#73) Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

poster-miracle-on-34th-street

#73) Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

OR “The Sanity Clause”

Directed & Written by George Seaton. Based on the story by Valentine Davies.

Class of 2005

Possibly my favorite trailer ever. They released the film in June, so they had to come up with a trailer that didn’t mention Christmas at all. The result is positively “groovey”.

The Plot: Macy’s manager Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara) hires a man named Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) to play Santa Claus in their store. It turns out the old man believes that he is the real Santa Claus. After an incident involving the store’s psychologist (Porter Hall), Kris is sent to Bellevue. Lawyer/Doris’ neighbor Fred Gailey (John Payne) sets out to legally prove that Kris is Santa. They are aided by Doris’ daughter Susan (Natalie Wood), who has been raised without faith but needs something to believe in.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it a “holiday favorite” and then explains the entire plot. Geez NFR, I know it’s a classic but it still has spoilers.

But Does It Really?: Full disclosure: This is my favorite Christmas movie. It’s just so infectious. Between an expertly structured screenplay and the most endearing Kris Kringle ever put on film, “Miracle on 34th Street” is wonderfully imbued with the Christmas spirit, with a cast of cynical New Yorkers thrown in for fun.

Everybody Gets One: Amazingly this is the only NFR credit for prolific writer/director George Seaton.

Wow, That’s Dated: Basic psychology tests, paper mail, smoking in bed, a shout-out to the B-29 bomber. But most importantly: Gimbels is gone. Long gone. You’re Gimbels.

Seriously, Oscars?: The film won three Oscars; Best Supporting Actor for Edmund Gwenn (Who said, “Now I know there’s a Santa Claus.”), Best Adapted Screenplay for George Seaton and Best Story for Valentine Davies (still not quite sure how you successfully judge that award). The film lost Best Picture to “Gentleman’s Agreement”, which I don’t see on this list anywhere**.

Other notes

  • That’s right, this perennial Christmas story was written by a guy named Valentine.
  • Isn’t having a complete stranger take over a parade float a major liability issue?
  • Boy, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade sure was different in 1947. Where are all the teen pop stars I’ve never heard of? And the performance from Broadway shows that will close in January if this doesn’t boost ticket sales?
  • Dear Natalie Wood, I know you hated being a child actor, but you are damn good in this film. P.S.: You have the best side-eye.
  • Fred’s kind of a creep at the beginning, but he’s charming so it’s okay!
  • Shout-out to Alvin Greenman as Alfred. He really was only 17 when he filmed this, and he is the last surviving cast member.
  • That’s Thelma Ritter in her first film role!
  • This film has perhaps the greatest use of the Dutch language in movie history.
  • Kris listed the reindeer as his next of kin? I guess he and Mrs. Kringle are having a rough patch.
  • I just want to point out that Susan chews gum all through the first part of the film, but then they do the bit where Kris gets gum in his beard and we never see her chewing gum again. That’s a long walk for a little bit.
  • Notice they don’t make Santa swear on the Bible. I suppose the universe would have imploded on itself.
  • Nope, just ignore the giant camera shadow on the pillar of the courtroom.
  • Oh Fred Mertz, you sarcastic buzzard.
  • Susan misspelled “beleeve” in her letter to Kris, but it’s still better than the spelling on most tweets.
  • Let the record show that this film (and Christmas) is saved by Jack Albertson’s character. Hooray for Grandpa Joe-ex-machina!
  • I had always heard that Edmund Gwenn’s final words were “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.” While we may never know the truth, this website’s research shows that he may have said words along those lines to “Miracle” director George Seaton.

Legacy

  • The film has been remade four different times!
  • “The 20th Century Fox Hour” remade the film in 1955 as “The Miracle on 34th Street” starring Thomas Mitchell as Kris. Plus it’s got Hans Conried!
  • Ed Wynn took the reins in a live 1959 TV Special (footage not available).
  • A 1973 TV version unsuccessfully modernized the story with Sebastian “Mr. French” Cabot. And they made him sing!
  • “Miracle” got a big budget theatrical remake in 1994. It stars Richard Attenborough as Kris and makes the story more commercial. Because that’s what it’s all about!
  • In addition to the remakes, Meredith “Music Man” Willson turned “Miracle” into the 1963 Broadway musical “Here’s Love”. The only memorable song in the score is the one he wrote 12 years earlier.

 

**2017 Update: Oh wait, never mind. There it is.

3 thoughts on “#73) Miracle on 34th Street (1947)”

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