We continue our short series of Christmas themed films that for one reason or another are considered classics, regardless of age. This week, A Christmas Story.
Based on a book called ‘In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash,’ a collection of short stories by satirist Jean Shepherd, originally written for Playboy magazine, the family comedy A Christmas Story has become a genuine American classic whose popularity shows no signs of diminishing.
The film was first released in November just before Thanksgiving 1983 and had all but disappeared from theaters before Christmas arrived. Such was the unexpected popularity of the film that complaints were sent to both the studio and theater owners for pulling A Christmas Story out of circuit too early. Some theaters relented and showed the film on select screens until the following year.
For those who have never seen A Christmas Story, the film, set in Indiana during the forties, revolves around young Ralphie and his desire for a Daisy Air Rifle for Christmas. Director Bob Clark had scored such a surprising financial success with the teen-sex comedy Porky’s that the studio gave him the go-ahead to film A Christmas Story. It may be hard to imagine, but the truth is that without Porky’s there would never have been A Christmas Story.
Jack Nicholson was initially interested in playing Ralphie’s father, referred to as ‘The Old Man,’ but the studio, in an effort to keep costs as low as possible, was not interested in paying Nicholson’s fee. Instead, Darren McGavin was eventually given the role.
In an effort to get the right look to the film, the director sent a team of scouts to search around the country for a town that would most resemble an Indiana town of the forties. After visiting at least twenty cities, the director picked areas of Cleveland, Ohio, though the exteriors to young Ralphie’s school were filmed in Ontario, Canada.
The voice of the narrator, which is supposed to be Ralphie as a grown man, is actually the author himself, Jean Shepherd. Shepherd can also be seen in the film. Look for a brief cameo in the department store scene where an irate man tells Ralphie he needs to get to the back of the line if he wants to see Santa. Plus, for the benefit of trivia buffs, the woman standing next to Shepherd is his real life wife, Leigh Brown.
Today, you can visit the home where the fictional Ralphie lived. The house that was used for all the exterior shots went up for auction on eBay for $150,000. A man called Brian Jones bought the house then spent a further $500,000 renovating the building so that it resembled the way it looked in the film. He also bought the house next door and converted it into a gift shop and museum. It has become quite the tourist attraction for devotees of A Christmas Story.