Saturday, December 22, 2007

My favorite Christmas movie

My favorite Christmas movie is A CHRISTMAS STORY. It was released in 1983, written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, and Bob Clark, and directed by Bob Clark. TBS or TNT (one of those Turner networks with a T) plays it every year for 24 straight hours on Christmas. And every year our family watches it. Never in order anymore. We see a chunk here and a chunk there but we’ve all seen the movie fifty times so it makes no difference.

A CHRISTMAS STORY is a wonderful character driven comedy with heart, big laughs, and is steeped in Americana. Set in a small town in the Midwest in 1939 it was inspired from short anecdotal stories by Jean Shepherd. If you’ve never heard of Jean Shepherd, he (yes Jean was a he) was a master storyteller. Besides books and articles he had a one hour radio show for years on WOR in New York. On the show he would just talk. That’s it. No calls, no guests, no sound bytes, no music, no Robin Quivers. Just Jean. He would open the mic and for an hour, off the top of his head, would tell stories that were absolutely spellbinding. I remember once listening to him describe movers taking a piano out of an apartment and I was enthralled. You can read more about him here.

Jean narrates this movie (a device that THE WONDER YEARS later stole, I mean “adopted”) that follows a goofy bespectacled kid and his family over one holiday season. That’s all I’m going to say. If you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a treat.

When first released in 1983 just before Thanksgiving, the movie did tepid business. The reviews were generally good. Roger Ebert said it was “Funny and satirical…a sort of Normon Rockwell crossed with MAD magazine.” But it really didn’t begin to catch on until Ted Turner showed it repeatedly on his Superstation. Now it’s a cult classic, and like I said, airs as a marathon every Christmas.

And I’ll leave you with this fun factoid: Where do you think this heartwarming family Christmas tale first appeared? That’s right, in Playboy Magazine.

Happy holidays.


Rob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob said...

I haven't seen Christmas Story in awhile but it used to be a family favorite. My mom and I bought my dad a Red Rider BB gun because he commented he never owned one before.

These days I love Christmas Vacation because it seems more ture to life.

I also like Scrooged because Bobcat Goldwaith going nuts cracks me up.

Dwacon said...

Bah humbug...

Anonymous said...

Yep - definitely a great and classic movie. Everyone that I know who loves that movie has never seen the sequel done years later with a new cast. When I rented it back then it was titled "A Summer Story", but I've seen it re-broadcast more recently with a different title for some reason. IMDB refers to it as "It Runs In The Family" and "My Summer Story":

It looks like Jean wrote it and narrated, and I really enjoyed it as well.

Anonymous said...

I never heard Jean Shepherd on the radio. I was born too late and on the wrong side of the country. But when I was a kid he was a regular columnist for Car and Driver.

When I was 10 or 11 reading Shepherd in Car and Driver was just about the thing I looked forward to most. Unlike virtually anyone else writing about cars at the time, his were heartfelt, whimsical and always about people. Cars, at least the machines themselves, were always a setting and never the subject.

Then, for some reason I'll never know, he stopped writing for the magazine. And until Christmas Story came out a few years later, I had no idea what had happened to Shephed. And I had had no idea that his abilities stretched beyond writing for Car and Driver.

It would be an overstatement to say that Jean Shepherd is the reason why I work as an automotive journalist today, but he's at least part of the reason. And about the most prideful thing I can boast of is that I'm a Contributing Editor to Car and Driver. And Jean Shepherd was, for a time, one too.

Jake Hollywood said...

My top five:

(in no particular order)

Miracle on 34th Street (the classic)
Bad Santa
Christmas Story
Santa Claus (1959)
It's a Wonderful Life

and somehow We're No Angels would have to squeeze itself on that list too.

Anonymous said...

How funny. We watch it the same way - in chunks. Doesn't matter since over the course of 24hrs we end up seeing most of it.

Love this movie.

LouOCNY said...

I LOVE A Christmas Story also...I looked JUST like Ralphie at age 7, so that helps a

The commentary on the 'special edition' DVD, which consists of a dialog between Clark and the now grown Peter Billingsly, is as good as any ever done. Clark makes several allusions to the WONDER YEARS 'borrowing, but seemed fairly content about it. Clark also makes the point that Flick, Schwartz and Ralphie basically will grow up to be the PORKY'S kids.

Favorite scene no one talks about: After the infamous 'fuuuuuuuudge' incident, the little phone conversation between Ralphie's mom and Schwartz's mom:

RALPHIE'S MOM: Do you know what Ralphie said?

MRS SCHAWRTZ: no..what did he say?

RM cups phone says something indistinct


RM: Do you know where he heard it?

MRS S: probably from his father

RM : No..he heard it from YOUR son!

MRS S: NO...NO..

(sounds of Schwartz getting beaten unmercifully)

then the nice little bit where the mom tastes the Lifebuoy and gags on it!

I also love how there is absolutely NO mugging...until the critical moment when Ralphie gives the camera a quick take after putting over the 'icicle' bit at the end.

I also love how Melinda Dillon cannot stop laughing at ALL in the Chinese Restaurant scene - Clark says that scene was one take, and mostly improvised by McGavin.

'deck the hars with bers of horry fra ra ra ra ra ra ra ra ra'

LouOCNY said...

i almost forgot...

the weird kid in the Santa Claus line (Clark said he was a Cleveland local, and really WAS weird)

Scut Farkus (and his toady Grover Dill of course!)

all of Ralphies fantasies (would love to see the deleted Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon sequence)

Randy hiding under the sink after Ralphie's fight


Dave said...

I'm happy to say I was one of the few who actually saw ACS in the theatre in 1983. Since I grew up in Los Angeles, my first exposure to Sheperd was the PBS adaptations of his shows.

I should also add that Bob and is selling "albums" of Shepherd syndicated shows. (I should further add that I have no connection to the site, other than being on their mailing list.)

Anonymous said...

The story I heard back in the 80's was that Clark said the money made from Porky's made Christmas Story possible.

"Fraaaa gee lay...must be Italian"

Anonymous said...


Ken, just when I assumed I could not think more highly of you, you go and lay a hero on me for Christmas. I hope this is not an imposition, but it feels so good to remember.

Almost every weeknight in college, I would drive my Karmann Ghia approximately two miles from home to the top of a hill, the better to pick up two disparate clear channel radio broadcasts. WWVA, Wheeling, West Virginia brought the Grand Ole Opry from Ryman (fronting a bluegrass jug band in Connecticut, you went where you had to). As I recall, the Opry was book-ended by two evangelicals: “Rev. Al from Hayward, California, a young man dedicated to saving the lost for JEE-sus,” and the Rev. Ike Eikenkoetter, who nightly peddled “the Lord’s Last Supper Tablecloth with the Lord’s last supper all over it.”

It was during the latter one night that the Lord must have spoken to me, guiding my hand on the dial in a leftward direction, stumbling upon WOR, NY and the great Jean Shepherd. A seamless 45 minutes of inspired and animated storytelling (not This American Life) that also seemed to be the Lord’s way of saying, “Piker, if you can’t do that, why bother with anything.” After that, I never started the drive home until the Shepherd fanfare potted up again at 11. Check that, on several occasions, it was a two mile walk back in the snow after the car battery went dead.

I finally got to meet the man in 1988. I had persuaded Freddy Barzyk and Olivia Tappan from the old WGBH crowd in Boston, who had already done three Shepherd American Playhouse movies, that we could shoot a fourth, Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss cheaper here in Dallas, not to mention also cheating the season right. (One of their earlier efforts, The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters had a typical Shepherd life lesson, with Matt Dillon dreading being stuck with a blind date, until seeing the knockout and realizing that he was the blind date she had been stuck with.)

They introduced me to Jean, who was much shorter that I had imagined. Related the hilltop stranding story, something about a mutual admiration for the fables of George Ade, and that was about all I got out. Jean took it from there with at least 15-20 minutes full of growing up in Indiana, his father a newspaper cartoonist not Ralphie’s working class clutz, and how he never gets credit for story and character creativity, because half the universe thought everything he filled the air and Playboy with was nostalgia rather than imagination.

When Fred came over and asked if I’d had a “nice monologue” with Jean, I sort of realized how the guy could fill 45 minutes every night with magic that was a privilege to witness.

Thank you for reminding me we can still find rebroadcasts on the Net. Now I'm really not going to get anything done.

TCinLA said...

The funny thing is, for the longest time, I thought the story was set in 1952 Denver Colorado, since I was that kid, and you could ask for a Red Ryder rifle then, too. Really, I think the only difference between the time that movie is set in and when I was that kid's age was there were more newer cars around. All the attitudes, the whole stuff in school, everything, just the same.

I watch it just like you do - though I do try to get at least one complete run-through. It's great. And Jean Shepherd's America was the best radio show anyone with a brain could ever listen to.

Anonymous said...

I was also one of the few who saw this in theaters when it first came out, thanks to my longstanding Jean Shepherd fandom. I nagged everyone I knew to go see it, in the vain hope that would make it a hit, before realizing that I wasn't that popular and didn't know that many people. When I tried to go back and see it a second time, it was already gone from local screens, having played here no more than about three weeks. Frustrating back then, but at least I had the satisfaction of eventually being able to mock all my friends and say, "I told you so," 15 or 20 years later. And that's what Christmas is all about.

Anonymous said...

I'd heard from friends that A Christmas Story was great fun. I watched it once and couldn't understand the attraction. Maybe I need to view it again.

My favorite Christmas movies are:

1. Miracle on 34th Street (the original version)

2. March of the Wooden Soldiers (originally Babes in Toyland) starring Laurel and Hardy. In fact I just watched it last night with my fiance and we were chuckling through the whole thing.

3. Nobody's Fool (Richard Russo's re-imagining of It's a Wonderful Life) with Paul Newman.

Anonymous said...

I once read that Shepherd and playwright Herb Gardner were good friends and that Gardner based the character Murray Burns in A Thousand Clowns on Shepherd.

Love Christmas Story! A lot of it was filmed in Canada.

Happy holidays!


Anonymous said...

The house used for exterior shots in the movie is now open as a museum dedicated to the film. It's in Cleveland. I visited it this past Thanksgiving.

The guy who bought it made a fortune selling reproductions of the leg lamp. They've done a terrific job of recreating the interior (the film was shot on sound stages) and they'd set up a "rifle range" in the back yard where you could fire off a Daisy Red Ryder BB-gun at a targe (of an eye, of course). It was great silly fun and everybody who worked there and everybody visiting had on huge silly grins. Way too much fun.

btw: Josh, an actor friend of mine was in the movie's sequel (he was a Bumpus) and they did change the name of the film after a few years.

The Minstrel Boy said...

i knew that i had truly arrived as a parent the christmas my kids presented me with a "leg lamp," just like the one in my favorite christmas movie. it is proudly being displayed in our front window right now, framed by cheesy colored lights.

Anonymous said...

My favorite Jean Shepherd line from this movie (paraphrased):

'My old man worked in Profanity the way Picasso worked in Oils.'

Anonymous said...

Jake Hollywood said...
My top five: (in no particular order): Miracle on 34th Street (the classic),Bad Santa,Christmas Story,Santa Claus (1959),It's a Wonderful Life.

Not that anyone asked but, in the event another awkward segue never opens up:

1. In It's a Wonderful Life does Clarence return George Bailey to Bedford Falls just to show him what Pottersville would have been like had Frank Capra never met Larry Flynt, Sheldon Leonard never teamed up with Danny Thomas, and Elmore Leonard never bumped into Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz?

2. As Gary Kimaya so persuasively argued in the famous Salon submission, wasn’t Pottersville a happenin’ place far more desirable than the toxically tiresome, privacy-challenged, Bedford Falls that George understandably couldn’t wait to hall is ass out of?

3. Colorization sure didn’t level the playing field any.

4. Wouldn’t “Lapland” have been a real Christmasy name for the Girls, Girls, Girls club?

5. Look around, as Kimaya also observes, in the real world (global economy) Potter won.

6. Regardless of one’s political orientation, is it possible for anybody to contemplate Lionel Barrymore in that wheelchair and not think of Dick Cheney?

7. Sure just about anybody in Hollywood can make snow with ice pellets, soap flakes, gel, plastic polymer, airport foam or CGI, but that Frank Capra fella sure knew how to do slush. Slush is harder.

8. Every time a bell rings, the guy who was supposed to extend the copyright salivated until the words derivative work entered the popular lexicon.

9. Yes, I can watch this over and over too; it’s a wonderful film, a favorite here too, but just sayin’….

Anonymous said...

I, too, first experienced Christmas Story in "chunks" on a Turner station. Luckily, just a couple of years ago, the Arclight in Hollywood screened the film, so I finally got to see it one sitting, and on the big screen to boot. Clark, Billingsley and several other of the former boys from the cast were there to talk about the film (sadly, Clark died in a car accident earlier this year). Scotty Schwartz didn't make our screening (anyone see that E! True Hollywood story about him and his surprising detour into the porn biz?).

Anyway, great movie. I ditto the love for It's a Wonderful Life, Bad Santa, the original Miracle on 34th Street, et al. I also like Holiday Inn, which covers other holidays besides Christmas, of course. Really need to revisit Christmas Vacation, which I haven't seen in ages.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I just don't get the attraction to Christmas Story OR Christmas Vacation-irritating characters, lousy acting, and cynical writing. Gimme the original Grinch any day!

Cap'n Bob said...

I didn't see the original theatrical release but I did read the story when it debuted in Playboy. I was a big fan of Shepherd's work prior to that story, largely from the Wanda June Hickey tales. (They were really about the guy who lusted for Wanda June, but I forget his name.)

I got my BB gun last year. My mother wouldn't let me have one for the same reason Ralphie's folks wouldn't. Killjoy.

Anonymous said...

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Scott Goodwin said...

That played at the theater where I worked in Baton Rouge. The theater crew loved it, but I remember that the Saturday night when it opened had less than a dozen people. At a time when any crap movie (e.g., Mac Davis' CHEAPER TO KEEP HER) regularly sold out opening weekend.

In recent years, ELF has become one of my favorites, and the unofficial kickoff to gift-wrapping season in our house.

Tim W. said...

So what exactly are the residuals like when your movie is played 24 hours straight?

blogward said...

A Christmas Story might be fine for 9-year-olds but I found it plodding. Really, really plodding.

AnimeJune said...

Blogward! I'm so glad I'm not alone!

I felt like a Scrooge, with my apparently freakish loathing for this film. But then, I didn't enjoy Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm, either, so judge my taste as you will.

My top Christmas film is little-known, albeit still very funny - it's an early 90s British film called [i]Bernard and the Genie[/i]. I know, it doesn't sound like a Christmas film from the title, but it works its way in.

It stars a VERY young Alam Cumming (as Bernard), a VERY dastardly Rowan Atkinson (as his evil boss) and a very funny Lenny Henry as the Genie who helps improve Christmas for Bernard and the people of London as a whole. Not only is it full of zippy one-liners (Bernard's friendly, pathological-liar doorman: "Don't worry Bernard, if you're in trouble, just give me a ring. I'll be up there faster than a poker up a pervert.") but it's one of the very few Christmas movies that actually addresses the religious aspect of Christmas (the Genie apparently knew Jesus personally, although regarding his Son of God status, he "thought he was only kidding").

Following that, the rest of the movies on my top five list are:

2. Die Hard
3. Elf (yes, Elf - the only Will Ferrel movie my father can tolerate)
4. The Santa Clause (1995)
5. Scrooged

Derryl Murphy said...

I got the leg lamp in the fra-jee-lay crate tree ornament for Christmas today, because my wife truly loves me. I think this is the first year the boys have watched it in full and will remember it all.


Anonymous said...

Love "Christmas Story", and I get an extra kick out of the scenes with his younger brother Randy... Where I grew up in northwest Indiana, our next door neighbor was Jean Shepherd's real-life younger brother (though by then he was a good 50 years beyond the mashed-potatoes-without-a-fork stage).