Some of the most gratifying articles I’ve written for The Retro Network have been those in the Film and Script Differences series. So far, I’ve covered National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. In this comparison, I’m covering another holiday favorite that seems older than it actually is…the 1983 film A Christmas Story.
I’m not sure exactly when I watched A Christmas Story for the first time. If I had to guess, I likely caught it on cable sometime in the late ’80s or early ’90s. It wasn’t until TNT/TBS began airing the film on 24-hour loop that I truly grew to love the story, the characters, and pretty much everything about it. The 1940s era depicted in the film is pretty fascinating to me and every year I watch it, I put myself in Ralphie’s shoes and fantasize about living in that era.
I’ve had a couple motivations for digging into movie scripts. With National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, I noticed an image of a deleted scene on the back of the DVD case that made me curious to know more. With Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, I wanted to dig into the extra scenes that were cut from the original 3.5 hour director’s cut. With A Christmas Story, I’ve never seen any deleted scenes or really researched what might have been cut from the original shooting. The only thing I’ve heard is a Flash Gordon dream sequence that was cut so beyond that, I’m just hoping to find a few nuggets that will add to a movie I know too well.
The script I found online is the 83-page shooting script dated December 7, 1982. In all, I’ve compiled 41 differences between the theatrical release of the film and shooting script. Here they are for your enjoyment in chronological order:
Welcome to Hohman, IN
The movie begins with Ralphie and his home on Cleveland Street, but there was a much more elaborate opening in the script. We see a wide shot of Hohman at dusk, which narrator Jean Shepard describes as clinging “precariously to the underbody of Chicago like a barnacle clings to the rotting hulk of a tramp steamer.”
Other locations are highlighted as we follow the kids (Randy trailing behind) through a junkyard and in front of a candy store. Shepard narrates more about the first big blizzard that just hit and the anticipation of Christmas. Then we arrive downtown Hohman at night with shoppers about and the kids making their way to Higbee’s department store (like in the film.)
Red Ryder Not Fully Introduced at Higbee’s
There is more of an indirect approach to the Red Ryder air rifle in the script while at Higbee’s. The BB gun is shown in the window and Ralphie hints at his scheme but Red Ryder nor the “Holy Grail of Christmas Gifts” isn’t mentioned until the dissolve to Ralphie in his bedroom.
Advertising Says It All
The script emphasizes the Red Ryder ad on the back cover of Ralphie’s Boys Life magazine more than the film. We hear Jean Shepherd reading the entire ad and focusing on the last line that says “Tell Dad it’s great for target shooting and varmits, and it will make a swell Christmas gift.” As that line reverberates in Ralphie’s mind…
The Black Bart Dream Sequence is Earlier
…we then get the Black Bart dream sequence where Ralphie and “Ol’ Blue” save the day. In the film, this scene doesn’t happen until Ralphie is at the breakfast table. Also, the script makes no mention of “Black Bart” in particular, just “creeping marauders.”
Mom Has Different Reading Habits
In the film, Ralphie slips his Red Ryder sales pitch into his mother’s Look magazine. In the script, it’s not Look but Screen Romances.
Ralph Pulls The Ad Trick on The Old Man Too
There is an additional scene in the script where Ralphie then charges into the bathroom where The Old Man is finishing up a shave. Ralphie has an additional copy of Boy’s Life in hand. The Old Man asks him what he has with Ralphie tucking the magazine behind his back and simply replying “Nothin’.”
Jean Shepard then expounds “Nothin’–the classic kid rejoinder of all time. If only the victims of the Inquisition had understood the power of that unassailable defense, the world would be very different today.” As the Old Man relinquishes the bathroom, we see Ralphie tuck the Boys Life inside one of the Old Man’s Field and Stream magazines.
Sox Trade Dulbelsky
The Old Man’s gripe in the film as he reads the sports section of his newspaper is “The Sox traded Bullfrog.” In the script, it’s noted the player traded is “Dulbesky.” The player traded in return is still Shottenhoffer but instead of being referred to as a “four-eyed” utility infielder, the Old Man refers to him as a “good, solid, one-eight-seven hitter.”
Front Row For Obscenities
In the film, Ralphie and Randy are front and center for the Old Man’s tapestry of obscenities when battling the furnace. In the script, the mother tells the boys to get ready for school which was a “planned tactical retreat whenever my father was about to enter combat with the iron dragon in the basement” as described by Jean Shepherd.
In the script, the Old Man actually comes up the stairs at one point to yell for the damper and then goes down the stairs to do battle again. The end of the scene is the Old Man yelling up to “Call the go—mn office. Tell them I’m gonna be late.”
Exposition on Winter in Indiana
After Randy complains about not being able to put his arms down, the script goes into an exposition on winter weather in Indiana and how staying home was not an option. Shepherd narrates “Cold was something that was accepted like air, clouds, and parents, a fact of nature, and as such could not be used in a fraudulent scheme to stay out of school.”
To further get across the point, we see the mother holding back the front door from the wind which ruffles the living room rug. Shepherd describes leaving the house as “we would be launched…one after the other, my brother and I like astronauts into unfriendly space. The door clanged shut behind us and that was it–make it to school or die.”
Exchanging Blows Among Friends
In the film, there is an exchange of arm punches between Skut Farkas and Grover Dill until one has had enough. In the script, this ritual is extended beyond the bullies to Ralphie and his friends as they meet up on the way to school. Shepherd explains the pecking order is important in kid rituals.
A Dare Interrupted
In the film, the infamous “triple dog dare” happens at recess when Flick gets his tongue stuck to the pole. In the script, the dare almost happens before school. As Flick and Schwartz argue about the pole trick on the way to school, Schwartz calls out Flick’s mother for being an old wife after Flick thinks the trick is an old wives’ tale. Shepherd narrates that “any reference to one’s mother was like throwing down the gauntlet, no matter how vague or remote the slight.”
After Ralphie makes peace between the two boys, Schwartz begins the dare challenge. However, before the challenge can be completed with the “triple dog dare,” they hear a rustle and faint laughter behind the wooden-slatted fence nearby. The challenge is forgotten as fear comes across the kids faces and they run off to school, avoiding the ominous presence of one Skut Farkas. In the movie, this scene is essentially replaced by Randy falling down and not being able to get back up which is not in the script.
Grover Dill Reigns Supreme
The script reverses the roles of Skut Farkas and Grover Dill. Dill, who is the “crumby little toady” of Farkas in the film, reigns supreme in the script and is the one who makes Schwartz yell “Uncle.”
Ralphie Endorses Keds Sneakers
After fleeing from Dill and Farkas in the script, Shepard narrates “I was an accomplished Alley Runner who did not wear sneakers to school from choice, but to get off the mark quicker. I was well qualified to endorse Keds Champion sneakers with: I have outrun some of the biggest bullies of my time wearing Keds. And I’m still here to tell the tale. It would make a great ad in Boy’s Life.“
No Mailbox Check
In the film when Ralphie arrives at home, there is a quick check of the mailbox for his Little Orphan Annie decoder pin and a quick narration from Shepherd about it. The decoder pin isn’t mentioned in the script until Ralph sits down to listen to the radio program for the first time.
Ralphie Insists on Doing Homework
There is a short scene in the script when Ralphie enters the house from school that is not in the film. His mother asks him if he wants a glass of milk. Ralphie’s turns it down and insists he must do his homework. As he heads upstairs, she calls his name and stops him in his tracks. He again insists that he needs to do his homework. She checks his forehead for a fever and is puzzled he doesn’t feel warm. Ralphie heads upstairs as she mutters “No good will come of this.”
Miss Shields Visits in Dream Sequence
There is a dream sequence in the script when Ralphie finishes his theme. Miss Shields shows up at the house and is insistent on telling his mother that because of his “magnificent and eloquent theme,” it is absolutely necessary to give him a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. Mrs. Parker agrees that Ralph needs the gun, especially now that wild bears have been reported in the vicinity of Pulaski’s candy store.
The Flash Gordon Dream Sequence
One of the more well-known cut scenes from the movie is a Flash Gordon dream sequence and I was happy to find it in the script. Directly after the Miss Shields dream sequence, Ralphie puts aside his homework to enjoy a comic book. The comic is the Further Adventures of Flash Gordon on the Planet Mongo and after staring at the cover of Flash facing off against his arch-enemy Ming the Merciless, he drifts off into a dream sequence.
On the alien planet, Ming has Flash tied to a Cobra Tree which is supposed to awaken and devour Flash at anytime. In the meantime, Ming can then proceed to planet Earth in his Turbo-Xenon Space Balloon and destroy it with its Z-Gamma rays. Flash tells Ming “if my faithful companion Ralph…” but Ming cuts him off as he enters the balloon and it begins to ascend. Witnessing the scene from the nearby brush, Ralphie emerges with Flash happy to see him and surprised that he escaped the space crocodiles. Ralphie stands triumphant and tells Flash it’s time to act.
Ralph sights his BB gun toward Ming’s balloon and fires a single shot. Ming lets out a shriek as the BB approaches and hits the balloon. With a loud “obscene” farting sound, the balloon careens off into the distance as Ming is defeated. Flash expresses his gratitude for saving Earth with Ralph saying “It was nothing, Flash. I had my trusty Red Ryder range model BB gun, and nothing can stand up to this baby.” Flash comments that he’d love to meet Red Ryder someday since they are in the same business of fighting evil. Now back in his bedroom, Ralph smiles in triumph as he hears the Old Man drive-up and battle the Bumpuses’ hound dogs.
The Old Man’s First Name is…
The film never mentions the Old Man’s first name. Even the credits show “The Old Man” as Darren McGavin’s character. In the script, the courier who delivers the major award asks for “Frank” Parker. A fan recreated the telegram (below) using his full name and also the Nehi Beverage Company as the sponsor for which director Bob Clark has said its logo was the basis of the leg lamp.
No Fra-Gee-Lay Line
The script does not have one of the most quotable lines from the film, when the Old Man reads “fragile” on the leg lamp box and says “Fra-Gee-Lay. Must be Italian.”
No Director’s Cameo
In the movie, there is a cameo by director Bob Clark who plays the Parker’s neighbor Swede. He asks the Old Man about the lamp when he is viewing it from the street. The character Swede is not in the script.
More With Little Orphan Annie
After Mrs. Parker tells the boys it’s time for their radio program, the script has a longer scene explaining “Little Orphan Annie” and “Annie’s Inner Circle.” We then get a frustrated Ralphie, slumping his head because he still has not received his decoder pin.
The Lamp Battle Begins
During the “Little Orphan Annie” radio program, the Old Man and Mrs. Parker subtly fight over turning the lamp on and off which is not in the film. Mrs. Parker initially shuts it off and draws the blinds. After the Old Man comes inside, he subtly suggests “Kinda dark in here.” He opens the drapes and turns the lamp back on. Mrs. Parker pretends to ignore the Old Man but then waltzes back in the room claiming their is a draft and closes the drapes. Before dissolving the scene to the next day, the Old Man makes one more move for the drapes.
No Deal at the Christmas Tree Lot
The Christmas tree lot scene is in the script but much shorter. The negotiation between the Old Man and the tree salesman doesn’t occur including his hint at buying a plastic tree to entice the salesman to throw in the rope and tie it to the car.
One of the most famous lines from the movie when Ralphie says “Oh Fudge” in substitution for the big “F Dash-Dash-Dash” is not in the script. Rather, the camera pans away from Ralphie’s mouth just as he’s about to say the word. The script extends the scene outside a little with Ralphie holding a flashlight while the Old Man digs through the snow to find the lug nuts. After he finds them and puts everything away, he and Ralphie then get back in the car.
Also absent from the script is the family singing “Jingle Bells” in the car leading up to the flat tire. Rather they are admiring the Christmas lights and scenery along the drive. The dialogue with the Old Man and Mrs. Parker about being timed to change the flat tire is also not in the script.
A Pineapple for Miss Shields
In the movie, Ralphie gives Miss Shields a fruit basket the next day at school while in the script, it is just a lone pineapple.
The Old Man Emerges From the Bathroom
In the movie, the Old Man is fighting with the furnace and emerges from the basement when he hears the loud crash from the leg lamp. In the script, he is in the upstairs bathroom, flings the door open and stands in the doorway. He then rushes headlong down the stairs to the living room.
The comeback line from the Old Man “You used up all the glue on purpose” is not in the script along with his crushing retort “Nadafinga!” The line in the script is simply “Dammit!”
The Lamp’s Finally Resting Place
In the movie, Jean Shephard narrates that the Old Man buries the leg lamp in the backyard by the garage but it comes to a different demise in the script. The lamp is instead taken outside and dumped in the garbage can with the Old Man marching resolute back inside the house and announcing “I won’t forget this–ever.”
From C+ to C-
It’s a minor difference but in the script, Ralphie gets a C- grade on his theme paper whereas he gets a C+ in the movie. Also, the brief daydream of Miss Shields as the Wicked With of the West and his mother as the court jester mockingly shouting at Ralphie “You’ll shoot your eye out!” is not in the script.
Dill Fights Back
In the movie, Ralphie beats down Skut Farkas (Grover Dill in the script) without any retaliation. In the script, Dill actually puts up a fight against Ralphie but is eventually overwhelmed by the “unleashed Tasmanian Devil.”
Another Famous Line Omitted
In the movie, Randy retreats to the cupboard for fear of what the Old Man might do to Ralphie for punishment and tells his mother “Daddy’s gonna kill Ralphie!” That famous line is not in the script.
Santa’s Snow Whites
The scene with Ralphie and Randy waiting in line to see Santa is a little different in the script. First, Jean Shepherd’s cameo appearance telling Ralphie where the line begins is not in the script. Ralph also has an inner monologue as they stand in line, pondering whether or not he actually believes in Santa.
Instead of elves, Santa has a team of helpers dressed as Snow White who are equally as pushy as the elves in the film.
Old Man Struggles With the Tree Lights
Although it’s subtly handled in the film, there is a larger scene with how the Old Man handles the lights on the Christmas tree not working. He curses the lights frequently and then demands the extension cord that is being used for the toaster.
Once he gets the tree lit, he fenagles with the star and curses that it’s not straight. He climbs the ladder to straighten it and the family remains silent to the fact that it is still crooked when he declares it’s “perfect.”
Randy the Squealer
Before the two boys are ushered off to bed, Randy reacts to the Old Man saying that he heard sleigh bells on the other side of the street. Randy runs to the window wanting to see Santa and declares “I was good all year, Santa! Ralphie said bad words twice and I never said any!”
Mrs. Parker reminds Randy that Santa doesn’t like tattletales as he turns back to the window and states “But Ralphie didn’t meant nothing, Santa.” Ralphie turns to Randy and says “Squealer.”
Ralphie Saves Santa
Before drifting off to sleep on Christmas eve, Ralphie pins his hopes of receiving the Red Ryder BB gun on one more dream sequence in the script. Staring at the falling snow outside his window, Ralphie imagines Santa Claus and his reindeer on a snowy rooftop. They are being menaced by the same burglars from his first fantasy (Black Bart in the film.) Ralphie appears racing over the nearby rooftops and chases off the bandits with his trust air rifle. Santa rewards him with a pile of presents.
Aunt Clara’s Bunny Slippers
Another iconic moment in the movie is the infamous pink bunny suit that Aunt Clara gives to Ralphie. His mother then makes him try it on and the humiliations of looking like a “deranged Easter bunny” and a “pink nightmare” ensues.
In the script, the suit is only a pair of pink bunny slippers. Ralphie’s mother still makes him try them on but the scene is not as elaborate as in the movie.
Randy Flies the Zeppelin
After Randy peruses the gifts under the tree, he finds his zeppelin. In the movie, we see him push it in circles on the ground. However in the script, Randy actually tries to fly it by tossing it into the air. It lands in the middle branches of the Christmas tree causing two glass angels and a golden bugle to crash on the floor.
Ralphie tells him it doesn’t fly but rolls on the ground and beeps. As Randy activates it, Shepherd narrates “it was a sound to become sickeningly familiar.”
In the script we learn what all Ralph gets for Christmas which includes a Sandy Andy, a dump truck, a Monopoly game, and a rubber Frankenstein face courtesy Randy (which you can see in the movie when Randy sleep by the tree.) Ralph immediately puts it on and his mother tells him to take it off and put it away. The Old Man says it looks good on him as Ralph does the famous Frankenstein strut around the living room.
We also learn that the can of Simoniz car wax and the fly swatter that his parents receive (shown in the film) were from Ralph.
The Red Ryder Revelation
The script is a little different from the movie when the Red Ryder BB gun present is revealed. Instead of being placed behind the desk, it is behind the drapes. And when the box is unwrapped, the radio cuts to an angelic choir singing “Joy to the World.”
The Old Man Picks the Restaurant
After firing off several more curse words at the Bumpuses dogs for eating his turkey, the Old Man actually picks the restaurant for them to go out to eat. “Get your coats. We’re going to the Chinese joint. We’re going to have Chop Suey!”
No “Fa Ra Ra Ra Ra”
The scene at the Chinese restaurant is one of my favorites in the movie. It’s much shorter in the script and there is no dialogue except for Jean Shepherd’s narration about “the Christmas they were introduced to Chinese turkey.” There is no mention of the waiters singing or the head chopping of the duck.
The Beeping Zeppelin
The final difference between the theatrical release and the shooting script is the final scene with the boys in their bedroom. Before we see Ralph sound asleep with “Ol’ Blue” tucked under his wing, Randy is actually awake. Upon entering the room we hear a faint beeping sound. From the underneath the covers, Randy emerges with the Zeppelin and whirls it in the air a few times before diving under the covers again.
I’m very happy I made this journey through a movie script again. I was surprised that there were so many more dream sequences cut from the theatrical release. I really wonder if they were shot and may be collecting dust in the MGM vault.
The other surprise was how many of the famous lines and scenes that were not in the script and must have been either ad-libbed or changed on set. Maybe I’m hyper-sensitive because I’ve seen the movie so many times but would love to hear the stories about how some those changes were made.
If you have an interest in reading the 1982 shooting script for A Christmas Story, I found it on Daily Script. Thanks again for reading and Merry Christmas to you and yours this season!