A Christmas Story (Two-Disc Special Edition)
December 21, 2001
Starring: Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Peter Billingsley, Ian Petrella, Scott Schwartz, R.D. Robb, Tedde Moore, Yano Anaya, Zack Ward, Jeff Gillen, Colin Fox, Paul Hubbard, Leslie Carlson, Jim Hunter, Patty Johnson, ,
For anyone who grew up watching A Christmas Story (1983) on television every year during the holiday season, Christmas has come early in the form of a 2-DVD set celebrating the 20th anniversary of this Yuletide classic. Now, the misadventures of Ralphie, Flick and that oddly alluring leg lamp are given the deluxe DVD treatment.
On the surface, A Christmas Story seems like a nostalgic ode to simpler times, evoking a Norman Rockwell-esque America of the 1940s. Look closer and it becomes apparent that there is a wicked sense of humour at work that cuts through the kind of sappy sentimentality that normally plagues holiday movies. This due in large part to the filmmakers faithfully adapting Jean Shepherd’s novel, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash (the title alone signifies a slightly skewed sensibility).
All nine-year old Ralphie Parker (Billingsley) wants for Christmas is a Red Ryder BB gun. Alas, he is told by every adult, from his parents to even Santa Claus (albeit a department store one), that “you’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” This does little to deter Ralphie who, in between dodging local bully Scut Farkus (Ward), fantasizes about owning his very own Red Ryder air rifle and saving his family from criminals. It is his quest that runs throughout the movie and ties together the many memorable vignettes (the Triple Dog Dare scene, involving a kid sticking his tongue on a frozen metal pole, alone, is worth the price of admission) that populate the narrative.
A Christmas Story has become such a beloved holiday classic because it contains many simple truths that can relate to almost anyone. Who doesn’t remember, as a child, wanting a particular toy so bad that you relentlessly bugged your parents for one? Or the father who takes it upon himself to repair things in the house even though he really isn’t that good at fixing them?
The film also works so well because of the excellent cast. Melinda Dillon plays the beleaguered mother who has to keep all the kids (and dad) in line. Darren McGavin is at his curmudgeonly best as the gruff Old Man who works hard to put food on his family’s table and then buys a lamp in the shape of a curvaceous woman’s leg—much to the mother’s chagrin. And, of course, there’s Peter Billingsley as Ralphie. For such a young, inexperienced actor, he does a great job as the hapless Ralphie, who only wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. There is none of the pretentious mugging for the camera or obvious child actor tics in Billingsley’s performance. It looks like he’s trying not to act and just be himself and this provides the film’s anchor that roots the rest of the performances.
In addition to the movie, the first disc also features the standard theatrical trailer and an audio commentary with none other than Ralphie himself, Peter Billingsley and director (and co-screenwriter) Bob Clark. The two men offer a relaxed commentary as they take a trip down memory lane. Clark mentions at one point that the studio had no interest in the film (because of the relatively low budget) and left him alone to make it his way. The director also talks about his initial choice for the father: Jack Nicholson. Apparently, the actor liked the screenplay but the studio wouldn’t shell out the money for him. Billingsley and Clark look back on the experience of making A Christmas Story with much fondness and give a lot of credit to Jean Shepherd’s original book.
The rest of the supplemental material resides on the second disc. The most substantial extra is an 18-minute featurette by DVD producer J.M. Kenny (who also did a great job on The Blues Brothers and The Perfect Storm DVDs), entitled, “Another Christmas Story.” He not only got Billingsley and Clark back for this retrospective but also Zack Ward (Scut) and Scott Schwartz (Flick). Fans of the movie will be delighted to see that the actors still look a lot like they did when they were kids. There is a fun, irreverent tone to the featurette as the cast talk about how they did the famous Triple Dog Dare scene and the logistical problems of shooting in Cleveland with no snow—instead, making it out of detergent! Sadly, neither Darren McGavin or Melinda Dillon are interviewed and their presence is sorely missed. This featurette, coupled with the audio commentary, gives fans all the behind the scenes anecdotes they could want.
There are two interactive games included, “Triple Dog Dare” a trivia game narrated by Peter Billingsley that tests fans knowledge of the movie (just to make sure you’re paying attention) and “Decoder,” a game where quotes from the movie have to be matched with their corresponding image from the movie.
“Radio” features two audio recordings of Jean Shepherd reading stories from his book, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. He has a great New York voice and it is delight to hear him breathe life into his own stories.
“Daisy Red Ryder: A History” is a five-minute featurette on the origins of Ralphie’s obsession. J.M. Kenny visits the factory in Ohio that makes the rifle.
Finally, “Get A Leg Up,” is a four-minute mockumentary by Kenny on the company that may (or may not—at times it’s hard to tell) manufacture the infamous leg lamp featured so prominently in the movie.
From the appropriately themed menus and humourous extras, the producers of these DVDs have gone to great lengths to make sure that all the supplemental material included on this set is similar in tone and feel to the movie itself. This attention to detail is what really makes these discs a real treat for long-times fans of the movie. The timeless nature of the movie itself will also draw in first-time viewers to this smart, funny holiday story that recalls a bygone era but without laying the sentimentality on in unbearably thick doses that often plague films in more recent years.