him senseless, Ralphie starts swearing non-stop in his rage, which shocks the other kids. Randy comes with their mom, who forcefully pulls Ralphie off of Scut. After they leave, Scut gets up (now with a bloody nose and a loss of pride) and Schwartz and Flick walk away. And after this scene, we never see Scut again. But I have to say, I like this scene for three reasons; Ralphie finally grew some balls, and he finally had the courage to stand up against his bully. And in doing so, Ralphie gave Scut exactly what he deserved for putting him and his friends through hell. And believe me, this is much more that can be said for Beavis and Butthead or Makoto Shinjou from the 2004 Area 88 series, as they never stood up to their bullies whatsoever. At least in this case, the bully gets what he deserves for all the trouble he caused his victims. And unlike those bastards Todd Ianuzzi and Mick Simon, Scut Farkus didn’t get away with his actions. So I personally commend Ralphie for standing up for himself against his tormentor.

The film ends with Ralphie resting in bed on Christmas night with his BB gun by his side. And a voiceover from his adult-self stating that this was the best present he had ever received or would ever receive. And that is the end of “A Christmas Story”. The movie earned Bob Clark two Genie Awards. And upon its release in theaters, the film was a moderate success, being labeled as an adequate combination of comedy and drama. Vincent Canby's mostly negative New York Times review echoed the more common response. Roger Ebert suggested the film had only modest success because holiday-themed films were not popular at the time. Over the years, the film's critical reputation has grown considerably and it is considered by some to be one of the best films of 1983. And if you ask me, I agree with what those people say. Because in many ways, it truly is one of the best films of that year despite what biased critics may say.

Overall: In conclusion, A Christmas Story is a fun family film. Now, is the movie perfect? Of course not. Like all movies, it does have its flaws. But as was the case with movies like Scarface, Transformers: The Movie, and Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, its flaws don’t affect the movie too much in the long run. "A Christmas Story" tells of the epically materialistic journey of Ralphie as he searches for what at the time of this film’s release, was the hottest toy that little boys could ask for And well, the rest of the movie is basically a series of events that occurs in young Ralphie’s life. Many of which can and do happen in real life. So the movie is not so much a continuous story so much as its a series of vignettes, but it ultimately serves the movie's purpose. But all in all, this is a funny and dramatic film at the same time. The narration by Jean Shepherd is filled with love for this story. He absolutely captures the emotions and logic of childhood. In a subtle but amusing moment, Shepherd intones the incomparably eloquent pouring forth of thought into writing - only to have Billingsley note in his awe-filled, high-pitched voice that "I think everyone should have a Red Rider BB gun. It's very good for Christmas." (paraphrased). Most of the humor is similar - the natural exaggeration of a child as expressed by Shepherd's consistent string of hyperbole. Now, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this movie to just anybody unless you share similar experiences with this movie as I do. You might enjoy this movie if only for its quirky humor and its dramatic moments. But even if you’re not too much of a Christmas person, I would still recommend this movie to you if only for the sake of giving it a shot. You might like it. Or you may not. It all depends on you. To conclude this review, I give “A Christmas Story” four stars.

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About the Creator

Kylecovey Smith

Historian, Linguist, Author (Voyages of the 997 & The Method Mission), YouTuber/TikToker (Master Mojo) and now Vocal writer enjoy and critique my writing as please.

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