Have you recovered from your turkey coma yet? Good, that means it’s officially the Christmas season! And what better way to start off the holiday cheer, but with one of the best Christmas movies around (unless you’re my sister-in-law, who was born on the 24th and hates any film that is played 24 hours on her birthday): A Christmas Story.
Imagine my surprise when I opened my Adaptations: From Short Story to Big Screen book and found a familiar looking title in the table of contents; “Red Ryder Nails the Hammond Kid” by Jean Shepherd. It’s almost like I could repeat that saying in my sleep, “I want an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200 shot range model air rifle”, so I knew instantly, even though it says it just below, this was the short story that one of my favorite holiday films was based on.
And I have to say, I was slightly disappointed after reading it. All of the memorable moments from the film: the bunny suit, Santa’s “Ho Ho Ho”, the tongue getting stuck to the pole, the leg lamp, fa-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra… they were all missing from this story. The core of the film remains the same — a young boy who wants a specific toy for Christmas, but everyone says he’ll shoot his eye out. And in the end, he does just and blames it on an icicle. The tension between the Ralphie and his father also remains.
The true character of the story though, the narration adult Ralphie is what truly drives the story. The personality comes through with the intonation and emotions, and it was something that I thought made the film unique. But actually, because the short story writer, Jean Shepard, also penned the film and did the narrator’s voice, the three are one and really take hold in the story.
Take this sequence for example (start at 2:10):
“My mind had gone blank! Frantically I tried to remember what it was I wanted. I was blowing it! There was no one in the wolrd except me and Santa now. And the chipmunks.
‘Wouldn’t you like a nice football?’
My mind groped. Football, football. Without conscious will, my voice squeaked out:
My God, a football! My mind slammed into gear. Already Santa was sliding me off his knee toward the red chute, and I could see behind me another white-faced kid bobbing upward.
‘I want a Red Ryder BB gun with a special Red Ryder sight and a compass in the stock with a sundial!’ I shouted.
‘HO-HO-HO! You’ll shoot your eye out kid. HO-HO-HO! Merry Christmas!'”
Even though the short story was written before the film, it comes to live when reading it because the narrator’s voice is already so ingrained in our heads.
The film makes the short story come to life