No one had use for this witty dose of ham-fisted yet clear-eyed nostalgia in 1983, but Bob Clark’s realization of Jean Shepherd’s immortal memoir In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash has since acquired the patina of a godsend. Truly, Shepherd’s fulminating narration and Clark’s cartoony style take getting used to, but after you’re acclimated, you’ll appreciate that the saga of Shepherd’s semi-fictionalized 1940s Indiana boyhood is blissfully funny, sharp, and sermon free. Christmas here isn’t about charity or good cheer or “faith”—it’s all about being a kid, getting presents, writing Santa letters, dealing with bullies, negotiating playground arguments, fearing the wrath of Dad, fantasizing comeuppances, suffering the ill-bought gifts of distant relatives, ad infinitum. It’s the only film even to attempt to capture the cosmic allure that a particular toy—in this case, a very particular BB gun—can have on a lower-middle-class grade-schooler. The cast is uniformly excellent, but if Peter Billingsley is brilliantly eager as the hero, and Darren McGavin equally so as his irascible, distracted furnace fighter of a father, props must be offered as well to young Ian Petrella, as the younger brother with too many of the movie’s most quotable moments. But it’s Shepherd’s enthusiastic asides, moist with amused memory and sardonic self-regard, that fuel the film. Without a crumb of sentimentality, he reminds us what Christmas is really about: our pasts, our childhood selves, our lost innocence.