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Director Bob Clark's charming, touching, and very funny adaptation of humorist Jean Shepherd's nostalgic, autobiographical Yuletide novel, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, remains essential holiday family viewing. Narrated by a man (Shepherd) recalling his childhood, the film looks back at the compulsive efforts of 7-year-old Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) as he tries every means possible to acquire his dream Christmas gift--a Daisy-brand Red Ryder repeating BB carbine with a compass mounted in the stock. Problem is, he lives in a Norman Rockwell-esque Midwestern town in the 1940s, where his parents, teachers, and even Santa Claus all warn Ralphie that "he'll shoot his eye out." Episodic in nature and seen entirely through the eyes of a child, the film offers a wonderful look at the day-to-day eccentricities that grew out of this conservative period. More interestingly, it cleverly captures childhood urgency, where even the most trivial fantasies or objects become immediate life-or-death necessities. While countless family Christmas movies serve up clichéd situations suffocating with preachy sermons, Clark's acute eye for detail and odd mixture of warmth, satire, and quirky humor are the reasons why so many viewers have rediscovered this after it initially bombed in the theaters. Sentimental without being syrupy, it's a true rarity: a holiday movie that adults and children can enjoy equally, for completely different reasons and regardless of the season. --Dave McCoy
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