Not so much a Cult movie at all. But you’d think it was from where I come from as most people I know haven’t seen it but in the US it’s one of the most beloved Christmas films of all.
Doing a movie about the Christmas experience seems to be a tough thing. Most films concern themselves with the spirit of Christmas and how it should bring about the best in us. These are mostly comic tales (“Christmas Vacation”) or sentimental tales (“Love Actually”) or the like. One of my personal favourites has always been “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946) with it’s message that life is worth living and the meaning (and love) comes from the people around us and how one person can, in fact, make a big difference in people’s lives even if he doesn’t see it.
As a Cult movie lover (and overall pessimist) I’ve always gravitated towards films that show the dark side of a festive period and the ones I’ve covered as the ones that I never miss during Christmas. But over the years “A Christmas Story” (1983) has become a tradition as it’s the only film I know that perfectly captures the feeling of Christmas from a child’s perspective.
Written by humourist, radio and TV personality and writer and actor Jean Shepherd; “A Christmas Story” is a collection of a mixture of fiction and memoirs from Shepherd’s own childhood. Directed by the late Bob Clark; the film focuses on 9 year old Ralph (Peter Billingsley) and his pursuit of getting Mom (Melinda Dillon) and the Old Man/Dad (Darren McGavin) to give him a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle for the ultimate Christmas gift. Along the way we get to know Ralph’s brother Randy, his friends Flick, Schwartz and neighbourhood bullies Scut Farkus and Grover Dill and see Ralph, as a last resort, visit a mall Santa to plead for the gift.
There’s so much good stuff here. The film is narrated by Shepherd himself as Ralph tries to do anything he can think of to maneuver his parents into buying him the rifle. We also get to watch Ralph’s household with stay at home Mom slaving away at keeping a tidy home and cooking for the family of four, the Old man who constantly wages war with a malfunctioning furnace and swears like a dozen dirty sailors when in battle with it (with Shepherd narrating and saying stuff like “the obscenities are still hanging in space over Lake Michigan”) and who’s constantly greeted by a pack of dogs when he comes home from work. The bit where he wins an award and it’s a lamp in the shape of a female stockinged leg in a high heel is funny as hell. The Old man feels such pride in displaying his award but the Mom finds it hideous and so, in Shepherd’s words, began “the battle of the lamp” (which ends with it being “accidentally” destroyed while cleaning).
The film is in fact a series of vignettes that make up an irresistible whole that not only shows the magic of Christmas from Ralph’s perspective but also a good overview of 1940’s life in America for kids and adults alike.
The Christmas experience for most of us goes through a series of stages. It’s a magical time when you’re a kid and presents are the main thing, it’s a period of hard work and relief when you’re a student and finally, as an adult with responsibilities, it becomes a period of overspending and stress and all you feel is relief when all is said and done. “A Christmas Story” captures the magical time for Ralph and it’s no wonder the film has become a classic in most places. But Iceland is not one of them.
As a side note; I find it quite stunning that the film is directed by the eclectic Bob Clark. Nine years prior he basically set the ground rules for the slasher with “Black Christmas” (1974) and, at that time, he could have ventured into a golden career as a horror director. In order to get necessary funding for “A Christmas Story” Clark allegedly agreed to make “Porky’s” (1981), the raunchy and sexually explicit classic (a great film in it’s own right) that could not differ more in tone and sentimentality to the Christmas classic. He certainly was a Jack-of-all-trades director.
One more thing! Could you imagine The Old Man being played by Jack Nicholson? At one point he was a contender for the role but lack of funding prevented that. I can’t imagine anyone other than Darren “Kolchak” McGavin playing that role.