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Based on author Jean Shepherd's short stories (including material from In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash) -- and narrated by Shepherd himself -- A Christmas Story is the story of a childhood Christmas in or around World War Two-era America.
Nine-year-old Ralphie wants one thing for Christmas: a BB gun. It's not just any BB gun he wants, either; his heart is set on an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock (and this thing which tells time). His parents, teachers, and even the department store Santa tell him, in an ever-deepening refrain, "You'll shoot your eye out, kid!"
The film fared badly at the box office in 1983, and didn't win any major awards, but the film has since become a classic, due in part to Ted Turner acquiring the rights to the film and giving it a twenty-four-hour Christmas Eve/Day marathon on either TBS or TNT.
The film spawned a play, as well as two "sequels": the made-for-TV Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss and 1994's It Runs in the Family (aka "My Summer Story"), both of which are notable in that none of the original film's cast members are in either of the others (save actress Tedde Moore [Miss Shields], who appears in the latter).
This is the most acclaimed movie directed by Bob Clark, having been named to the National Film Registry in 2012. If Ralphie's encounter with Santa Claus seemed kinda scary to you when you were a kid, you shouldn't be surprised to learn what the director made before this...
- Adults Are Useless: Played with. While the kids are aware that their parents care for and love them, they also know there are some things you do as kids that they'd best not find out.
Ralphie (narrating): (responding to a teacher's attempt to guilt her class into confessing what happened to Flick) Adults loved to say things like that but kids know better. We knew darn well it was always better not to get caught.
- The Alleged Car: The Old Man's prewar Oldsmobile.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: Sort of. There really are Red Ryder BB guns, but (as of 1983) none that match the exact description given.
- Also for some, Lifebuoy soap. While they don't advertise like they used to (they used to sponsor ads at several baseball stadiums, which tended to get vandalized), it's been continually produced since 1894.
- Angrish: The Old Man's string of profanities.
- ...or lack thereof when he gets really steamed:
Ralphie (narrating): The old man stood there, quivering with fury, stammering as he tried to come up with a real crusher. All he got out was...
- Annoying Laugh: Scut Farkus. You'll get tired of hearing it about ten seconds into his debut scene, when that's ALL HE DOES.
- Artistic License Geography: Even though the film is set in Indiana, there are multiple references to Higbee's, a defunct department store chain based in Ohio. (In fact, the scenes were actually shot at Higbee's flagship in Cleveland.)
- Asian Speekee Engrish: Played for comedy with the kitchen staff of the Chinese restaurant. The owner of the establishment has an excellent accent, however, and gets frustrated by his employees' poor pronunciation.
- Aside Glance: Ralphie looks straight into the camera and grins after tricking his mom into believing that an icicle, rather than his BB gun, was what hit him in the face.
- Atomic F-Bomb: Implied during the tire changing scene.
- Behind the Black: Scut Farkus surprising the three by hanging upside down in the schoolyard. A little hard to see both how anyone didn't notice he was there, or what he was hanging upside-down from.
- Berserk Button: Mrs. Schwartz doesn't take too kindly to finding out about her son's supposed swearing.
- Berserker Tears: Ralphie during his fight with Scut Farkus.
- Big No: Ralphie, after Santa pushes him down the slide upon telling him that he'll shoot his eye out with a Red Ryder BB gun.
- Black Dude Dies First: When Ralphie gets his BB gun and fantasizes about shooting the villains, the black guy gets shot first.
- Blue Eyes: Ralphie, which ties into his Cloudcuckoolander personality.
- Buffy-Speak: The "Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and a thing which tells time." Amazing that Ralphie knew "compass" but not "watch", "clock", or "sundial".
- It actually is a sundial in the original short story, and he's able to say it, though it's implied there that he doesn't know how to spell it, as the theme he writes about it still has the infamous "thing that tells time".
- The Bully: Scut Farkus, and to a lesser extent his toady Grover Dill.
- Bumbling Dad: The Old Man, played masterfully by Darren McGavin. He does strange things and is a bit detached, but you can tell he genuinely loves his family.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Ralphie, especially when Miss Shields has to snap him out of his daydreaming.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Averted through heavy use of euphemisms, but repeatedly implied.
Ralphie (narrating): In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.
- Competition Coupon Madness: In order to get the coveted Little Orphan Annie decoder ring -- which is required to decode the show's secret message -- Ralphie must send in an ungodly number of Ovaltine labels. He collects these labels religiously, drinking Ovaltine far past the point where he's come to hate the stuff, until finally he's collected enough and sends away for the decoder ring. When the ring arrives in the mail, he uses it to decode the secret message, which reads: Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.
- Creator Cameo: The man who directs Ralphie and Randy to the back of the line to see Santa is Jean Shepherd.
Man in Line for Santa: Young man. Hey, kid! Just where do you think you're going?
- Also, director Bob Clark as Swede.
Swede: Hey, Parker, what is that?
- Curb Stomp Battle: Ralphie finally snaps and beats the hell out of Farkus while unleashing a string of profanities.
- Deadpan Snarker: When the department store Santa tells Ralphie that he can't give him a Red Ryder BB Gun because "He'll shoot his eye out" and then kicks him down the slide.
- Dropped Glasses: When Ralphie manages to shoot himself with the Red Ryder.
- Eighties Hair: Ralphie's mom.
- Evil Laugh: Scut Farkus, the bully.
- Eyes of Gold: Again, Scut Farkus.
Narrator: He had yellow eyes! So help me God, yellow eyes!!!
- Feuding Families: The Old Man vs. The Bumpuses. Escalates in It Runs in the Family.
- Foreshadowing: Everyone keeps warning Ralphie that if he gets that BB gun he'll shoot his eye out. He *does* get the BB gun for Christmas... and the first time he shoots, the pellet ricochets so that his glasses get damaged.
Narrator: Oh, my god! I SHOT MY EYE OUT!!
- When the workmen bring the crate into the house and set it upright, the Old Man warns them to be careful. "Watch the lady!" Interesting considering they were delivering the only conflict that the couple has to handle between them during the film.
- The Forties
- Gosh Dang It to Heck: Played with, when the dad clearly wants to curse, but has to Bowdlerise himself. Played straight when the family hears him trying to start the furnace.
- Rumors state that originally, the actor that played the Old Man was really cursing in the scenes where he's speaking Angrish. When the producers got back a rating from the MPAA, they quickly re-dubbed those scenes with harmless euphemisms or gibberish. In fact, right before the tire blows out, the Old man says "dad gummit," but those who can read lips can see him say "goddammit."
- Later lampshaded in the scene in which Ralphie helps his father change a flat tire. After the nuts get knocked out of the hubcap he was holding, he shouts out "Oh, fudge!!!" Only, as he points out himself, he didn't actually say "fudge".
- Happily Married: Not even the "Legendary Battle of the Lamp" can permanently derail Ralphie's parents.
- Hair of the Dog: On Christmas morning the Old Man is rubbing his head and grimacing as if he has a hangover. Apparently a morning bottle of wine is a Christmas tradition at Ralphie's house. After a glass of wine he is back to his usual self.
- Heroic BSOD: After Santa Claus, Ralphie's final hope at getting a Red Ryder BB gun, tells him he'll shoot his eye out Ralphie is left staring blankly up at the ceiling until his parents come find him.
- Homemade Sweater From Hell: Not technically a sweater, but Ralphie's homemade bunny outfit counts.
- Imagine Spot: Many.
- Iris Out
- It Is Pronounced Tro-PAY: Inverted when Dad reads the outside of the crate containing his newly-arrived Major Award.
Dad: Ah. "Fra-gee-lay"...that must be Italian.
- Jerkass: Scut Farkus.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The Old Man.
- Large Ham: Again, the Old Man.
- SHADDAP RALPHIE!
- DON'T A-NY-BO-DY MOVE! A FUSE IS OUT.
- SONSABITCHES!! BUMPUSES!!!!
- EVERYBODY during Ralphie's fantasy daydreams. Ms. Shields is a particular standout ("A Plus-Plus-Plus-Plus...!"), as are the parents' reactions to "Soap poisoning".
- Leitmotif: The Bumpus Hounds, with "Chicken Reel" of all things.
- Mall Santa: Technically, a pre-mall department store Santa, on a mountain-size display that would take up gargantuan amounts of warehouse space 11 months a year.
- Moe Greene Special: The reason everyone's afraid to buy Ralphie the BB gun he wants.
- Mr. Imagination: Ralphie.
- My Beloved Smother: Ralphie's mother at times, particularly in regards to his little brother.
- My God, What Have I Done?: After having his mouth washed out with soap, Ralphie has a daydream where he's blinded from soap poisoning. When he reveals the cause of his blindness to his parents, they amply break down and cry.
The Old Man: I told you not to use Lifebuoy!
- My Little Panzer: "You'll shoot your eye out!"; although, at the time the movie was made, Boys' Life magazine was still running ads for BB guns in every issue.
- My New Gift Is Lame: Ralphie receives a pink bunny suit from his aunt for Christmas.
- Ralph and Randy also don't care for socks.
- Narm: Done intentionally during Ralphie's imagination sequences.
- Noodle Implements: Admittedly minor, but it's a "Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot, range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and a thing that tells time". What kind of thing? Is it a clock or a sundial? There aren't that many "things" that can tell time, so why not call it a clock? We'll never know.
- If The Thing That Tells Time was advertised as a "chronometer", it's entirely possible that 10-year-old Ralphie couldn't pronounce the word.
- No Peripheral Vision: When the teacher asks where Flick is after he stuck his tongue to the pole. The camera shot over her shoulder reveals that Flick was right there, out the window, right within her range of vision.
- Nostalgic Narrator: Voiced by Jean Shepherd himself.
- Opinion Myopia: If you didn't grow up with this movie, and even remotely imply you don't like it, expect 1.) the fan's heads to explode at the mere thought of someone not adoring this classic, and 2.) rip you to shreds for it.
- Peking Duck Christmas: After the neighbors' dogs eat Mrs. Parker's turkey, Mr. Parker takes them to a Chinese restaurant, where they eat Peking Duck (though Ralphie calls it "Chinese Turkey") and sing carols with the owners.
- Phrase Catcher: Everybody all together now, "YOU'LL SHOOT YOUR EYE OUT !!!"
- Precision F-Strike: Oh fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuudge. (Aversion/Lampshading, see "Cluster F-Bomb" above.)
- "Ovaltine? A crummy commercial? Son of a bitch!"
- Product Placement: A Show Within a Show example with the decoded message. "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine."
- "Ovaltine? A crummy commercial?"
- In Real Life, the Little Orphan Annie radio show DID have sponsors for Ovaltine on its show, and yes, they sent out decoder rings, but the secret messages weren't Ovaltine commercials.
- In Real Life, Peter Billingsley was already famous for being the spokesperson for Ovaltine's competitor, Hershey's Chocolate Syrup (His commercials even call Ovaltine out). So this was also a bit of a meta-joke.
- "Ovaltine? A crummy commercial?"
- Redheaded Bully: Scut Farkus is one of the most well known examples.
- The Renfield: Grover Dill is an embryonic, non-supernatural example.
- Safety Worst: Ralphie's mom overdresses his little brother to the point that he can't move his arms, just to protect him from catching a cold.
- Serious Business: When Schwartz issues a "double dog dare", then skips the "triple dare" and goes straight to the "triple dog dare", to make Flick stick his tongue to a frozen pole.
- Shout-Out: or possibly Take That, to Little Orphan Annie among others.
- Soap Punishment: Happens to Ralphie frequently enough that he has become "quite a connoisseur of soap".
- Stop Being Stereotypical: The manager of the Chinese restaurant is fairly embarrassed and annoyed when his employees try to sing Christmas Carols and have a little trouble with the "Ls".
- Strange Minds Think Alike: see Phrase Catcher above.
- Tears of Remorse: See My God, What Have I Done?.
- Tongue on the Flagpole: One of the most famous examples.
- T-Word Euphemism: "It was the word! The big one! The queen mother of dirty words! The "F dash dash dash" word!
- Under Crank: In the Imagine Spot with Ralphie shooting the bad guys, they are in fast-motion. Also, the scene where Ralphie turns in his paper begins and ends with fast-motion scenes of the boys running to and from school, complete with chipmunk voices.
- Unfortunate Names: With a name like "Scut Farkus", you might have become a bully, too!
- Unnamed Parent: Neither of Ralphie's parents are named; they're referred to as "my mother" and "my old man" throughout.
- Unstoppable Rage: Ralphie, when he finally snaps on Scut Farkus.
- The Windy City: Or more specifically, its suburbs in northwest Indiana.
- technically a very accurate clock