It wouldn’t be December without Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in all his groovy stop-motion glory. By the way, who knew reindeer were such shallow little boogers? I continue to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, although its soundtrack leaves me feeling melancholy. And how awesome is it that Boris Karloff managed to bookend his career portraying two pop culture icons? He is most remembered as the creature in Universal Pictures’ Frankenstein, but toward the end of his career he voiced the creature whose heart was two sizes too small in the Dr. Seuss classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Other favorites include Frosty the Snowman, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas, and A Christmas Carol. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite work, A Christmas Story.
I can say many things about why this is a great Christmas movie. It’s directed by Bob Clark, the man responsible for Black Christmas, Dead of Night, and Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. It’s highly quotable: “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.” “It’s a major award!” “I triple dog dare ya.” The sexy leg lamp. The Chinese Turkey. However, one of the best things about A Christmas Story is the casting of the inimitable Darren McGavin as Ralphie’s father.
McGavin is brilliant as a man completely unaware of his own quirks. As he works on his furnace, he lets loose a stream of the weirdest profanity ever heard. He doesn’t see the tackiness of his “major award” – a leg lamp wearing black fishnet stockings. He’s repulsed by his youngest son’s eating habits and hounded (I couldn’t resist) by his neighbor’s pack of dogs. In the wrong hands, Mr. Parker could have been very much like the one-dimensional dumb dads found on modern sitcoms. Instead, McGavin brings us a robust character, funny, hard-working, and, in the end, sympathetic to his son’s desire for a Red Ryder B.B. gun.
McGavin’s other great contribution to pop culture is his portrayal of Carl Kolchak. Before there was The X Files, we had the 1970s television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. In it, McGavin plays a tenacious reporter who investigates supernatural crimes in Chicago. His evidence of these tends to get destroyed or covered up by government officials, but Kolchak continues to pursue vampires, zombies, aliens, succubi, and other assorted creatures. Why is the Windy City a magnet for all these paranormal forces, anyway?
The show didn’t last long but through reruns it has found a cult following. It owes much of its popularity to McGavin. His Kolchak is comical but determined. He has perfect timing and delivers the noir/campy narration with flair. He drives a yellow 1966 Mustang convertible, plus he’s the only man I know who can rock a seersucker suit and straw hat.
McGavin, who played a wide variety of roles in television and movies, won several awards for his acting, including an Emmy for his portrayal of Murphy Brown’s father. He has a great resume, but for me he’ll always be Old Man Parker and Carl Kolchak.
Checkpoint Chickie is a zombie enthusiast, horror movie freak, hobbit lover, and CopperHead. She can be reached via Twitter @chkptchickie.