Still Lingering Questions on A Christmas Story

(This is a preview of the PopRox column that will appear in Sunday’s Pocono Record.)

When it comes to Christmas movies, nothing touches A Christmas Story. Not even Die Hard.

But it’s not perfect, and I still have some questions after about a thousand viewings:

Why is Ralphie so scared when Miss Shields is passive aggressively lambasting him and Schwartz for goading Flick up to the tongue-to-the-flagpole thing? Ralphie didn’t do squat! He sat there and watched it, which, incidentally, is the same thing every other kid in the class did. I know there’s no security-tape footage Miss Shields can go back and check, but he’s got the truth on his side, why is he sweating it so much? Piece of advice to all third-graders: When you look guilty, you are guilty. You’re welcome.

Scott Farkus and Grover Dill have to be the least intimidating pair of bullies in schoolyard history. If those are the biggest kids in school, I’d hate to be on Warren G. Harding Elementary School’s football team getting creamed by opposing linemen on a weekly basis.

learn to play it cool, kid

More of Ralphie taking too much blame. In the “fudge” scene, when Ralphie is holding on to the hubcap with the lug nuts of the wheel, the Old Man is the one who carelessly isn’t paying attention and knocks them all over the road. So what does the Old Man do? The lazy dad thing, immediately looking at Ralphie with the “How can you be so dumb!” look on his face, causing Ralphie to drop an F-bomb and setting in motion a series of events that includes another kid getting knocked around by his mom. C’mon, dads. You’re better than that.

Why is A Christmas Story only aired at Christmas? Haven’t we gotten by the stereotype of it being solely a Christmas movie? When you’re home on a Saturday night at 10 in the middle of June trolling through the channels and your basic-cable movie choices are Daredevil on FX, Shawshank Redemption on AMC, the Adam Sandler version of The Longest Yard on Spike and 40-Year-Virgin on Comedy Central, you’re at least considering checking out A Christmas Story on TBS, right?

of course they're together, it makes total sense.

I know the literacy standards were somewhat lax in the workforce in the 1930s, something that has been, for the most part, corrected. But every morning, we see the Old Man reading the paper. It’s the sports section, yeah, but he reads it every single solitary morning that we see him. So unless he’s faking reading it in some elaborate overcompensation ruse, you can’t tell me that he doesn’t know how to pronounce “fragile” when he sees it on a large delivery box.

Darren McGavin was 61 and looked it when he made this movie as the Old Man. Melinda Dillon as the Mother was 44. And they’re together? He’s 17 years older than her, he seems like the antithesis of fun, he threatens the use of screwdrivers to make his kids eat, he curses like a sailor, he goes behind your back to buy dangerous Christmas gifts that result in your son nearly going blind, he isn’t exactly much to look at and to top it off, he may or may not be able to read. Back off ladies, he’s taken! It’s the most impressive bit of largely unnoticed casting in the history of Hollywood.

Jean Shepherd’s narration is nearly flawless. But how can you weave a tapestry of obscenities that can hang in space over Lake Michigan? Is it like a magic carpet or something? That bugs me every single time I hear it. It’s one of those lines that you have no idea what it means, but you laugh at it because it sounds funny. Kinda like every line of Louie.

Hugbie’s is closing, so they have to get Ralphie and Randy in to see Santa and out of there. Got it. So after their parents find them 10 minutes later still heaped over at the bottom of the slide, why is Santa still seeing kids? And why is he so nice and jolly now? What happened to the douche who literally kicked Ralphie down the slide?

More with the Santa thing: Did parents not hang out with the kids in line back in the 30s? If they didn’t can I go back to that time? Umm, please?

hey everyone, it's a lamp! let's look at it!

Do the Parkers live in the most boring neighborhood in America? The Old Man puts up a leg-shaped lamp, and less than two minutes later, everyone for three blocks is outside staring at it, even stopping traffic. Get a life, people of Cleveland Street! While it may be “electric sex gleaming in the window,” it’s just a lamp!

Two things that somewhat ruin the viewing of the movie now for me: 1. The ridiculous way it’s been commercialized, enough to warrant its own section in many department stores and 2. the fact that Peter Billingsley, the actor who played Ralphie, is now BFFs with Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau. Don’t ask me why this bugs me, it just does.

It makes me feel better that I know useless trivia facts like the name of the secretary at Dewey High School in Growing Pains (it’s Estelle) when I am informed that apparently everyone other than the Old Man knew the name of the Lone Ranger’s nephew’s horse. And I just looked it up — Victor is correct.

What’s carbine action? Is it confined to BB-gun performance? Is it something I should be looking for in other products? The next time I buy a car, should I be asking the salesperson what kind of carbine action the car gets?

I just checked, and there is no entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for “Longest time watching A Christmas Story.” Shouldn’t there be? If you’re in college and you had nothing to do on break, and you actually got through the traditional 24-hour marathon, and you knew the record was, say, 54 hours, wouldn’t you pop in the Blu-ray and take a shot at the title? That’s a ton of “ands” but I’m surprised no one has thought about trying it. No one other than me, I mean.

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