OK, we know A Christmas Story (1983) isn’t a heist movie.
But, with a few tweaks, it could be.
The film is set during the holiday season in the early 1940s. It centres on Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), a nine year-old boy who desperately wants a BB gun for Christmas.
Now, this isn’t a regular BB gun. This is an “official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.” Ralphie has committed these product features to memory, and his reciting them is part of his Sales Pitch to the dim-witted adults in his life.
A Christmas Story is a funny, irreverent movie that pokes gentle fun at traditions and families, but it’s also an affectionate look at childhood and its Ups and Downs.
It’s a highly-quotable film, e.g. “You’ll shoot your eye out!” and “I triple-dog dare you!” (Our favourite, often quoted in our house, is, “Fra-JEE-lay”.)
The film is, essentially, a collection of childhood vignettes, based on the works of American writer/humourist Jean Shepherd, who also narrates the film.
But the thing that drives the action is that fabulous Red Ryder BB gun, and Ralphie’s single-minded Determination to get it for Christmas.
So. If A Christmas Story were to become a heist movie, we would need these elements: highly coveted loot; a team of disparate individuals; and a Daring Plan.
The Loot in A Christmas Story, as we’ve already seen, is the coveted BB gun. What kid in the early 1940s wouldn’t want one?
As for the team of disparate individuals, those would be Ralphie’s friends, but Ralphie, oddly, doesn’t include them in his Rifle-Owning Quest. His is a solitary Mission.
But the Planning! Ralphie is a master Schemer and Strategist. He calculates the Obstacles in his path, i.e. uncooperative adults, and he attempts to turn them into allies. For instance, he sneaks a rifle advertisement between the pages of his mother’s Look magazine, and writes a BB-Gun-Themed essay to influence his teacher.
Alas, these efforts come to naught, and he is reduced to a Hail Mary Pass: A plea to a department store Santa, whom Ralphie refers to as “the big guy, the connection”.
This particular Santa, however, is a shady character, an abrasive kingpin who doesn’t like Wasting Time. He not above kicking children down slides if he thinks the kids are inept.
These forays into murky territory are few. Dark humour is blended with nostalgia, which makes this film an endearing holiday classic.
A Christmas Story was released before the American Thanksgiving holiday in 1983, and it enjoyed modest success before becoming a “sleeper hit”.
Production costs were approx. $3.3 million US, and the film eventually grossed $19.3 million US worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.
The film was directed (and co-written) by Bob Clark, an American who became a prolific and versatile filmmaker in Canada during the 1970s and 1980s. His films included Black Christmas (1974) and Porky’s (1981).
A Christmas Story was filmed mostly in Cleveland, Ohio, and Toronto, Ontario – and we’d be remiss if we didn’t recommend the quirky Canadian documentary Road Trip for Ralphie (2008), which visits and lovingly details all the shooting locations in the film.
Is A Christmas Story a tradition in your house? If so, let us know some of your favourite scenes.
A Christmas Story: starring Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin. Directed by Bob Clark. Written by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown & Bob Clark. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1983, Colour, 93 mins.