Last night I dusted off my DVD copy of "A Christmas Story" and watched the 1983 holiday movie for what had to be the 50th time. It occurred to me that one of the reasons I think this movie was as successful as it was and is still so beloved is because the comedic moments are evenly dispersed throughout. Think about it...how many times have we gone to watch a comedy, or any genre movie for that matter, only to find out that the funniest or best parts were the ones we saw in the coming attractions? Not so with Jean Shepherd's classic. I'm sure we could all list these off the tops of our heads, but for nostalgia's sake, here are the ten most memorable moments for me in the film:
1. Ralphie's little brother: "I can't put my arms dowwwnnnn!!!"
Parents of past generations seemed paranoid about bundling up their brood to protect them from catching pneumonia. When I was five, I had a puffy yellow snowsuit - with stirrup pants to keep them securely in my boots - that I had to wear to kindergarten. A straightjacket would've been more comfortable. But even that wasn't as bad as Randy's winter gear, which made him look like a Michelin Man Mini Me.
2. Flick and the Flagpole
I triple dog dare you not to laugh as poor Flick gets himself into a sticky situation - literally - by following through on a bet that his tongue would not freeze to a flagpole. Even funnier, however, is Ralphie's reaction when Miss Shields admonishes the class into feeling guilty for putting Flick up to the dare. He looks around at his classmates as if one of them was the perpetrator.
3. The Leg Lamp - and its inevitable "accidental" destruction
What man wouldn't want to win his own piece of "electric sex" to display in the front window? What wife wouldn't want to break it into a dozen pieces?
The thought of having my mouth washed out with soap filled me with dread as a kid. Fortunately, it never happened...but poor Ralphie was not so lucky. He said the "queen mother of dirty words." At one point in our childhoods, it did seem downright dirty to even *think* the word; now it's used as a verb, noun, and adjective in any mainstream movie. Ralphie's mother's reaction to learning her son said the word is over-the-top, but Schwartz' mom's reaction (a serious whooping which we hear over the phone) to learning her son taught Ralphie the word (he really learned it from his father) is even worse.
5. Little Orphan Annie's Secret Message
Ralphie - while straining his little brother's kidneys by locking him out of the bathroom - learns the hard way about promotional product placement.
6. "You'll shoot your eye out! You'll shoot your eye out!"
Ralphie, who is proud of his thesis on what he wants for Christmas ("I don't think that a football is a very good Christmas present. Wow, that's great"), daydreams about accolades and being carried around the classroom when Miss Shields declares his paper a masterpiece. What he gets instead is a C+...and images of his teacher dressed like the Wicked Witch of the West, and his mom as a jester, taunting him.
7. Ralphie loses it on Scut Farkus.
For anyone who was ever bullied growing up, this scene is sweet justice. Who didn't fantasize about beating their nemesis to a bloody pulp, and getting away with it?
8. Drunk Santa
Who would want to see Santa after watching this scene? Everything about it was a nightmare...the weird kid in the never ending line, the cranky, impatient elves, grouchy Santa (whose red nose indicated to me that he was drinking on the job), being whipped around before being placed on his lap, and the scary high slide to send visitors on their way.
9. The Pink Nightmare
Everyone has received at least one useless gift in their lifetime. However, none of them can top the hideous Easter Bunny costume/pajamas that Ralphie receives from his aunt. Worse, his mom thinks the getup is "precious." Thank goodness for Dad's sensibility: "Tell the kid to take it off!"
10. Ralphie gets his BB gun/Ralphie really does shoot his eye out
The way that Ralphie's dad came through for him and gives him the BB gun after all of the presents have been ripped open and set aside really does get to me a bit. It recalls the joys of childhood when you got what you really wanted. And did we not all hold our breaths when the BB pellet bounced off the target and hit Ralphie in the face?
And just in case no one knows what he looks like today, this is cute Peter Billingsley aka Ralphie all grown up. He's branched off into producing and directing films (he most recently directed the Vince Vaughan comedy "Couples Retreat.") He'll forever be known as Ralphie Parker, lover of Red Ryder BB guns.