Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Movie quotes:Doris (Maureen O’Hara): Would you please tell her that you're not really Santa Claus, that there actually is no such person?
Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn): Well, I hate to disagree with you, but not only IS there such a person, but here I am to prove it.

At a glance:The original Miracle on 34th Street may be occasionally talky and slow-moving by today’s standards, but it still remains one of the all-time great family Christmas fantasy films

Our review:
It’s Christmas eve, 2008. What better time to re-watch and write my review of Miracle on 34th Street, one of the classic Christmas and family movies? We’re talking about the original Miracle; it was remade in 1994 into what is considered to be a very inferior version. I haven’t seen that one yet, but of course I am curious to find out if it is bad and why.

But back to the original: The story focuses on a man who believes himself to be Kris Kringle, the real Santa Claus. Played wonderfully by Edmund Gwenn, he lives in a nursing home, and through circumstances ends up playing Santa in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Soon after, he is hired to play Santa and see kids in the store as well. Putting kids first, he gets his bosses angry when he rejects his job instructions and starts telling people to go elsewhere when Macy’s does not have exactly what the child wants. But this helpful attitude is such a successful public relations strategy that it makes Macy’s immensely popular, and soon, against all odds, major competitor Gimbels follows suit. Problems occur when Kringle gets on the wrong side of company psychologist Sawyer (Porter Hall). When Kris’s battle to convince skeptical boss Doris (Maureen O’Hara) and her daughter Susan (Natalie Wood) fails, he purposely flunks a psychological test and is committed. His friend Fred (John Payne), who is also a suitor for Doris, convinces Kris to fight the charge, and a court battle ensues, with Fred attempting to prove that Kris is the one and only Santa.

You can see why any remake would fail when you think about the implausibility of that plot. But the movie is carried by the incredible performance of Gwenn. He plays Santa like he is the real thing, and the truth is, whether he is Santa or not, he proves beyond a doubt that the concept of Santa is real. Good supporting work by Natalie Wood also helps – she’s  a joy to watch. Her face looks like a little bonsai version of her grown-up one. The film also remains relevant in its look at how commercialism often interferes with values.

Overall, there are talky sequences and plot problems (Doris’s transformation takes place in the blink of an eye) but this is still one of the best family fantasy movies of all time. Note that this film will probably bore kids under 6, and will also be too slow for older kids (and any adult who lacks nostalgia for this era in movie-making). Rating: 3.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:"You want the spirit of Christmas? It's all right here."
- Christopher Null (

"One of a half dozen Christmas movie classics."
- Steve Crum (Kansas City Kansan)

"Christmas wouldn't be complete without it."
- Kevin Carr (7M Pictures)

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