‘A Christmas Story’ makes an early seasonal appearance


Movie Review

Peter Billingsley in “A Christmas Story”

“You’ll shoot your eye out.”

Whether you’re a holiday-movie connoisseur or just a casual viewer, you likely know where that line comes from and who (time and again) it’s directed toward. Fans of “A Christmas Story” needn’t worry — it still will get its traditional 24-hour marathon starting on Christmas Eve on TBS and TNT — but the richly nostalgic 1983 comedy classic also makes an earlier TNT appearance this year on Monday, Dec. 6.

Based on the writings of humorist Jean Shepherd, who narrates the picture, the Bob Clark-directed tale follows eager young Ralphie (a perfectly cast Peter Billingsley) through a long-ago Christmas season when he has his heart set on one very particular gift: a Red Ryder BB gun, which everyone from his mother (Melinda Dillon) to his teacher (Tedde Moore) to a department-store Santa Claus (Jeff Gillen) warns him about. For the specific warning, check the first sentence of this article again.

However, there’s plenty else competing for Ralphie’s attention during the holidays. Take his younger brother Randy’s (Ian Petrella) unique way of eating a meal. Or the never-ending battle that their gruff father (Darren McGavin) wages against the household furnace. Or school pal Flick (Scott Schwartz), who accepts a “triple dog dare” and ends up getting his tongue stuck to a frozen pole. Or the decoder ring that has a disappointing result for Ralphie when he deciphers the secret message conveyed by the “Little Orphan Annie” radio program.

Such are the wonderful touches laced throughout “A Christmas Story,” and we haven’t even gotten to the turkey-dinner disaster or Ralphie literally getting his mouth washed out with soap. What really makes “A Christmas Story” endure so warmly for so many devotees, though, is the strong dose of heart it has along with the many laughs it goes for.

Much of the credit for that goes to Dillon and McGavin as two of the very few adults the movie pays attention to — which makes sense, since “ A Christmas Story” really is Ralphie’s story told from a youthful perspective. Dillon has a particularly wonderful scene when she retrieves Ralphie from a schoolyard fight he atypically gets the upper hand in, while McGavin is more sly in playing his sentimental hand, which he does toward the end in the film’s big payoff scene. (We won’t spoil it here.)

It’s no surprise that many of the “A Christmas Story” faithful watch the film multiple times during its yearly marathons, since the movie captures the feel of the holiday ideally. Plus, by now, so many of its elements are iconic that it would feel like something was amiss without at least one viewing of it every December. Happily enough, that time has come again.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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