REVIEWS: Christmas classics
SHULL: “A Christmas Story”
This week I was given the task of writing about a DVD of my choice. Being Christmas weekend, I had a lot of holiday options. I have already covered my family’s favorite with the write-up of, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” but I am glad to get the chance to write about another of my holiday favorites. This is one that I can never get out of my head during this time of year. It is the perfect holiday film and one I have seen probably every year since it’s release in 1983. It is the classic, “A Christmas Story.”
Bob Clark directed the film. It stars Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin as the parents of Peter Billingsey’s character, Ralphie Parker. The setting is 1940’s Indiana and the main conflict of the story involves Ralphie trying to convince his parents to buy him a BB gun for Christmas. Not any BB gun though. He needs a Daisy, Red Ryder, 200 shot Carbine Action rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time. The problem is that every adult in his life is sure he will, “Shoot his eye out.”
For those who have seen this film, most find it impossible to deny its charm. It literally takes you into a Norman Rockwell painting and lets you experience a world that, in today’s day and age, in virtually nonexistent. It refreshes all the clichés and reminds you how they became clichés in the first place.
“A Christmas Story” has schoolyard bullies, tongues frozen to flagpoles, hilariously heroic classroom daydreams and honest family relationships. One of the standout scenes is a visit to the mall Santa that is shown mostly from the kid’s point of view. It is not so much a fun adventure as it is a once a year, nervous opportunity to convince the one-and-only Santa himself, that you are indeed worthy of that one perfect gift.
This is an amazingly nostalgic film that is good for kids and adults alike. The best part is that you probably won’t have to even rent the DVD. Just turn on your TV anytime around Christmas and you are sure to find it. Even though you are probably reading this after Christmas, as long as there is still some winter left, there is always a good time for this film.
WIEGENSTEIN: “The Shop Around The Corner”
Considering that we are told, repeatedly, that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, it’s curious to remember just how many movies about the holiday begin in deeply unhappy places. In everything from “A Christmas Carol” to “The Santa Clause,” our heroes and heroines are in states of cynicism, about as far away from holly-jolly as it’s possible to be. Luckily, December 24th rolls around at the climatic moment to remind them (and us) of the inherent merriness in the season. Even the undying classic “It’s A Wonderful Life,” it must be noted, gets set in motion by its protagonist about to leap from a bridge.
“The Shop Around The Corner,” Ernst Lubitsch’s 1940 romance, is no exception to this trend. The film winds down with scenes of goodwill and cheer at the titular store, and ultimately closes with a decidedly sexy (if as buttoned-up as they come) encounter between leads James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. But before the audience arrives there, Lubitsch deftly maneuvers through narratives involving infidelity, unemployment and suicide.
Two salesclerks working the pre-Christmas rush loathe each other. Meanwhile, they find themselves enamored with their respective mysterious penpals. If the outcome seems obvious, that’s because it is. The fun comes from watching the inevitable unfold bit by bit, particularly once the second act—when only 50% of the couple realizes what’s going on—kicks into gear.
The movie may be better known to many as the source material for 1998’s “You’ve Got Mail” (as well as two musicals and a successful British television show), a modernized remake nearly as good as its forefather. But I myself am a sucker for actual handwritten letters, therefore it’s the original that I always return to. Waxing poetic about an AOL alert sound just doesn’t hit the same emotional chord, somehow.
Plus, come on. One has Jimmy Stewart, and the other doesn’t. (Sorry, Tom.) His work here as testy clerk Alfred Kralik is among the best in his career, allowing him to swing between utter lovesickness and biting insults, sometimes within a single scene. He’s well-matched against Klara (Sullavan), who delivers equally nasty comments with airy laughter. The small department store that serves as the pair’s sparring ground is chock-full of stellar character actors, most notably Frank Morgan (seen the previous year as nothing less than the Wizard of Oz) as the emotionally struggling business owner.
Christmas comes, and Alfred and Klara ultimately fight their way into each other’s arms. It takes joy a while in coming, but once it hits, “The Shop Around The Corner” becomes as warm and cozy as any holiday-lover could ever ask for.
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