Scott Myers dives in and breaks down the character of Ralphie from the perennial favorite “A Christmas Story”
The season of giving, or in this case – receiving, just does not feel red and green enough until re-watching the definitive American Christmas movie – “A Christmas Story.” But believe it or not, when this winter wonderland was originally released in 1983, it suffered from: a Christmas genre that was “snowman cold”, critics dumping lumps of coal in its stockings, and a box office return that made Saint Nicolas’ naughty list with a meager $19 million. Fast-forward to the 1990?s, the BB gun-begging Ralphie and his mid-Western family have become a Christmas tradition that is so pro-Santa that the Turner Broadcasting cable networks (TBS, TNT, TCM) have had an ongoing tradition of airing a 24-hour “A Christmas Story” marathon. This equals 12 consecutive broadcasts, starting on Christmas Eve and into Christmas Day. Thank God for television and home video….
When you consider that Peter Billingsley, who triumphantly plays the grade school Ralphie, was a virtually unknown child actor and director Bob Clark was anything but the family film guy, having just finished a pair of R-rated teen comedies (Porky’s, Porky’s 2: The Next Day) staring bare breasts in the leading roles – the success of “A Christmas Story” seems impossible on paper. But screenwriters Bob Clark, Jean Shepherd and Leigh Brown got the story right – decorating their holiday tale with timeless details. They gave us the most relatable family possible: the innocent, idealistic older son, the adorable yet equally annoying younger brother, the grumpy, stubborn patriarch and the selfless mother with Zen-level patience to glue them all together. All the Christmas movie staples pierce the page as well: a child’s non-jaded point of view, wide-eyed window shopping, picking the perfect Pine, Santa Clause’s prerequisite appearance and mean-for-no-reason Ebenezer Scrooge/Grinches poisoning the holiday spirit. But without caring about Ralphie, we wouldn’t care if he shot his eye out or not.
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