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Movie: A Christmas Story (1983): Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon Star in Holiday Film Classic

Published by Trenton Mersman

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Director Bob Clark first treated movie fans to A Christmas Story in 1983. Darren McGavin is the Old Man and Peter Billingsley the wide-eyed youngster who desires a coveted Daisy Red Ryder BB gun.

Jean Shepherd’s In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash

A Christmas Story is based on the short story collection In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash (Doubleday, 1966) by humorist Jean Shepherd (1921-1999). Shepherd, who also worked in both radio and television, is perhaps best known for his 1956-77 stint on New York City radio station WOR.

Screenplay, Director, Music

Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark penned the screenplay for Christmas Tree Films and MGM. Clark (1939-2007) — who was later killed along with his son Ariel-Hanrath Clark by a drunk driver in a head-on car crash — directed.

Paul Zaza and Carl Zittrer created the original music score. Holiday songs heard in the film include “Deck the Halls,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.”

A Christmas Story Cast

Principal cast members include Melinda Dillon (Mrs. Parker), Darren McGavin (Mr. Parker or the Old Man), Peter Billingsley (Ralphie Parker), Ian Petrella (Randy Parker), Scott Schwartz (Flick), R.D. Robb (Schwartz), Tedde Moore (Miss Shields), Yano Anaya (Grover Dill), Zack Ward (Scut Farkus) and Jeff Gillen (Santa Claus).

Budget, Filming Locations

A Christmas Story was budgeted at $4 million. Although set in fictional Hohman, Indiana, A Christmas Story was filmed primarily in Cleveland, Ohio, with additional scenes shot in Canada. Toronto’s Magder Studios served as the film’s in-house production facility.

A Christmas Story Movie

A Christmas Story opens in grand fashion, with titles etched in holiday script, ringing bells and a stirring rendition of “Deck the Halls.” Narrated by Jean Shepherd, the movie centers on 9-year-old Ralphie Parker, whose one desire for Christmas is “a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-Shot Lightning-Loader Range Model Air Rifle with a Shockproof High Adventure Combination Trail Compass and Sundial set right in the stock.”

Ralphie’s pursuit of “The Holy Grail of Christmas Gifts” is but one drama in the Parker household. Others include Ralphie’s continuing problem with a school bully, Mr. Parker’s fascination with a novelty lamp in the shape of a woman’s leg, and the family’s emergency Christmas dinner at Chop Suey Palace.

Release, Reviews

A Christmas Story was released on November 18, 1983.

“There are a number of small, unexpectedly funny moments in A Christmas Story, but you have to possess the stamina of a pearl diver to find them,” wrote Vincent Canby of The New York Times in his review titled “Home in Indiana” (11/18/83).

Film Analysis

A Christmas Story is the cinematic gift that keeps on giving. Set in December 1940, this slice of Americana provides a charming look back into a bygone era.

The laughs come hard and fast in this yuletide comedy. One revolves around little Randy Parker, who is so bundled up by his mother that he eventually totters and collapses in the snow, unable to get up because of the mass of clothing that encases his tiny body.

Other memorable scenes include Ralphie’s battle with bully Scut Farkus, hapless Flick’s unfortunate “triple-dog dare” encounter with a frozen flagpole, the Old Man’s run-in with the Bumpus hounds, and the white Christmas that eventually greets the family.

A Christmas Story is holiday hilarious, with all concerned delivering the gift of laughter in what narrator Jean Shepherd nostalgically describes as “lovely, glorious, beautiful Christmas, around which the entire kid year revolved.”

A Christmas Story Trivia

  • After using “the F-dash-dash-dash word,” Ralphie is given a bar of Lifebuoy soap to stick into his dirty mouth.
  • Mr. Parker is described as “an Oldsmobile Man.”
  • Ralphie’s grade on his “What I Want for Christmas” essay: C+.
  • The blatantly commerical message as decoded by Ralphie’s Little Orphan Annie pin: “Be Sure to Drink Ur Ovaltine.”
  • Ralphie and his classmates study the George Eliot novel Silas Marner.
  • Ralphie’s Christmas present from Aunt Clara: a pink bunny costume.
  • The Old Man is thrilled with his Christmas presents: a can of Simoniz and a blue bowling ball.
  • Director Bob Clark plays the Parkers’ none-too-bright neighbor Swede who admires the Old Man’s novelty lamp.

“You’ll shoot your eye out, kid,” the department store Santa warns after hearing of Ralphie’s Red Ryder BB gun wish.

And the kid nearly does…

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