Sunday, December 10, 2023

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out!

A Christmas Story
Director: Bob Clark
Cast: Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin
Released: November 18, 1983

I know this movie is a Christmas staple for most people, but, honestly, it wouldn't even make my top ten holiday movies. What are those ten movies, you ask? Well, I would have to give it some real thought, but I know Home Alone, Elf, and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation would be on there.

I think this was the second time in my life I have seen A Christmas Story in its entirety from start to finish. Now, I've seen certain scenes about a million times because back in the 2000s, (they may still do this; I honestly have no idea) it used to be on 24/7 during Christmas week on TBS or TNT or one of those channels, so often, if I was watching TV with my brother, we would catch certain scenes at certain times and watch those. But I don't think I've seen a single second of the movie for the last ten years! (I kinda got sick of it from being on TNT or TBS all the time in December!) 

This is a pretty straightforward movie. It revolves around the Parker family during Christmas in 1940s Indiana. I had a Today I Learned moment when I watched the movie recently: TIL that A Christmas Story takes place in the 1940s. I had no idea; I always thought it took place in the '50s. To be fair, I don't think they actually tell us when the movie is set, but when I streamed it, it was part of the description. It had to specifically be the year 1940 because there is no talk of World War II and there's mention of The Wizard of Oz which came out in' 39. Nine-year-old Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) is the main character and he narrates the movie as an adult, looking back at one of his most memorable childhood Christmases. Fun fact: the narrator is Jean Shepard, who wrote the novel the movie is based on. Ralphie wants a BB gun for Christmas, but since there isn't enough material to make that into an hour and a half film, the movie is comprised into many vignettes.

Ralphie first sees the "official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle" at a window display of Higbee's department store. So I thought Higbee's was a made up place, but it actually existed. Although it was in Cleveland, so they must live pretty close to the Ohio border if they're going there twice during the movie. Or they just didn't care if the geography made sense or not. I know the movie was filmed in Cleveland, so they probably just used it for convenience's sake. 

He's been thinking of ways to get the BB gun into his parents' subconscious, so he places an ad (which is more like a full-sized booklet than an ad!) for it in his mother's "Look" magazine so she'll see it. Ralphie thinks she'll read the ad, but I doubt she would. He places the magazine on his mother's bed. Yes, his mother's bed; not his parents' bed. His parents' room have two single beds with a bedside table between them. The two single beds are weird for a married couple and I wonder if this was how married people in the '40s slept or if this was how movies made in the '40s portrayed married couples so it wouldn't be scandalous. And, yes, I realize A Christmas Story was made in the early '80s, but maybe they were trying to go with a "realistic" approach. Or maybe this is a subtle way to show up that Ralphie's parents (Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin) actually really can't stand each other. 

We never do see if Ralphie's mom finds the ad, but she does ask Ralphie what he wants for Christmas during breakfast and he just blurts it out. Isn't that easier just to tell her what he wants instead of going to all this trouble to give her subconscious hints? His mother's reply is, "You'll shoot your eye out." Yeah, I would never let my kid have a BB gun...that's just asking for trouble. It's either going to hurt someone or cause damage. 

Ralphie's teacher, Miss Shields, wants her students to write a theme, "What I Want For Christmas." This makes young Ralphie excited and adult Ralphie narrates, "I knew when Miss Shields read my magnificent, eloquent theme, that she would sympathize with my plight and everything would work out somehow." I guess he thinks his teacher is going to love his paper so much and agree that he should have a BB gun and she'll convince his mother to let him have one? I'm not sure what his thinking is here! 

Ralphie's "theme" is only about a paragraph long: 

What I Want For Christmas 

What I want for Christmas is a Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time. I think that everybody should have a red Ryder BB gun. They're very good for Christmas. I don't think that a football is a very good Christmas present.

That's it. That's the entire paper. Maybe when Miss Shields said "theme", she meant paragraph. Look, I understand he's in third grade, but even as a third grader, I can guarantee you my class wrote longer papers than that! I cracked up when narrator Ralphie says, "Oh, rarely had the words poured from my pencil with such feverish fluidity." This paper is just awful. I think my favorite part is the last sentence because where the hell did a football suddenly come from? What does that have to do with anything? 

When Ralphie hands in his paper the next day, he tells us he knew he was handing in a "masterpiece" (this kid is delusional!) and that maybe his teacher would excuse him from writing theme papers "for the rest of [his] natural life." Like your third grade teacher could keep you from writing papers in high school or college. Often, Ralph has little daydreams about how he envisions certain events to go and one of the funniest is when he has a daydream of Miss Shields giving Fs to every single paper (and there's a huge stack of them in his fantasy even though there's probably about only 20 kids in the classroom), but then she comes to his paper and she is overwhelmed with emotion because his paper is so fantastic. She claims the sentence, "....Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time" is the sentence that she's been waiting for all her life and calls it "poetry". She writes A+ on his paper, then gets up and writes his name on the board with A++++++ next to it while all the kids around him cheer and hoist him on his shoulders. It is absolutely ridiculous, but that's what makes it so hilarious. 

As you can imagine, Ralphie did not get an A+ on his paper and his teacher did not think he was the next Shakespeare. He got a C+ which I thought was pretty generous, cuz that was a D+ paper at best. In red ink, his teacher writes, "You'll shoot your eye out" and Ralphie thinks his teacher and his mom are in cahoots together. 

Ralphie has one more chance to get the word out that he wants a BB gun and that's when his family goes to Higbee's to see Santa after watching a Christmas parade. Asking Santa for a gift makes more sense for a kid rather than writing a paper about it for his teacher. 

The line for Santa is a lot longer than Ralphie and his little brother, Randy, think it is. In front of them is this creepy kid who never stops smiling or staring at them. He tells them, "I like Santa", then, when people dressed like characters from The Wizard of Oz who were in the parade they saw, interact with the kids in the line, he tells them, "I like The Wizard of Oz." The Wicked Witch comes up to Ralphie and says, "What a tasty boy." Ralphie tells her, "Don't bother me. I'm thinking." Heh. I love that he basically told her to get the f*** away from him in the most polite way. 

Ralphie and his brother make it closer to Santa, but the clock is ticking down and the store will be closing at nine, which is just minutes away. Santa, who has an unnaturally red nose, tells one of the elves, "If Higbee thinks I'm working one minute past nine, he can kiss my foot." But the thing is, once it is announced it is nine o'clock and the store is closing, he has at least five more kids come up to see him! Granted, none of them are visiting with him that long, but still, the way he was acting, I thought he was going to get up and leave. The elves are being rude and aggressive, telling the kids to hurry up and manhandling them and forcing them to sit in Santa's lap. If I were a kid in that line, I would definitely turn around and leave! Although the slide they go down after they see Santa looks like fun so I would be disappointed about missing out on that. Once it is Ralph's turn and Santa asks him what he wants, he can't remember what he's supposed to say. I can't really blame him since the elves are being extremely rude, telling him to hurry up. Santa suggests that he might want a football (I guess a football was a popular gift for Christmas in the '40s?) and her nods in agreement, but as he's being put on the slide, he stops himself from going down and blurts out what he really wants: "an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle." He says it so fast that if I didn't already know what he was going to say, I would not have understood him. Santa understood him and tells him that he'll shoot his eye out. Hmmm, that seems to be a running theme!

Despite all that, Ralphie does get his beloved BB gun for Christmas. It's after all the presents have been opened and his father tells him there might be one more gift behind the desk. The mother is surprised, so she wasn't behind that at all. The father tells her that he had a bb gun when he was eight. 

Watching this movie again in a very long time, I found myself really disliking the mother and Randy, the little brother. Randy was just whiny, and yes, I realize he's just a little kid, but I just couldn't with his constant whining. I thought the mother was a little bit stupid or maybe naive (don't worry, I'll give examples shortly) and she treated both her sons like they were babies, especially Randy, she infantilized him. 

Point #1: When getting ready for walking to school, Ralphie is wearing normal winter clothes: jeans, sweater, coat, hat, mittens. Randy, on the other hand, is being stuffed into a red snowsuit while already wearing a bulky sweater. Ralphie compares his brother getting ready for school to getting prepared for deep-sea diving and he's not wrong. Randy is already wearing a hat, but his mom puts the hood of his snow suit over the hat. This is such a pet peeve of mine! If there is a hood already attached to the coat you're wearing, YOU DO NOT NEED A SEPARATE HAT! You already have one! She then proceeds to wrap a long scarf completely around his face, like a mummy. He starts whining and because his mouth is covered, he's muffled. I thought for sure he was going to tell her he needed to use the bathroom, but instead he whines that he can't put his arms down. He's just so overstuffed that it's impossible to put his arms by his side. His mom tells him that he can put them down once he gets to school. We never do see how he got out of that thing at school, but we do see him wearing it when he walks home from school, so did he ever take the stupid thing off? Also, that kid had to be ROASTING in that thing, good Lord! You would think his mother would just get him a normal coat and not a snow suit that takes forever to bundle up in. Ralphie has a normal coat, so why not her other son? There is a hilarious moment when they're walking to school and Randy gets knocked down and he's rolling around on his back like a turtle because he can't get up, so Ralphie has to help him. 

Point #2: Ralphie tells us that Randy "had not eaten voluntarily in over three years." I think this is because his mom is a horrible cook. All the meals just look so disgusting. The oatmeal he has for breakfast makes me want to vomit because it looks like vomit. She also serves them a disgusting dinner of meatloaf, mashed potatoes (didn't see any gravy) and red cabbage not once, but twice during the film. Although, her husband and Ralphie seem to have no problem eating this disgusting meal and it seems more like they're telling us that Randy is just a picky eater. He's just playing with his food (building a sculpture) and his mother tells him, "Don't play with your food, eat it" and that starving people would be happy to have it. Ha! Now while they may eat it (because they're starving), I doubt they would be happy about it! She asks Randy to pretend he's "a little piggy" and that his plate is the trough and show her how one would eat. We get this gross scene of him just putting his face in the plate of food and his mother is laughing in delight like it's the cutest thing she's ever seen when just seconds before she had told him not to play with his food. I would have more of the reaction that Ralph and the dad have...they just look on in disgust, especially the dad. This scene goes on way too long and I definitely could have done without it. 

Point #3: When they're opening presents Christmas morning, Ralphie is told by his mother to open the gift from Aunt Clara because she always sends him "such wonderful presents." Really? Does she? Because for this Christmas, Ralphie gets a pink bunny onesie. This is just not ugly, but creepy, because attached to the feet are pink bunny slippers....why would a bunny have heads attached to their feet? That makes no sense. Adult Ralphie narrates to us that not only did Aunt Clara seemed to think he was "perpetually four years old, but also a girl." But I don't think even a nine-year-old girl would want that pink atrocity. I don't think anyone in their right mind would want that. Of course, Ralphie is embarrassed as he's forced by his mother to show everyone what he got. She tells him (and she's being sincere here) that Aunt Clara "always gives [him] the nicest things." Huh? Is she for real? Is Aunt Clara her sister? And how old is Aunt Clara? Cuz I'm picturing this eighty-year-old woman who has no idea what a nine-year-old boy would want for Christmas. She makes Ralphie go upstairs to try it on and reluctantly he does. Once he returns, she says, "That's the most precious thing I've ever seen in my life." Again, I ask, is she for real? How can you think something so UGLY and CREEPY look "precious"? At least the father think it's a sh*t present. He tells his wife that Ralphie looks like "a deranged Easter bunny" and "a pink nightmare." Finally, the mother realizes how miserable Ralphie looks and tells him he only needs to wear it when Aunt Clara visits. I hope for his sake that Aunt Clara lives on some remote island off the coast of Alaska, but why would he need to wear it when she visits? 

So pretty much all the examples I've given so far are how she treats her sons like babies, but I do have one last example of her being a little bit dumb. (Although I think she's pretty dumb if she thinks Ralphie would like that creepy bunny outfit.) After Ralphie gets his bb gun, he goes outside to play with it. It came with a paper target that he's taped to a tree and after he shoots the gun the first time, the force is so strong that it ends up knocking his glasses off his face (and losing one of the lenses) and he gets a scratch on his face. While looking for his glasses, he ends up stepping on them and the other lens crack. He decides to make up this bullshit story of how an icicle broke and shattered his glasses and his mom buys this story! Seriously? Like, he was literally just playing with an effing BB gun that she was worried about and she believes that his glasses were broken because of an icicle? So stupid. There's no way anyone would buy that story. 

All right, so now I'll talk about some of the vignettes that are sprinkled throughout the story. I'm going to start with the ones I remember the most.

While walking to school with his two friends, Schwartz and Flick, Schwartz tells them that he asked his "old man" if sticking your tongue to a metal pole in winter will make it stick and he said it was true. Flick doesn't believe that to be true. Schwartz tells him that his dad knows because he saw a guy stick his tongue to a railroad track and it got stuck and the fire department had to come and help. I see what you're doing there, movie. A little foreshadowing. 

At recess, while standing next to the flagpole, Flick tells Schwartz he still doesn't believe one can get their tongue stuck to a metal pole and Schwartz double dares him to do it. Flick tells him he doesn't want to stick his tongue to the pole because it's dumb and Schwartz replies, "That's cause you know it'll stick." Can't argue with him there. He next double dog dares him. Ralphie's wide-eyed reaction is hilarious and so is his narration: "Now it was serious. A double dog dare. What else was left but a triple dare you? And finally, the coup de grace of all dares, the sinister triple dog dare." Schwartz skips the triple dare and goes right into the triple dog dare which shocks everyone (all the students are pretty much gathered around the flagpole watching this whole thing unfold...I guess they didn't have a teacher out on the playground in those days). Because of the triple dog dare, Flick finally agrees and the stupid kid sticks his tongue to the flag pole and it gets stuck. I'm pretty sure this movie is the reason why I've never stuck my tongue to a frozen pole, though I've never had any inclination to touch my tongue to anything. Even before Covid, the idea just makes me shudder with disgust. 

The bell rings and all the kids start running back towards the school. Flick (who can barely talk, mind you) pleads for Ralphie to stay with him and he's all, "The bell rang!" When Schwartz asks Ralphie what they're going to do, Ralphie's only response is just to whine, "I don't know! The bell rang!" and both friends just run off, leaving poor Flick by himself. At least Schwartz, the one who dared Flick to touch his tongue to the pole, tried to act like he cared! When all the kids are back in the classroom and the teacher asks where Flick is, a little girl points to the window where she sees him and the fire department has to come and help him. Maybe back in those days, the fire department would be the best people to call, but I feel now people wouldjust Google what to do! Honestly, if I were that kid, I would be mortified in a firetruck came and caused a huge scene. I think even one kids mentions that the cops are, what the hell? Of course, I would never be that stupid in the first place to touch my tongue to a cold (or even non-cold!) metal pole! 

Since we're already in the school setting, there's a scene at the beginning of the school day where the teacher has just come in and says good morning to the class while her back is turned to them writing something on the chalkboard. The class replies to her in muffled voices and when she turns around, they're all wearing these exaggerated fake front teeth. She doesn't even crack a smile, but instead just holds out her hand for them to all put their fake teeth, which have been in their disgusting little germ-filled mouths, mind you. Ewww! Why not tell them to throw them away in the trash? She opens a drawers in her desk and dumps them in there and we see it is full of other jokes and gags which includes chattering teeth, a rubber mouse, a rubber frog, sunglasses with a fake nose, and a fake ear with a fly. Whoever bought those fake teeth sure wasted their money!

The leg lamp ("Oh, wow!") is another storyline that is very memorable. Actually, what I didn't remember is how the dad obtained it in the first place, but I guess he won a trivia contest in the newspaper and he would be getting his "award" that night. I don't know why he referred to it as an "award"; when I think of an award, I think of a trophy or a certificate. Wouldn't this be a prize for winning the contest? 

For some reason, he thinks he might be getting a bowling alley and his wife asks him how they're going to deliver that to their house (another reason why I think she's dumb) and he tells her they would deliver the deed. But instead he is delivered a huge wooden crate that says "fragile" on it and the dad pronounces it "frah-gee-lay", claiming it must be Italian until his wife points out what it really says. Personally, I think we should all pronounce "fragile" like "frah-gee lay"! 

Since it's a wooden crate, he has to open it with a hammer and he opens the box to find the tacky and gaudy leg lamp wearing a heel and fishnet stockings and the lamp shape is made to look like the skirt. The dad and Ralphie are instantly enthused by it. The dad wants to put it on a table in the middle of their front room window, basically so all the neighbors can see and be envious of his arousing leg lamp. He plugs it in and we see there's about ten plugs in one outlet; guess they didn't care about electrical safety back in those days! He goes outside to direct his wife where to move it so it's in the perfect spot and he attracts a crowd around him and his poor wife is just mortified. I guess back in those days, that lamp would be considered scandalous and racy. Ralphie keeps caressing the leg and his mom distracts him by telling his favorite radio program, "Little Orphan Annie" is on. 

This brings me to the next vignette, one I didn't remember much of. After school one day, Ralphie gets his "Little Orphan Annie" secret decoder pin that he's sent away for and it finally comes in the mail. He tunes in to listen the numbers that are given which he writes down and will decode a secret message. Once he has the numbers, he goes to the bathroom because it's the only private room in the house (he shares a room with his brother) because he thinks this is some top secret, important, for his eyes only kind of message. While he's in there, his brother has to use the bathroom (guess they only have one bathroom in this house!) and so far he only has "Be sure to..." written down. I thought it was going to reveal to say "Be sure to tune in tomorrow night for...." or something like that. By this time Randy is knocking on the door and whining for him to hurry up and his mother is yelling at him to get out of the bathroom. I really can't blame either of them; I would be livid if I had to go and the only bathroom in the house was being occupied by someone who wasn't even using the toilet! The message actually ends up being "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine" and Ralphie is greatly disappointed. I really hate how this kid writes. He leaves no spaces between his words so it looks like BESURETO....He really should be grateful he got a C+ on that paper because even a D+ seems pretty generous for that atrocious paper! 

And finally, the last vignette I'll talk about is when Ralphie gets his mouth washed out with soap for saying a bad word. It's when the family is driving home from buying a Christmas tree and the car gets a flat tire. When the dad gets out to take a look at it, the mom tells Ralphie to go and help his dad. (By the way, in case you hadn't already noticed, the parents in this movie aren't given names). I thought Ralphie was going to whine, but instead he seems excited about the prospect of helping his dad. His dad gives him a bowl-shaped thing so he can hold the bolts in it. Because of the dad's actions (he flings his hands too quickly and it ends up knocking the bowl), the bolts go flying in the air and Ralphie goes, "Oh, fuuuuuuuuu-dge." But of course that's not what he really said! The dad is appalled by his language and when they get back in the car, he whispers to his wife what his son just said and she is just so aghast. This leads to Ralphie getting his mouth washed out with soap when they get home and when she asks him where he heard that word, he tells her it was his friend.

This whole thing just made me mad. First of all, it was his dad's fault for flipping the bowl over and losing the bolts! I think Ralphie just had a natural reaction to it. I could totally understand him getting in trouble if he had said, "Hey, Ma, this meatloaf looks like f****** s***!" Now, he would have been telling the truth, but I would totally understand him getting in trouble if he had said that! But if I were in his situation, off the shoulder of the highway, helping my dad fix a flat tire and a bunch of bolts flew all over, yes, I'd probably have some choice words to say! (I don't think the bolts are ever retrieved, so they must not have been that important!) I get that he's in trouble for the word he used and not because of what happened to the bolts, but it is ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS that the mom asks Ralphie where he heard that word because she should know he heard it from her husband. There's a scene early in the movie where it is established that the furnace often breaks down and he has to go down to the basement to fix it. When he's down there, we can hear him saying gibberish words which are meant to be obscenities the whole family can hear. It kind of reminds me how Joe Pesci "curses" in Home Alone. Since he wasn't allowed to swear in a PG movie, he just ended up saying gibberish words which were being substituted for swear words his character would probably say in real life! But the mother is right there and I'm sure she's heard other instances of her husband cursing like a sailor because Ralphie tells us that he's heard his dad use "the f dash dash dash word" at least ten times a day! I'm not really sure why he's trying to protect his dad and tells his mom he learned the word from his friend, but his mom should know. Hell, even Mrs. Schwartz knows when she calls his friend's mom and tells her the word that Ralphie just used (I love that she whispers the word instead of just saying he said "the f word") and asks her does she know where Ralphie heard that word and you can hear Mrs. Schwartz (rightly) say, "Probably from his father." Just another reason why I think the mother in this movie is an idiot! She tells Mrs. Schwartz that he learned the word from her son and you can hear Mrs. S screaming at and smacking her son. I felt bad for the kid since he did nothing wrong and Ralphie sold him out. 

Ralphie is sent to bed early for his punishment and we get a funny daydream where he has gone blind and when he visits his parents, they're shocked to find out he's blind and when they ask how this happened, he dramatically tells them, "It was soap poisoning" and they're besides themselves, crying. It's hilarious when they go back to Ralphie, laying on his bed, with a big grin on his face. 

Oh, something I had completely forgotten about was their neighbors, the Bumpuses, have about five or six bloodhounds (Ralphie will tell you it's 785) who "ignore every other human on earth but [his dad]." I remember the family ends up eating at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Day, but I thought it was because their turkey had deflated (I must have been thinking of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation!), but it's actually because the dogs get in the house (I guess Ralphie had left the door open when he came in from playing with his BB gun) and gobble (ha!no pun intended, honestly!) up the turkey. 

I know people love this movie and while there are some fun and memorable scenes, for the most part, I can take it or leave it (mostly leave it). It's not as funny as Elf or Home Alone or Christmas Vacation or even as sentimental as those! 

No comments:

Post a Comment