November 20, 1983 [A Christmas Story]

Christmas in A Christmas Story at times almost disappears to make room for mishaps, malfeasance, and garden-variety meanness: Flick's tongue gets glued to a flag pole--and it hurts to watch, doesn't it?--and Scut Farkus dishes it out (and takes it), and Randy roots among the cabbages, and a Major Award gets its fifteen minutes of fame, and lug nuts fly like sparks in the night air while profanities roll out, and all of one's hard work results in a decoded "crummy commercial."

But these are welcome diversions, little echoes of Jean Shepherd's canon--Easter ham becoming Christmas turkey, Golden Memories shoveled down Randy's maw like oatmeal--filling out their mock-epic lives until we know they deserve a perfect Christmas morning, the wish granted for once--including of course an eye getting (more or less) shot out, and a decapitated duck somehow a cue that cuts perfectly to a still and glowing and perfectly natural moment before the tree.

It becomes more than whimsy and farce, and more than heartstrings tugged, but an implanted memory, like all lasting family stories, retold so often the tale becomes the truth--read in Ralphie's Hummel-figurine face, at turns beaten down by the adult world--Santa's foot on Ralphie's forehead applying just the right pressure to send him sailing down the Horrendously Happy Slide--and heart-breakingly confident it will all work out. And he is right, after all, and he reminds us that there is something at stake here: simply the rest of his life, triple-dog-dared to remember the best Christmas present either of us ever did or will receive--and it's not his Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle (with a compass in the stock).


  1. Oh, how I love this movie!

    It's such a shame that the director has gone downhill since then...

    I mean...he directed "Baby Geniuses."

    BABY GENIUSES for crying out loud!!!

    What happened?

  2. Clark had some near-perfect material to work with here: Jean Shepherd's writing, even his voice as narrator (and he appears briefly in the film as the grownup who tells Ralphie and Randy to go to the back of the line to see Santa). Shepherd is one of the more interesting figures in pop culture: jazz DJ (coined the term "night people" during his after-hours radio broadcasts in NYC), TV personality in the '70s--but his great strength is his writing, my favorite American humorist after Thurber. If you love A Christmas Story, read Jean Shepherd.

    Unfortunately, both Clark and Shepherd are gone. But this little masterpiece lives on.


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