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Film: A Christmas Story

Based on author Jean Shepherd's short stories (including material from In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash) — and narrated by Shepherd himself — A Christmas Story is the story of a childhood Christmas in or around World War II-era America.

Nine-year-old Ralphie wants one thing for Christmas: a BB gun. It's not just any BB gun he wants, either; his heart is set on an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock (and this thing which tells time). His mother, teachers, and even the department store Santa tell him, in an ever-deepening refrain, "You'll shoot your eye out, kid!"

A Christmas Story did only modest box-office business in 1983, and didn't win any major awards, but the film has since become a holiday classic, due in part to Ted Turner acquiring the rights to the film and giving it a twenty-four-hour Christmas Eve/Day marathon on either TBS or TNT.

The film spawned a play, as well as two "sequels": the made-for-TV Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss and 1994's It Runs in the Family (aka "My Summer Story", not to be confused with the Kirk/Michael Douglas collaboration), both of which are notable in that none of the original film's cast members are in either of the others (save actress Tedde Moore [Miss Shields], who appears in the latter). A Direct-to-Video sequel called A Christmas Story 2 was released in October 2012. You can watch the trailer here.

This is the most acclaimed movie directed by Bob Clark. If Ralphie's encounter with Santa Claus seemed kinda scary to you when you were a kid, you shouldn't be surprised to learn what the director made before this. His previous and later work indicates this film was basically a fluke.

This movie provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The stage show version of the movie adds a few more scenes between Ralphie's parents, a few more scenes with Flick and Schwartz, some extra narration, as well as expands on the throwaway character Esther Jane (the girl that says hello to Ralphie at Santa's mountain), giving her more lines and a couple rather sweet exchanges with Ralphie.
  • Adults Are Useless: Played with. While the kids are aware that their parents care for and love them, they also know there are some things you do as kids that they'd best not find out.
    Ralphie (narrating): (responding to a teacher's attempt to guilt her class into confessing what happened to Flick) Adults loved to say things like that but kids know better. We knew darn well it was always better not to get caught.
  • Advertising Campaigns / Affectionate Parody: In 2006 Cingular (now AT&T) ran ads parodying the film. Instead of the 'Red Ryder'/'you'll shoot your eye out' call and response, the commercials had Ralphie ask for a Cingular phone with the call back 'you'll run the bill up, kid!'.
    • In 2013 TBS ran ads featuring the cast of Cougar Town parodying scenes from the film (such as the little piggies and the pink bunny scenes) generally after the scenes occurred in the 24 hour marathon, in order to promote Town's new season starting Jan 7th of the following year.
  • The Alleged Car: The Old Man's 1937 Oldsmobile.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Sort of. There really are Red Ryder BB guns, but (as of 1983) none that match the exact description given.
    • Also for some, Lifebuoy soap. While they don't advertise like they used to (they used to sponsor ads at several baseball stadiums, which tended to get vandalized), it's been continually produced since 1894.
    • While it's most associated with this movie, the "Drink More Ovaltine" ring decoded message was a very real thing that dates all the way back to the 1930's.
  • Angrish: The Old Man's string of profanities.
    • ...or lack thereof when he gets really steamed:
      Ralphie (narrating): The old man stood there, quivering with fury, stammering as he tried to come up with a real crusher. All he got out was...
      The Old Man: NADDAFINGA!
    • This also seems to be Mrs. Schwartz’s first language.
  • Annoying Laugh: Farkus' Evil Laugh qualifies.
  • Artistic License - Geography: Even though the film is set in Indiana, there are multiple references to Higbee's, a defunct department store chain based in Ohio. (In fact, the scenes were actually shot at Higbee's flagship in Cleveland.)
  • Aside Glance: Ralphie looks straight into the camera and grins after tricking his mom into believing that an icicle, rather than his BB gun, was what hit him in the face.
  • Atomic F-Bomb: Implied in the tire-changing scene.
  • Barbaric Bully: Scut Farkus.
  • Behind the Black: Farkus surprising the three by hanging upside down in the schoolyard. A little hard to see both how anyone didn't notice he was there, or what he was hanging upside-down from.
  • Berserk Button: Mrs. Schwartz doesn't take too kindly to finding out about her son's supposed swearing.
    • The Old Man has SEVERAL. (His furnace, his car, his kids' roller-skates, the Bumpus' dogs). Oddly enough, when the dogs invade the house and eat his beloved turkey, The Old Man just wearily tells his family to get dressed to go out to eat.
  • Berserker Tears: Ralphie while beating Farkus to a bloody pulp.
  • Big "NO!": Ralphie, after Santa pushes him down the slide upon telling him that he'll shoot his eye out with a Red Ryder BB gun.
  • Big "OMG!": Mrs. Shields, when she learns where Flick is the hard way.
    • Also, Ralphie: "Oh my God, I shot my eye out!"
  • Black Dude Dies First: When Ralphie gets his BB gun and fantasizes about shooting the villains, the black guy gets shot first.
  • Buffy Speak: The "Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and a thing which tells time."
  • The Bully: Scut Farkus, and to a lesser extent, his toady Grover Dill.
  • Bumbling Dad: The Old Man, played masterfully by Darren McGavin. He does strange things and is a bit detached, but you can tell he genuinely loves his family.
  • Butt Monkey: Flick, Farkus's most frequent target as well as the poor sap that gets his tongue stuck on a pole. Especially in the stage version. "That's my sore arm!"
    • Ralph is because he falls victim to the response of "You'll shoot your eye out!", whenever he requests a BB Gun as a Christmas present, and a few other letdowns even as a result of him being a habitual daydreamer.
    • Randy is whenever he is pressured into wearing an incredibly thick snowsuit.
    • The Old Man is on account of how he always falls victim to having to deal with something going wrong with mechanical devices, with the exception of one item; and having to be the victim of dozens of a neighbors' dogs always intruding.
    • The mother is a little bit on account of what she has to put up with according to her somewhat stern attitude.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Ralphie, especially when Miss Shields has to snap him out of his daydreaming.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Averted through heavy use of euphemisms, but repeatedly implied.
    Ralphie (narrating): In the heat of battle, my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.
  • Competition Coupon Madness: In order to get the coveted Little Orphan Annie decoder ring — which is required to decode the show's secret message — Ralphie must send in an ungodly number of Ovaltine labels. He collects these labels religiously, drinking Ovaltine far past the point where he's come to hate the stuff, until finally he's collected enough and sends away for the decoder ring. When the ring arrives in the mail, he uses it to decode the secret message, which reads: Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.
  • Creator Cameo: The man who directs Ralphie and Randy to the back of the line to see Santa is Jean Shepherd.
    Man in Line for Santa: Young man. Hey, kid! Just where do you think you're going?
    Ralphie: Going up to see Santa.
    Man in Line for Santa: The line ends here. It begins there.
    • Also, director Bob Clark as Swede.
    Swede: Hey, Parker, what is that?
    Mr. Parker: Don't bother me now, Swede, can't you see I'm busy?
    Swede: Yeah, but what is that?
    Mr. Parker: I-i-i-it-uh-It's a Major Award!
    Swede: A Major Award? Shucks, I wouldn'ta knowed that. It looks like a lamp.
    Mr. Parker: It IS a lamp, you nincompoop. But it's a Major Award. I won it!
    Swede: Damn, hell, you say you won it?
    Mr. Parker: Yeah, mind power, Swede; mind power.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Ralphie finally snaps and beats the tar out of Farkus while unleashing a string of profanities.
    • And Ralphie is more concerned over getting in trouble for his language than for pulverizing Farkus.
  • Deadpan Snarker: When the department store Santa tells Ralphie that he can't give him a Red Ryder BB Gun because "He'll shoot his eye out" and then kicks him down the slide.
    • The Old Man's reaction to Ralphie's bunny pyjamas. "He looks like a deranged Easter Bunny..."
  • Disappointed In You: Mrs. Shields discusses and tries to invoke this after Flick is freed from the flagpole, having correctly deduced that his classmates coerced him into getting stuck to begin with.
  • Dropped Glasses: When Ralphie manages to shoot himself with the Red Ryder.
  • '80s Hair: Ralphie's mom. Bit of Anachronism Stew.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Even the mall Santa worries that Ralphie may shoot his eye out and wishes him a Merry Christmas before shoving him back down the slide.
  • Evil Laugh: Farkus.
  • Fall Guy: Flick, one of Ralphie's friends, is left to Farkus' mercy several times. (At one point, when his tongue becomes stuck to a metal pole, his friends even leave him stuck outside, and the authorities have to remove him from the pole.)
  • Feet-First Introduction: The pink bunny suit. The camera starts at Ralphie's feet, and pans up.
  • Feuding Families: The Old Man vs. The Bumpuses.
  • Foreshadowing: Everyone keeps warning Ralphie that if he gets that BB gun he'll shoot his eye out. He *does* get the BB gun for Christmas... and the first time he shoots, the pellet ricochets back into his face.
    Narrator: Oh my God, I shot my eye out!
    • He soon realizes that his eye is fine and that the pellet only knocked his glasses off.
    • When the workmen bring the crate into the house and set it upright, the Old Man warns them to be careful. "Watch the lady!" Interesting considering they were delivering the only conflict that the couple has to handle between them during the film.
    • The FRAGILE warning on the crate the lamp was delivered in.
  • Flipping Helpless: Ralphie's little brother is dressed up in so many layers for the Indiana winter, he can't get back up when he falls down. The narrator even mentions he looks like a turtle on his back.
  • The Forties: The time-period in which this film takes place.note 
  • Freak Out: Ralphie's beatdown of Farkus.
    "Something had happened. A fuse blew and I had gone out of my skull."
  • Generation Xerox: Ralphie and his father are more alike than it initially seems.
    • Both employ a long list of expletives whenever they lose their tempers.
    • Both are very excited when they believe they have won a particular prize.
    • Ralphie is pretty cynical for a kid and it seems he gets it from his old man, who can also be a bit grumpy.
  • Genki Girl: Esther Jane in the stage show.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: After the Old Man gets his nuts squashed with his Christmas gift, a bowling ball, he announces what he got to the room.
    Well, it's a blue ball!
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Played with, when the dad clearly wants to curse, but has to Bowdlerise himself. Played straight when the family hears him trying to start the furnace.
    • Rumors state that originally, the actor that played the Old Man was really cursing in the scenes where he's speaking Angrish. When the producers got back a rating from the MPAA, they quickly re-dubbed those scenes with harmless euphemisms or gibberish. In fact, right before the tire blows out, the Old man says "dad gummit," but those who can read lips can see him say "goddammit."
    • Later lampshaded in the scene in which Ralphie helps his father change a flat tire. After the nuts get knocked out of the hubcap he was holding, he shouts out "Oh, fudge!!!" Only, as he points out himself, he didn't actually say "fudge".
      "It was the word! The big one! The queen mother of dirty words... The "F-dash-dash-dash" word!"
  • Happily Married: Not even the "Legendary Battle of the Lamp" can permanently derail Ralphie's parents.
  • Hair of the Dog: On Christmas morning the Old Man is rubbing his head and grimacing as if he has a hangover. Apparently a morning bottle of wine is a Christmas tradition at Ralphie's house. After a glass of wine he is back to his usual self.
  • Heroic BSOD: After Santa Claus, Ralphie's final hope at getting a Red Ryder BB gun, tells him he'll shoot his eye out, Ralphie is left staring blankly up at the ceiling until his parents come find him.
  • Homemade Sweater From Hell: Not technically a sweater, but Ralphie's homemade bunny outfit counts.
  • Imagine Spot: Many.
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: It's kind of hard to ignore Ralphie's bright blue eyes throughout the course of the film, especially considering the narrative.
  • Innocent Swearing: Subverted, then double subverted. Ralphie knows exactly what, ahem, "fudge" means, but considering he's only imitating his father, one could say he should get off the hook. Which he does after beating up Farkus, during which time he was swearing profusely. Inverted with Schwartz; in no way is his swearing innocent. The third word out of his mouth is a swear word, for goodness' sakes.
  • Instant Soprano: The Old Man, after his Christmas gift (a bowling ball) is unceremoniously dumped onto his tender bits.
  • Intentional Engrish for Funny: The singers at the Chinese restaurant clearly have very little skill with English phonetics.
  • Iris Out
  • It's Pronounced Tro-PAY: Inverted when Dad reads the outside of the crate containing his newly-arrived Major Award.
    Dad: Ah. "Fra-gee-lay"...that must be Italian.
    Mom: I think that says "fragile", honey.
  • It's the Best Whatever, Ever!: In narration, Ralphie declares that the leg lamp "was, indeed, a lamp", and refers to it as "the soft glow of electric sex". Mr. Parker can't stop raving about the lamp himself.
  • Jerkass: Farkus, big time.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The Old Man.
  • Large Ham: Again, the Old Man.
    • YOUUU USED UP ALL THE GLUUUUE ON PURPOSE!! has to be Darren's HAMMIEST line. Just look at his face when he says it!
    • Farkus with his Evil Laugh.
    • Everybody during Ralphie's fantasy daydreams. Ms. Shields is a particular standout ("A Plus-Plus-Plus-Plus...!"), as are the parents' reactions to "Soap poisoning".
  • Leitmotif: The Bumpus Hounds, with "Chicken Reel" of all things.
    • And Scut Farkus with the Wolf's theme from Peter and the Wolf. (Interesting side note: "Farkus" comes from the Hungarian word for wolf.)
    • Ralphie's Imagine Spot of rescuing his family from Black Bart finds him accompanied by "On the Trail" from Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite.
  • Lemony Narrator
  • Mall Santa: Technically, a pre-mall department store Santa, on a mountain-size display that would take up gargantuan amounts of warehouse space 11 months a year.
  • Moe Greene Special: The reason everyone's afraid to buy Ralphie the BB gun he wants.
  • Mr. Imagination: Ralphie.
  • My Beloved Smother: Ralphie's mother at times, particularly in regards to his little brother.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: After having his mouth washed out with soap, Ralphie has a daydream where he's blinded from soap poisoning. When he reveals the cause of his blindness to his parents, they amply break down and cry.
    The Old Man: I told you not to use Lifebuoy!
  • My Little Panzer: "You'll shoot your eye out!"; although, at the time the movie was made, Boys' Life magazine was still running ads for BB guns in every issue.
  • My New Gift Is Lame:
    • Ralphie receives a pink bunny suit from his aunt for Christmas.
    • Ralph and Randy also don't care for socks.
  • Narm: Done intentionally during Ralphie's imagination sequences. invoked
  • Nice Character, Mean Actor: The mall Santa is a cynical guy who's purely in it for the money and is planning to leave the second his agreed shift is over. However, he does warn Ralphie that a bibi gun will shoot his eye out when he asks him for one. The elves are even worse, being openly mean to the kids.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: The film (and the book it's derived from) is set in Hohman, Indiana, which is a slightly disguised version of Jean Shepherd's real-life hometown, Hammond, Indiananote .
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Ralphie delivers a brutal one to Farkus.
  • Noodle Implements: Admittedly minor, but it's a "Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot, range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and a thing that tells time". What kind of thing? Is it a clock or a sundial?
  • No Peripheral Vision: When the teacher asks where Flick is after he stuck his tongue to the pole. The camera shot over her shoulder reveals that Flick was right there, out the window, right within her range of vision.
  • Nostalgic Narrator: Voiced by Jean Shepherd himself.
  • Peking Duck Christmas: After the neighbors' dogs eat Mrs. Parker's turkey, Mr. Parker takes them to a Chinese restaurant, where they eat Peking Duck (though Ralphie calls it "Chinese Turkey") and sing carols with the owners.
  • Phrase Catcher: Everybody all together now, "YOU'LL SHOOT YOUR EYE OUT !!!"
  • Precision F-Strike: Oh fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuudge. (Aversion/Lampshading, see "Cluster F-Bomb" above.)
    • "Ovaltine? A crummy commercial? Son of a bitch!"
  • Product Placement: A Show Within a Show example with the decoded message. "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine." In Real Life, the Little Orphan Annie radio show DID have sponsors for Ovaltine on its show, and yes, they sent out decoder rings, but the secret messages weren't Ovaltine commercials. Peter Billingsley was already famous for being the spokesperson for Ovaltine's competitor, Hershey's Chocolate Syrup (his commercials even call Ovaltine out). So this was also a bit of a meta-joke.
  • Red Right Hand: Farkus's yellow eyes; Grover Dill's green teeth.
  • Redheaded Bully: Scut Farkus is one of the most well known examples.
  • Rule of Three: Two kids put small gifts on the teachers desk....followed by Ralphie bringing in a giant fruit basket, accompanied by a brief bit of Hawaiian steel guitar in the incidental music.
  • Running Gag: In the stage show:
    • "What's for dinner?" "Lettuce and red cabbage."
    • "That's my sore arm!"
    • And of course, in both versions, "YOU'LL SHOOT YOUR EYE OUT!"
    • In the film, the kids getting chased by Scut and Grover to and from school, with Randy lagging behind both groups.
      • Almost always in fast-motion, with Randy's voice, sped-up, "Aw, c'mon guys! Wait up!"
  • Sycophantic Servant: Grover Dill is an embryonic, non-supernatural example.
  • Safety Worst: Ralphie's mom overdresses his little brother to the point that he can't move his arms, just to protect him from catching a cold.
  • Serious Business:
    • When Schwartz issues a "double dog dare", then skips the "triple dare" and goes straight to the "triple dog dare", to make Flick stick his tongue to a frozen pole.
    • Ralphie decoding Annie's secret message, and really his whole obsession with the Red Ryder BB gun.
  • Shot in the Ass: In Ralphie's Imagine Spot about driving off a gang of robbers with his BB gun, he shoots one trying to escape right in the ass.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Soap Punishment: Happens to Ralphie frequently enough that he has become "quite a connoisseur of soap".
  • Spit Take: Mrs. Parker tries the Lifebuoy soap, and realizes that she really doesn't like it.
  • Stop Being Stereotypical: The manager of the Chinese restaurant is fairly embarrassed and annoyed when his employees try to sing Christmas Carols and have a little trouble with the "Ls".
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: See Phrase Catcher above.
  • Stupid Statement Dance Mix: TBS made a set of these using clips of the film's most popular scenes, and uses them during their perennial marathon.
  • Taps: Ralphie's Old Man buries the broken lamp in the back yard. Ralphie couldn't be sure, but he thought he heard Taps playing.
  • Tears of Remorse: See My God, What Have I Done?.
  • The Remake: While not a direct remake, several elements of the film were reused from Jean Shepherd's previous made-for-TV films about Ralphie Parker. 1976's "Phantom of the Open Hearth" includes a lengthy subplot about the Old Man's leg lamp, which was largely repeated (with only small alterations) for this film. Likewise, that film sees one of the Old Man's buddies being abandoned by his friends in the midst of a bad situation - a subtle inspiration for Flick's tongue/pole saga. The 1982 follow-up film, "The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters" sees the first on-screen usage of 'You'll shoot your eye out' when Randy wants fireworks. Allegedly, an almost entirely unknown and never aired telefilm produced in 1978 for ABC contains many elements later used in this film, including the birth of "Ohhhhh, fudge" (albeit spoken by Randy).
    • More of "Phantom of the Open Hearth", specifically Mom's gravy boat catastrophe, ended up in the 1994 theatrical sequel "My Summer Story."
  • Tongue on the Flagpole: One of the most famous examples.
  • T-Word Euphemism: "It was the word! The big one! The queen mother of dirty words! The "F dash dash dash" word!
  • Undercrank: In the Imagine Spot with Ralphie shooting the bad guys, they are in fast-motion. Also, the scene where Ralphie turns in his paper begins and ends with fast-motion scenes of the boys running to and from school, complete with chipmunk voices.
  • Unfortunate Names: With a name like "Scut Farkus", you might have become a bully, too.
  • Unnamed Parent: Neither of Ralphie's parents are named; they're referred to as "my mother" and "my old man" throughout.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Ralphie flies into one when he finally snaps at Farkus.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: "What kind of parents would name their kid 'Scut?' Still, I had to admit, the name suited him." Also, unless it's a nickname, which is not made clear, what parent names a kid "Flick?" If there were any way to make your child an instant Butt Monkey...

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Chop ShopRoger Ebert Great Movies ListThe Circus
Two Lane BlacktopNational Film RegistrySlacker
Jacob Marley ApparelImageSource/Live-Action FilmsIt Is Pronounced Tro-PAY

alternative title(s): A Christmas Story
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