Ok, I confess, this is one I absolutely refused to watch for years.  Oh, I'd certainly heard about it.  In fact, people that knew my sense of humor swore to me I'd love it.

But something Christmas-y from director/producer Bob Clark???  The guy that made "Porky's"???  Frankly, I thought a snowball would have a much better chance in Hell...

So much for what I know...

I finally broke down and watched it for the first time around 1998 or 1999.  Unbelievably funny.  Absolutely nailed a kid's excitement as Christmas rolls around.  Tosses in the sense of sheer purgatory that elementary school can be.

Tops all of that, somehow, by seeming to be 100% authentically within the era portrayed.  I've seen movies actually produced during that era that don't seem that authentic.  An amazing feat to pull off.

How it was done, I'm not quite certain.  Have a couple of ideas, though.

There's something about the audio that just seems a bit off.  Maybe it's the strains of the oboe that interjects itself semi-regularly that helps to provide an ethereal quality (for lack of a better term) that takes one out of the current time.  Maybe it isn't.  Still, there's something that's just "off" about the soundtrack that takes it completely out of the time of production.

The other element may be the soft focus used in the cinematography.  There's really nothing harsh or crisply focused in the entire movie.  The ethereal term might actually work better here, as the look of everything in the film is as far from contemporary as can be.


Of course, one can't discount the value of Jean Sheppard's narration.  That voiceover work couldn't help be ring true, as Sheppard's own childhood inspired the movie, taken from his book, "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash".  (And if that wasn't an inspired title, I don't know what was...but I digress...)
Jean Sheppard, in a cameo role

Most assuredly, though, the movie hinged on the three primary actors.


The Old Man and the paper
Major Award...or Tacky Leggy Lamp?
Darrin McGavin was/is arguably most famous for his role in "Kolchak, The Night Stalker"...a character that just wasn't right.  Then again, neither was The Old Man.  Unless I'm just completely undervaluing the appeal of a certain "Major Award"...

 
Other than this role, I'm not familiar with Melinda Dillon's work at all.  But this work was fantastic.  She managed to convincingly portray both the Everymom...and one that just wasn't right...
Don't give me that look, Mister!
Show Mommy...

C'mon, how many moms do you know that got their kids to eat by having them pretend their plate was a trough???

Mommy's little piggy...


An all-too-familiar refrain...
It'thhh Thuck!!!!!!!!!!
Thr rise and fall of Scut Farcus
Then, of course, there's Peter Billingsley as Ralphie.  Poor kid, finding roadblocks at every turn in his quest for a Red Ryder BB gun.  Skirting the wrath of his teacher for his tangential role in a classmate's misery.  Or worse, becoming alternatively the victim/conquerer of the infamous Scut Farcus.

But the worst of all...faced with the creepiest Santa Claus in all of known history.  (Shudder...)

How about a nice football?

But, like every good childhood memory, this one ends without the seemingly inevitable disappointment...if you don't count the "Chinese turkey" dinner...

All the presents are open......Except for one!

The only disappointment I have about this film is that the DVD version is full-screen, not wide-screen.  Can't believe the option isn't available currently, especially with the proliferation of wide-screen releases lately.  Hopefully, the studio will come through with a proper release soon.

It can, however, be seen in the wide-screen aspect on Turner Classic Movies.  Frequently in tandem with a neat little two-reeler called "Star In The Night".

Off in the distance...

It wasn't until I started researching this short for this page that I discovered "Star" was an Academy Award winner for Best Two-Reeler of 1945.


 
They're too loud!
Is this any way to handle a new shirt?
A little goodwill at Christmas?
Led by veteran character actor J. Carrol Naish, "Star" was basically an amalgam of "A Christmas Carol" and the story of the Nativity.  Naish played the Scrooge role of put-upon motor court owner Nick Catapoli, plagued this Christmas Eve by a series of unseasonably irritated and irritating guests.

A mysterious stranger (Donald Woods) only piques Nick further with his optimism towards the human race, especially at Christmastime.


 
To Nick's surprise, all those who had piled their petty problems on his shoulders earlier rallied around a young couple facing imminent parenthood.  (Though, being a product of the mid-1940's, we never actually heard the word "pregnant" at any time during the program...hard to believe in this day and age, eh?)
Off to the manger...er, shed...
What goes on here?
Congratulations!

To the baby!!!

Completely transparent, completely predictable...and completely charming.  Next time you see "A Christmas Story" on TCM's schedule, leave a bit of space on the tape in case "Star" happens to play afterward.

God bless us, every one




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