The role of the Old Man in nature is a pretty flamboyant one since A Christmas Story is a comedy that is fairly broad in a certain way. It never goes fully absurdest though and carefully keeps a certain grounding in reality which makes it the memorable film it is. McGavin has a difficult role in the Old Man who is perhaps the most insane of the characters, and it is not hard to see how the part may have been played. Well McGavin is able to find just the right tone for his performance to make the eccentricities of the Old Man sing fairly loudly well never making him just seem to be too much of a cartoon. The way he strikes up the balance is really the genius of his performance but let's just look at the most obvious thing to talk about which is the more comedic side of McGavin's performance. Well again where does one begin with a comedic performance like this other than to begin at the beginning of it as the Old Man is trying to solve some sort puzzle for a contest. McGavin's whole style he takes is just so natural yet so unique at the same time.
McGavin has this slightly jumbled way of speaking as he goes along in his sentences while slowing down at certain points as well as accentuating others. Possibly weird sounding merely in distribution but McGavin handled it so well, and it only adds to making the Old Man a very particular type of Old Man fitting in his own way with the world the film creates. Now McGavin whole delivery in this film is pure brilliance throughout every situation as he carries quite the amusing style to it while still bringing that sort of a fatherly menace one would expect from the Old Man when it's needed. Of course I need to stop praising the balance though because his delivery is also simply really funny. There is of course his most extreme moments where the Old Man is either yelling at his neighbors dogs or his furnace to work properly where McGavin goes off delivery a slightly legible, surely nonsensical, but altogether glorious tirades of curses of the oddest sorts. McGavin though knows exactly how to approach every scene it seems in order to derive the greatest comic effect whenever it is necessary.
I could almost described every scene McGavin is and the way he goes about portraying the Old Man's reactions to the events of the film. Every one is that good, and McGavin seems absolutely driven to be as ridiculously entertaining as possible. One example is when the Old Man learns he has won major reward. It turns out to be a rather gaudy Leg lamp, but that does not dissuade the Old Man, making sure the whole neighborhood knows of his major reward. McGavin shows such an incredible pride in his eyes and great spirit as if the Old Man had discovered something amazing, or invented something worthwhile. McGavin's makes the pride in the Old Man absolutely fervent and by doing so is absurdly funny. Now McGavin is equally funny when his lamp is destroyed due to his wife hating the lamp. When the discovery is first had McGavin is striking in how intense he is in portraying the Old Man's pent up rage and his glare at his wife for her apparent jealousy, according to him anyway. Perhaps even more perfect, although impossible, is when he discovers his lamp is impossible to repair, and McGavin plays the Old Man's reaction as such a somber acceptance of loss.
McGavin is outstanding because he goes just enough overboard to make a moments incredibly funny yet always keeps it in just the right sort of bounds that it never becomes too much or somehow repetitive. I could go on and on in describing every one of his scenes because that's how good he is here in making the most of it. Of course McGavin does not have to even be the focus of a scene to make an impact though. It could just be one reaction that he makes to be quite memorable. One of my favorites being his face of pure disbelief when he hears his son Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) say the fdashdashdash word, or perhaps his face of pure disgust when he watches his younger son disgustingly plant his face into his food. McGavin's portrayal makes one comedic gem after another through the character of the Old Man. It's exceptional work that particularly thrives in the vignette nature of the film. Of course, I must say once again, A Christmas Story is not just simply some random scenes thrown together. There is the driving force of Ralphie wanting to get the Red Ryder BB gun.
If this was merely about being funny McGavin would already give a great performance, but McGavin manages to go the extra distance with his performance as seen in the scene where Ralphie finally gets his prized gift. It is in this scene where McGavin subtle grounding of the character comes very much in to play as he very much earns this moment in his performance. Despite Mrs. Parkers obvious problems with it the Old Man still decided to get Ralphie his present surprising him after it appears as though he had failed in his mission. McGavin is terrific in this scene by portraying such earnestness and genuine love in his eyes as he watches his son's dream come true. It's a beautifully heartwarming scene and McGavin is wonderful by making it seem completely fitting to the rest of his performance. I really can't praise this performance enough because Darrin McGavin is the Old Man here, and really I left off some moments some of the best moments of his performance. The problem is I would have to describe every second of his performance as this is flawless work.