Plot: As Christmas approaches, the Parker household is filled with excitement, furnace fumes, and hope, as Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) hopes and hopes that the one present he desires will be under the tree. All he wants is a Red Ryder BB gun, but of course, he is constantly reminded of the dangers involved, so he still has hope, but not as much as he’d like. As if the dread of missing out on the one present he wants isn’t enough, he has to deal with bullies at school, accidental profanity, and of course, a theme he has to write for his teacher. His father (Darren McGavin) wages war with the furnace and his mother (Melinda Dillon) tries to get his little brother to eat, all while trying to keep the Christmas spirit alive and well. But will Ralphie get his trusty firearm he wants so badly, or will he have to make due with a football?
Entertainment Value: A lot of movies have become seasonal favorites, but few movies are so popular, they run in annual 24 hour marathons. But A Christmas Story is one of the select few that can loop 12 times in a row and still keep an audience, as it remains a timeless, beloved classic. The movie dripped nostalgia back when it first released, so now it has a double dose of the stuff, as generation after generation has made it a core part of the Christmas tradition. This is why the movie remains so beloved, as so much of the dialogue and set pieces have become pop culture icons. The leg lamp is a symbol of the season, while even casual fans can likely rattle off several passages of dialogue, if not the entire script. I appreciate that while A Christmas Story has a larger arc involved, Ralphie and his gun, it really focuses in on his family, through a series of smaller, but just as fun to watch narrative threads. This includes the furnace, the leg lamp, the neighbor’s dogs, the bullies, and Ralphie’s various fantasies, all of which combine to create this warm, familiar tapestry of entertainment. The focus on Ralphie’s family, warts and all, is what keeps this in the holiday classic pantheon.
But even with warm, humorous material, the movie needed a capable cast to ensure audiences connected with the Parkers. Peter Billingsley is fun in the lead as Ralphie, Melinda Dillon shows immense heart as as the mom, and Ian Petrella is hilarious as the kid brother, but Darren McGavin winds up as the heart and soul of the movie, in a fantastic performance. A lot of fathers in movies are either stern and cold or little more than furniture, but McGavin’s Old Man is neither, a flawed, but loving man who comes off as larger than life. He is able to pull every ounce of humor from the material, but never goes over the top, even in his wildest moments. This makes it easy to like him and connect with the role, not to mention he makes even routine moments hilarious, such as reading the newspaper. The department store Santa and elves deserve a special mention as well, but all of the roles here, even the most minor ones, tend to come across as memorable and well utilized. I also feel the movie is well shot, expertly paced, and of course, has immense replay value. A tried & true holiday classic, A Christmas Story is likely already in your collection, but if it isn’t and you appreciate a good laugh, it is a great addition.