Set in a 1940s-era Midwestern town and told from the viewpoints of a seven-year-old boy, who only wants one thing for Christmas – a Red Ryder BB gun – the episodic tale chronicles not only his schemes to convince his mother and father to buy him one, but also offers a warmly nostalgic look into 1940s middle-class American life. From the stories of, and narrated by, Jean Shepherd. (from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
For as long as I can remember, A Christmas Story has been a staple at Christmastime and has become a big part of the holiday season in pop culture. I remember watching it as a kid – since it was always on TV – and enjoying the weirdness that was the film. As I transitioned to adulthood, A Christmas Story did not become part of my annual Christmas movie viewing — partly because my wife didn’t like the movie (last year, however, she admitted she’s not sure she’s ever seen the whole movie!). However, I revisited the film in recent years and now that has changed. Seeing the movie as an adult – and now a father – the movie holds the nostalgia for Christmases gone by, while doing a good job at capturing what it felt like to be a kid around Christmas (even though I am an 80’s kid and the movie takes place in 1940). While our lead, 9-year-old Ralphie certainly isn’t perfect (and uses salty language at times), there’s kind of an innocence to the movie, and it all represents a more simple, pre-electronics and smartphone era.
A Christmas Story tells the story of a boy, named Ralph, who hopes to convince his parents to get him the coveted Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. While running into discouragement and obstacles at every turn, Ralph is just trying to survive school and the neighborhood bullies. At times, the story feels quite real, but daydream sequences from Ralph that are sprinkled into the film give the story some more fantastical moments. The movie has narration provided by author Jean Shepherd as the film is loosely based on his book, “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash,” and one of his short stories. The movie is only partially autobiographical, with Shepherd taking advantage of his strengths as a storyteller to embellish a bit. I was surprised, when I dug into the back story of the film online, to find several articles that suggested that the movie is far more cynical than it appears to be. While I can see some cynicism in the story, it comes across – to me at least – as merely realism. Our lives are messy and imperfect, and we can obsess over things (like Ralphie with his Red Ryder), and our hopes are often not met with satisfying results. The holidays, in my experience, have always been wonderful and busy and complicated and disappointing and exciting all at once. A Christmas Story captures this pretty well without being a downer. Shepherd may have been trying to make a deeper statement, but the result is a movie worth revisiting each Christmas.
Now, this release of the movie is the 4K debut for 1983’s A Christmas Story. So cinephiles who place a great deal of value in a film’s presentation may be wondering how this classic looks. Well, while I was thoroughly impressed with the 4K release of 2003’s Elf, I was not so satisfied with this transfer. Granted, this movie is from 1983, and many movies from around this time seem to suffer from a lack of clarity, but A Christmas Story doesn’t seem to warrant a 4K transfer. The movie often has a soft, almost hazy look to it that has always leant to its story-from-the-past nature. But this effect – whether intentional or just a result of the way it was filmed – is a setback for the transfer’s attempt at capturing clarity. The only time the movie really seemed to benefit from the 4K treatment was when we’d see the kids outside with snow and trees around them. But even then, it’s not as crisp as you might hope to see in this resolution. However, at the end of the day, this is still probably the best the movie has ever looked, even if it’s only seemingly a smidge better than its Blu-Ray treatment. But if you’re looking for a color boost, 4K definitely gives us that, delivering a visual improvement in that department.
The content for the PG-rated A Christmas Story is a little on the edgy side at times, but probably still appropriately within its PG limits. There is a little bit of language, mostly “h*ll” and “d*mn” with a couple uses of the “a” word and “S.O.B.” Ralphie’s Dad, “The Old Man,” is frequently talked about for swearing all the time, and he’s frequently heard flying off the handle (because of his troublesome furnace) with vulgar tirades that consist mostly of made-up profanities to stand in for the worst ones. He also says “For cripes sake” several times, which could easily be mistaken for blasphemy, and what is arguably the movie’s most famous moment sees Ralphie uttering “Oh fudge” in slow motion, with the narration admitting that he didn’t say “fudge” but “THE” forbidden “F” word. There’s some violence when Ralphie has an emotional breakdown after getting bullied one time too many and he pummels the neighborhood bully as a result (he gets a bloody nose). Lastly, there’s some awkward sensuality when The Old Man gets the notorious “leg lamp” as an award and it’s literally a moulded woman’s leg (that shows the very bottom of a buttock) in a fishnet stocking. Shepherd even refers to it as “The soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window.” Some of the more adult gags will go over the young ones’ heads, but older children will definitely pick up on it.
Love it or hate it – and despite whatever Jean Shepherd’s original intentions for the story were – A Christmas Story is a holiday classic. It doesn’t touch on the season’s true meaning, sadly, but it’s a relatable slice of Americana that captures a bygone age era while simultaneously capturing the timeless wonders of the Christmas season.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 11/30/22)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: The Old Man gets a contest award delivered to his home. It ends up being a “leg lamp” that is a large plastic replica of a woman’s leg in a fishnet stocking. The leg starts at the foot in a high-heeled shoe, and ends at the very bottom of a woman’s butt cheek. Ralphie runs his hand up the leg, which his mother pulls him away from. A few minutes later, he tries to do it again and she pulls him away again; In the narration, as people come to the house to gawk at The Old Man’s illuminated leg lamp, adult Ralph says “The entire neighborhood was turned on;” Later, he refers to the illumination as “The soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window.”
Vulgarity/Language: 1 “Oh fudge,” but the narrator says he actually said the “F” word; 7 “d*mn,” 6 “h*ll,” 2 “S.O.B,” 1 unfinished “Sons of–“, 2 “a” words, 3 “Oh my G-d,” 2 “My G-d,” 3 “Oh G-d,” 1 “G-d,” 3 “For cripe’s sake”; There are two scenes where characters go on a tirade spouting all kinds of profanities, with the narrator talking about how vulgar it was. Most of what they say, however, are made up words that aren’t profanities (in place of worse words they were supposed to have actually said).
Alcohol/Drugs: We see the parents drinking wine while sitting on the couch on Christmas morning.
Blood/Gore: Flick has a black eye; There’s a slightly bloody, small cut on Ralph’s cheek after a BB ricochets off a metal sign.
Violence: Randy repeatedly smacks his older brother, Ralphie, when Ralph jumps in front of him when trying to get to their dresser for a change of clothes; Ralph daydreams about robbers climbing over the fence in his back yard like he’s in a western. His parents and little brother cower under the kitchen table while he is dressed as a cowboy, chewing tobacco, and readying his Red Ryder BB gun. He shoots the robbers in the butt, and they over-act in a silly way when they get hit. One falls from a rope, and another off the roof of the shed in the back yard. We then see the “dead” robbers in a pile with x’s over their eyes (All of this is played for laughs); In response to a dare, Flick gets his tongue stuck to an icy flagpole; Farkus holds Schwartz’ arm behinds his back and he yells out in pain. Farkus and Grover punch each other in the shoulder repeatedly; The Old man closes the front door on a dog’s tail and we hear it whimpering in pain; We see the kids running away from the bullies on the way to school. We then see them being chased home too; Farkus wrenches Flick’s arm backwards. We then see Flick with a black eye in the next scene; Farkus hits Ralph in the face with a snowball. As Farkus laughs at him, Ralphie loses his cool and punches Farkus in the face, knocking him down. He then straddles Farkus and pounds away on his face with his fists (mostly off camera). Ralphie also hits and knocks over Grover; He continues hitting Farkus while Farkus is screaming until Ralphie’s mom pulls him off of Farkus; Santa pushes Ralph down the slide by using his boot to push his face; Ralph shoots a target that is attached to a metal sign. The BB ricochets off the metal and hits him in the glasses, causing him to fall down and have a small cut on his cheek. When he gets up and looks for his glasses, he accidentally steps on them, crushing them; At a Chinese restaurant, a cooked duck is brought out on a platter. When Mom yells seeing that its head is still there, the chef quickly cuts off the head at the neck with a cleaver.