It's not Christmas without A Christmas Story. Since springing out of radio humorist Jean Shepherd's memoirs, the old yuletide tale has survived several reiterations and remained a holiday season staple. Most popular, of course, is Bob Clark's version, which you'll be able to watch over and over and over again on TBS, starting at 8pm this Christmas Eve.
"The staying power of A Christmas Story is surreal," Patty Johnson LaFountaine, the actress who played Higbee’s Head Elf, told Ohio Magazine in 2013. "Today, child for child in every school where I teach, they, their parents, and grandparents know the movie. The fan base just keeps growing." What makes the 1983 film so immortal?
The comedy's longevity, oddly enough, has lots to do with Clark, the famous B-movie director behind Porky's and Black Christmas, and his love for period pieces. He pulled from Shepherd's stories of growing up in suburban Indiana with care and leaned into the nostalgia of the '30s and '40s to capture a precise snapshot of Depression Americana -- a pivotal yet fleeting era, one that would come to be respected as much as it was feared. "Bob passed me an early version of the script to A Christmas Story," production designer Reuben Freed recalled for Ohio. "I thought it was the best thing I'd ever seen. I always believed Bob could be another Mark Twain, that he could be the storyteller for America."
Though the movie wouldn't kill in theaters -- it was the 39th highest grossing movie of its year, according to Box Office Mojo -- it would hit HBO, get a Betamax release, and, propelled by its second-round audience, gain cult status. "There are many small but perfect moments in A Christmas Story, and one of the best comes after the Lifebouy [soap] is finally removed from Ralphie's mouth and he is sent off to bed. His mother studies the bar, thinks for a moment, and then sticks it in her own mouth, just to see what it tastes like. Moments like that are why some people watch A Christmas Story every holiday season," Roger Ebert wrote in 2000, when re-evaluating the movie. "There is a real knowledge of human nature beneath the comedy."