17 December 2012

‘A Christmas Story 2’ falls short of the original, but the cars are classic

Few rites of passage are more anticipated or embraced than learning to drive, except maybe owning your first car. So while the just-released DVD “A Christmas Story 2” doesn’t come close to capturing the magic of its predecessor, it does hit the bull’s-eye in one respect – every car-loving male can relate to 16-year-old Ralph Parker’s obsession with automobiles … and females.

And what makes the movie fun for classic car enthusiasts is that Parker is particularly enamored with a sweet-looking 1939 Mercury convertible.

To set the stage, the movie takes place seven years after Ralphie uttered the “f---” word, the Old Man’s prized leg lamp was shattered, the Bumpus hounds ruined Christmas dinner and Ralphie received an “Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range-Model Air Rifle” on Christmas morning, despite the fears of his mother, teacher and the Higbee’s Department Store Santa that “you’ll shoot your eye out!”

While there is no reference to the year, the movie marquee gives it away, as “It’s A Wonderful Life” is playing at the theatre. The beloved James Stewart-Donna Reed classic was released in post-war 1946, when Americans were clamoring to buy anything on wheels.

The Parker house has changed from the original and so have the parents – Daniel Stern assumes Darren McGavin’s role as the Old Man, and Stacy Travis takes over from Melinda Dillon as the mother. Of course, the kids have all aged too. So Peter Billingsley’s iconic Ralphie is now played by Braeden Lemasters, and Ralph’s kid brother, Randy, is portrayed by Valin Shinyei. Ralphie has the same round face and glasses, but Randy is hardly the “seen but not heard” kid he once was; he has many more lines – and uses much saltier language.

Since the original movie was released in 1983, Time Warner obviously felt the need to spend the first 10 minutes of the new film reminding us of what happened the first time around. But once past that annoyance – and the predictable mental comparisons to the original – the story is at least enjoyable holiday fare.

The best part for car guys, of course, is the bevy of classic automobiles throughout. The Old Man – an admitted “Oldsmobile man” – drives a 1937 Olds Series L Eight cylinder sedan, which Ralph uses to learn the basics. The Old Man offers some amusing advice during Ralph’s driving lessons (including a funny analogy about the accelerator and clutch), and when Ralph and his two buddies, Flick and Schwartz, see a car on the street that catches their eye, we learn about their latest obsession.

Flick: “Holy moly. She’s beautiful! …  Is that a six?”

Ralph: “Fireball straight 8, overhead valves, two-speed hydromatic.”

Schwartz: “Yeah, so what? There are a ton of Buicks around.”

Flick: “Show some respect. This is a Roadmaster.”

Looking back, an older Ralphie (narrator Nat Mauldin) tells us: “Flick, Schwartz and I were months away from turning 16 – the sacred moment in each boy’s life when he crosses the Rubicon into manhood and receives that most cherished of documents known as a drivers license.”

Later, while at Hank’s World of Wheels with his father, who is considering an upgrade to an Olds 88, Ralphie discovers a car in Hank’s garage.

“There she was in all her gleaming secondhand glory, a 1939 Mercury Model 8 convertible. The top was frayed; the tires were almost shot – as if any of this mattered. For I was in the presence of the greatest machine ever to glide off an assembly line – the apex of automobilia.”

Ralph later describes the Mercury’s “split-bench leather seat, quadra-coil suspension and hydraulic brakes,” but realizing he’ll never be able to afford the car, he decides to sit behind the wheel just once. When he catches his pantleg on the parking brake, however, the car rolls backward, hits a light pole and causes a life-sized reindeer decoration to crash through the canvas top. The rest of the movie focuses on what Ralph and his friends do to earn the money to repair it.

Glenn Arlt, concierge at Hagerty Collector Car Insurance, said a teenager’s obsession with a ’39 Mercury convertible is certainly realistic.

“Car guys can become enamored with all manner of cars for all manner of reasons,” Arlt said. “The look of certain cars will capture a guy, and that’s the car for him. The ’39 Mercury is relatively close in looks to the ’40 Ford, which is still renowned among car-guys as a ‘looker.’ Regardless, when you’re young you just want some wheels. So even a clunker can look like the most beautiful car in the world.”

In the end, Ralphie gets both the car and the girl of his dreams. But we’re left to believe that – as is the case with many classic car lovers – the Mercury is the more memorable of the two.

“The odometer read 132,000 miles; oil burned; and valves leaked at will. There were more rattles than an Irish nursery,” Ralphie recalls. “It was the best car I ever owned.”

 

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