One of the reasons that A Christmas Story is such a classic holiday film is because of how it handles family life. Typically, Christmas movies will portray a family where everything is perfect, but they deal with difficult situations. But in A Christmas Story, the family is dysfunctional as they deal with day-to-day and holiday struggles. As a result, it makes the film feel more organic than others. One example of this comes from the movie's funniest scene, which was unscripted for one particular actor.
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A Christmas Story follows a young child named Ralphie Parker, who lives in a middle-class home during the '30s. As the holiday approaches, the film shows the many obstacles Ralphie faces as a child on his quest to obtain a Red Ryder BB gun. However, every time he tells someone what he wants, he's quickly dismissed, being told he will "shoot his eye out" by nearly every adult.
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Although Ralphie's story is the main focus, the real heroes of the film are his parents. For example, while his father (Darren McGavin) is often shown as irritable and intimidating, he's actually very kind and wants nothing more than for plans to run smoothly. This is best demonstrated by how he obsesses over the placement of his leg lamp or when he secretly gets Ralphie's dream gift to make him happy. The mother (Melinda Dillon), on the other hand, is seen as a safe place for her children and is both the most loving and most intimidating. These moments are best shown when she's the one that punishes Ralphie for cursing, causing a similar fate to befall Ralphie's friend, Schwartz. However, when she catches Ralphie getting into a fight, she doesn't tell her husband so that Ralphie doesn't get in more trouble. The film also shows how she handles stress during one of A Christmas Story's best moments.
One of the most challenging moments in the film is when audiences are forced to watch the Parkers' neighbors' dogs tear through their kitchen, destroying the Christmas turkey. Not only is it the father's most favorite meal, but Ralphie's mom also worked hard on it. But rather than accept defeat, the family heads to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. After the staff sings carols, they bring out a roasted duck with the head still on. Upon seeing the head, Dillon lets out a yell and begins laughing. While it's meant to show how the string of bad luck has caused a giggle fit, the moment was actually unscripted.
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While preparing for the scene, it was essential to get an organic response from Dillon. As a result, she was given a draft of the script that was different from the rest of the cast. Therefore, the moment the duck comes out, Dillon isn't acting at all. Instead, she sells the movement without realizing it by looking at McGavin and saying, "I'm sorry!" before the waiter cuts the duck's head off. Rather than cut the scene, it makes the theatrical cut and makes the moment the perfect cherry on top for the story.
A Christmas Story is a classic, but most people don't instinctually think of the behind-the-scenes moments that make it a classic. However, for those that do, these stories only enhance the overall film. While Dillon's reaction serves as a taste, it also showcases how much fun the cast and crew had making the movie, inadvertently making it even more beloved. That being said, that small factoid shows that the best way to capture the essence of dysfunction is to set it up before the camera starts rolling.
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