I’ve been trying to get creative with my headlines since the 100 Favorite Horror Movie Countdown but you know what? The title of the next film on the countdown of my favorite Christmas movies/specials speaks for itself. As I mentioned in a previous entry, the closer we got to No. 1, the more personal these were going to get.
Peter Billinglsey stars as Ralphie, Darren McGavin of Kolchak – The Nightstalker fame – plays his father, and Melinda Dillon (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) his mom. You may not know that Zack Ward, who plays bully Scut Farkus, went on to play an Umbrella Corporation mercenary in one of the Resident Evil movies.
Jean Shepherd’s tale of childhood Christmas has become a cult classic thanks to TBS bringing it back as a Christmas day marathon several years ago. The story is set in Indiana in the late 1940s and was actually filmed in Cleveland. You can visit the actual house as it has been transformed into a museum in recent years.
This may be set 20 some odd years before I was born but I swear it’s my childhood Christmas brought to life on screen. We’re not talking parallels here, we’re talking direct correlations.
Now, I could give you the synopsis for the film but I’d rather explain how this movie relates to me or how I relate to it.
First of all – the furnace. Darren McGavin spends a lot of time in the basement battling the wonky furnace while shrouded in a cloud of black smoke. Now, we didn’t have furnace issues but I lived in a duplex for much of my childhood, age 5-14 if I remember correctly, and we had oil heat. As I have mentioned in previous posts, we were poor for a good number of years – not too many but enough. We didn’t always have money for oil and I remember my dad borrowing oil from the neighbor and transferring the noxious, black fluid via used milk cartons.
I remember what seemed to be the slow build up to Christmas while suffering through endless days in the classroom. Trips to see the department Santa Claus were a highlight of the season, not quite the nightmare Ralphie encountered. In my hometown of Rochester, N.Y., Midtown Plaza downtown was the place to go at Christmastime. It was always decked out for the season and the monorail was a must-ride attraction. It’s been dismantled and put away in storage. Sad.
The scene where Ralphie’s father plugs in the Christmas tree lights or the leg lamp or whatever it was into the multiple plug adapter cracks me up every time. I remember such adapters as a kid. We also had those 4,000-candlepower Christmas tree lights too. It’s a wonder we didn’t burn the damn house down. My father hated all things electric. He wouldn’t touch the house wiring, ever. After my electronics training in the Navy, he’d wait until I came home for a visit and ask me to install a light fixture or a ceiling fan. The house he bought when I was 14 still had the original 1920s wiring, complete with fuse box. I’ll never forget visiting my parents one time when dad had the microwave plugged into the wall with a three-prong to two-prong adapter. He had the coffee maker, toaster and the miniature nuclear reactor we used to cook food all going at the same time. He smoke-checked that adapter and I had to pull two feet of burnt wire out of the wall so I could install the three-prong outlets he had sitting in the drawer for six months.
We didn’t have the neighbors dogs barge into our house and steal out turkey, but I did get not one, but two BB/pellet guns for Christmas. We won’t discuss what I did with the second one when I was a freshman in high school. I didn’t shoot my eye out but let’s just say the cops were involved.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the movie for me is the rush of opening presents on Christmas day. The thrill of coming down the stairs, or entering the living room (I did live in a duplex on one floor) and seeing that Santa had in fact been there was the stuff dreams were made of. As an only child, I always made out like a bandit, money or no money.
When it comes to A Christmas Story, the late 1940s weren’t much different than the 1970s when it came to the Yuletide season. Jean Shepherd’s childhood Christmases and mine weren’t all that dissimilar and every time I watch it, I feel like I am home for Christmas.
This is a must-watch but I’ll only watch it on Christmas day, and I’ll watch it all the way through uninterrupted at least once.