Holiday Movies

Book Vs. Movie: A Christmas Story (1983)

Randy, Ralphie, Flick, and Schwartz in A Christmas Story.

In the time since A Christmas Story was released in 1983, the voice of its narrator, Jean Shepherd, has become one of the most familiar sounds of the Christmas season. A Christmas Story is a prime example of a movie that only made a small impression in its initial release, but later reached classic status by building an audience afterward. After being released shortly before Thanksgiving 1983, most theaters were no longer playing A Christmas Story by the time Christmas came around. But thanks to screenings on television and home video releases in later years, A Christmas Story ended up becoming one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time. It’s gone from barely being available on Christmas Day 1983 to being broadcast on TV for 24 hours every Christmas, in addition to being available to watch in any other conceivable way, from streaming to DVD, Blu-Ray, and 4K.

While A Christmas Story is credited as being based on Jean Shepherd’s novel In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, it’s most accurate to describe it as a radio-to book-to film adaptation. Several of the storylines from A Christmas Story originated as short stories Jean Shepherd had read on the radio. These stories feel like personal remembrances, but Shepherd always maintained they were fictional. (However, it’s believed that there may have been some degree of inspiration from his own childhood in Hammond, Indiana and people he knew there.) Some of those stories went on to be published in Playboy before being included in In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, which was released in 1966.

Book & Movie Differences

Since …All Others Pay Cash is a collection of short stories rather than a traditional novel, the book and the movie are structured very differently. In the book, the stories are framed in the context of adult Ralph Parker returning to his hometown of Hohman, Indiana and spending an afternoon with his old friend Flick at the bar he owns, reminiscing about events from their youth. Only a few of the stories from the book are depicted in the movie. The stories from …All Others Pay Cash featured in the movie are:

  • “Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid”
  • “The Counterfeit Secret Circle Member Gets the Message, or The Asp Strikes Again”
  • “My Old Man and The Lascivious Special Award That Heralded the Birth of Pop Art”
  • “Grover Dill and the Tasmanian Devil”

The movie also has storylines inspired by some other short stories by Shepherd which weren’t part of …All Others Pay Cash. The part about the Bumpus hounds was based on “The Grandstand Passion Play of Delbert and the Bumpus Hounds,” which was published in Shepherd’s second book, Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories. (If you’re interested in reading the five main stories A Christmas Story was based on, those stories were later published together in 2003 in their own book, also titled A Christmas Story.) The part about Flick’s tongue getting stuck to a light pole also came from one of Shepherd’s stories, simply titled “Flick’s Tongue,” which was not published but had been read by Shepherd on the radio.

Ralphie with BB gun in A Christmas Story.

These stories cover most of the main events from the movie pretty well and even some of the smaller details from the stories made their way into the movie. For example, the “Duel in the Snow” story mentions gifts of a can of Simoniz, a fly swatter, a zeppelin, and a Frankenstein mask, all of which can be seen in the movie’s Christmas morning scene. But, of course, there are still some differences to be found. Most notably, Scut Farkus isn’t even a character in the story about the neighborhood bully. Instead, Grover Dill is the main bully rather than being the bully’s sidekick as he is in the movie. The story about Ralphie’s dad winning the infamous leg lamp gets into more detail about the effort he put into entering contests and his excitement about finding out that he had won something. It also explains that the leg design was the logo for a soft drink company. Another rather notable difference is that Ralphie doesn’t actually get a pink rabbit suit from Aunt Clara for Christmas. Instead, she just sends a pair of pink bunny slippers. He isn’t thrilled about the slippers, either, but it’s played into a bigger moment for the movie.

While the movie is set in 1940, many of the stories in the book are more rooted in the 1930s. The Depression is specifically mentioned several times throughout the book and it influences some of the main stories featured in the movie. The more Depression-specific aspects of it were lost in translation from page to screen. When Ralphie breaks his glasses while playing with his coveted Red Ryder BB gun on Christmas morning, the original line reads, “Few things brought such swift and terrible retribution on a kid during the Depression as a pair of busted glasses.” The part about the Depression was cut for the movie. The movie also mentions that Ralphie had to drink a lot of Ovaltine to be able to get the decoder pin needed for special messages during Little Orphan Annie radio broadcasts. But the “Counterfeit Secret Circle Member Gets the Message” story suggests that Ovaltine wasn’t something the Parker family could afford at the time. He ends up getting the decoder pin after finding a discarded Ovaltine container while playing Kick the Can on his way home from school and was stunned to find that some rich family had discarded the whole can, including the part he needed to send in. Ralphie describes himself as being in an oatmeal-eating family and listening to an Ovaltine radio show and mentions that he had never even seen a can of Ovaltine before.

Is the Book Worth Reading?

Book cover for In God we Trust, All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd.

If you’re a fan of A Christmas Story, it’s definitely fun to go back and check out the original source material for so many of its most memorable moments. Jean Shepherd’s style of storytelling is so distinctive that it’s easy to imagine the whole book being read in his voice. They did an excellent job of weaving the different stories together to make a broader story for the movie, but it’s still interesting to see some of the extra details and context the original stories have to offer. Since only a few of the stories from In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash were featured in the movie, the book is also a great chance for fans of the movie to get some extra stories about Ralphie and his family. With Shepherd’s witty and evocative writing style, it’s a very enjoyable read.

Sentimental Journey: Wartime Nostalgia & Three Christmas Classics

Judy Garland Meet Me in St. Louis

If there’s anything Christmas movies are known for, it’s for having heartwarming, sentimental themes. Of course, there are some notable exceptions out there, but those themes can be found at the core of many of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time. Every holiday season, millions of people get hit with a wave of nostalgia that makes them crave the wholesome, heartfelt entertainment that Christmas movies typically have to offer. While that’s a trend that never truly goes away, it can become particularly apparent when times are difficult, such as during times of war.

During the 1940s, World War II had a profound impact on the life of every American, whether they were serving in the war or back on the homefront. As the holidays approached, people were understandably longing for past Christmases that were spent together with family and friends. Even the most lighthearted movies can be a reflection of the era in which they were produced and 1940s Christmas movies are no exception. In fact, it was a driving force that helped make some of our most cherished holiday movies and songs so popular.

Bing Crosby Singing White Christmas in Holiday Inn 1942

Holiday Inn (1942)

In 1940, Paramount Studios commissioned Irving Berlin to write a series of holiday-themed songs to use in a movie about an inn that only opened on holidays. While Holiday Inn was a box office success on its release, becoming one of the most successful movies of 1942, one of those Irving Berlin songs would go on to eclipse the movie’s success.

Nearly 80 years after its initial release, Bing Crosby’s version of “White Christmas” remains the best-selling record of all time and is widely considered one of the most significant American songs ever recorded, but Crosby initially didn’t think the song was anything exceptional. In fact, it was expected that the song “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” from Holiday Inn‘s Valentine’s Day number would be the biggest hit from the movie’s soundtrack. But while the movie was being filmed, the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred and moviegoers were in a different place by the time the movie was released. “White Christmas” struck a nerve with people who wanted to go back to simpler, safer times.

Considering the resonance it had with people during World War II, its prominent use in White Christmas twelve years later was much more than just an excuse to get Bing Crosby to reprise his signature song and sell more copies of it. It was a natural choice for a movie about two World War II veterans who reunite with their commanding officer.

Meet Me in St. Louis Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Judy Garland Margaret O'Brien

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

During the golden age of Hollywood, each of the major studios had their thing they were known for. Universal had their horror movies, Warner Brothers had their gritty gangster movies, and MGM had musicals. Louis B. Mayer was very big on producing wholesome entertainment the whole family could enjoy and Meet Me in St. Louis is a prime example of that.

Meet Me in St. Louis follows the lives of the Smith family over the course of a year as they face an upcoming move from St. Louis to New York at the turn of the 20th century. Given the span of time the movie covers, it’s not strictly a Christmas movie, but the scene in which Judy Garland sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to Margaret O’Brien is enough to make it a holiday classic.

With audiences longing to be reminded more innocent times, Meet Me in St. Louis was exactly what many moviegoers were looking for at the time, but “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” took that yearning to the next level. The version performed in the movie, written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, blends a message of hope with a twinge of sadness. The original version of the song was decidedly less optimistic and included lines like, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last,” until director Vincente Minnelli and stars Judy Garland and Tom Drake complained that the song was far too depressing for the scene. While the song still remains immensely popular over 70 years later, the lyrics were particularly poignant for World War II-era audiences who had been separated from their loved ones.

I'll Be Seeing You 1944 Ginger Rogers Joseph Cotten

I’ll Be Seeing You (1944)

Unlike “White Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “I’ll Be Seeing You” isn’t a song specifically about Christmas, nor was it specifically written for a movie. “I’ll Be Seeing You” was originally written by Irving Kahal and Sammy Fain for the play Right This Way, which closed after just fifteen performances in 1938. The play may not have been notable, but “I’ll Be Seeing You” most decidedly was. The song’s melancholy, sentimental tone helped give it a whole new life a few years later after the United States entered World War II. As the war wore on, renditions recorded by Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, Jo Stafford, and Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey turned the song into an anthem for those who were missing their loved ones during the war.

Although “I’ll Be Seeing You” makes no mention of Christmas, it serves as a very fitting theme song for the 1944 movie by the same name, which does revolve around Christmas. In I’ll Be Seeing You, Ginger Rogers plays Mary Marshall, a prisoner who has been given leave to spend the holidays with her family. On the train, she meets Sergeant Zachary Morgan, played by Joseph Cotten, who is on leave while he tries to cope with PTSD. During the holiday, the two develop a romance as they try to keep their respective secrets hidden from each other. Unlike Meet Me in St. Louis and Holiday InnI’ll Be Seeing You directly involves life during World War II so using a popular song of the era as the main theme not only feels natural, it perfectly captures the bittersweet, wistful tone of the movie.

One Set, Two Movies: Holiday Inn (1942) and White Christmas (1954)

Holiday Inn White Christmas

The movies Holiday Inn (1942) and White Christmas (1954) have much in common. Both movies are regarded as Christmas classics, with Bing Crosby starring in each movie. And both movies feature songs by Irving Berlin, most notably the song “White Christmas.” But according to IMDB, the movies have even more in common than that. According to IMDB, the set for General Waverly’s inn in White Christmas was a remodeled version of the set used for the inn in Holiday Inn. So I took a close look at both sets to see how they compared.

When I set out to write this post, I was hoping to have a longer list of similarities to point out. But upon close inspection, it became clear the Holiday Inn set was indeed remodeled for White Christmas, and quite extensively at that. The two inns have very different layouts and several elements seen in White Christmas, such as the dining/floor show area and indoor fire pitwere not part of the original Holiday Inn set.

White Christmas Roasting Hot DogsWhite Christmas Performance Area

One thing the sets have in common is they both have entrances right by the main stairway. However, the two entry areas are so different I’m not sure how much, if any, of it was part of the original Holiday Inn set. The only thing the two entrances have in common is they both have similar windows. The floors are different, the staircases are very different, and the front desk area was added for White Christmas.

Holiday Inn Entrance 1 Holiday Inn Entrance 2 White Christmas Entrance 1 White Christmas Entrance 2

The fact that the two inns have similarly shaped windows is one of the biggest similarities between the two sets. However, even those aren’t exactly the same between the two movies.

Holiday Inn WindowsWhite Christmas Windows

Despite there being so many differences between the two sets, there is one area that is unmistakably part of the original Holiday Inn set. These three distinctive windows, which were originally seen by the piano where Bing Crosby first sang “White Christmas” in Holiday Inn, are also briefly seen in White Christmas during the party scene when Judy and Phil announce their engagement. The rest of the area had been pretty drastically changed for White Christmas. As you can see, the door was removed, as was the fireplace, and an entryway to another room was created. Those windows, however, look almost exactly as the same in White Christmas as they did in Holiday Inn. The only difference I can see is there was some moulding around them in Holiday Inn which was removed for White Christmas.

Holiday Inn Windows White Christmas Party Scene