Somehow usually tasteless director Bob Clark, whose specialty was fairly vile exploitation movies (PORKY'S and the even worse PORKY'S II: THE NEXT DAY), managed to make a totally charming and lovable Christmas film.

Based on the short stories of midwestern humorist Jean Shepherd (who also narrates in the first person), A CHRISTMAS STORY is an episodic comedy set in the 1940s about the family life of young Ralphie (Billingsley) as Christmas approaches. The plot loosely revolves around Ralphie's desire for a

Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas that his mother (Dillon) has forbidden because she's afraid he'll shoot his eyes out. Among Shepherd's childhood musings are his narrow escapes from the neighborhood bullies, the battles of his old man (McGavin) with the smoke-belching furnace, Mom's attempts to get

his little brother (Petrella) to eat, Dad's infatuation with an obnoxious lamp that looks like a woman's leg, and a nightmarish visit with Santa at the local department store.

The cast is wonderful--especially McGavin, Billingsley and Petrella--the laughs are nonstop if rarely subtle, and the whole thing deserves to become a Christmastime classic.