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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) - It's Groovy!

DVD cover for Miracle on 34th Street
"Miracle on 34th Street" ( 1947), produced by Twentieth Century Fox, is one of the big guns of the holiday season, a film that never seems to go out of style. Written and directed by George Seaton from a story by , it won Academy Awards for Edmund Gwenn in a supporting role, Best Writing, Original Story and Best Writing, Screenplay. While it lost the Best Picture nod to "Gentleman's Agreement," not too many people remember that one, but everyone remembers this every time Christmas rolls around. The most fascinating aspect of this tale is how it manages to blend the "true meaning" of Christmas (which is never really gone into too deeply) with the reality of the season - which is its commercialization.
Fred and Susan talking in front of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade
A marvelous, classic shot of the Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC
The story concerns events among a goup of ordinary New Yorkers between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Kris Kringle (Gwenn) complains to Macy's event director Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara) that the store Santa (Percy Helton) is drunk. She replaces him with Kris, who does such a great job that he becomes the Santa at the flagship store in Manhattan (which, of course, is located at 34th Street, hence the title).
Doris and Susan talking in Miracle on 34th Street
Haven't we all seen that look on a child's face?
Kris is kind of a loose cannon, and has the audacity to direct mothers to other stores when Macy's doesn't have the proper gift for a child. Kris becomes so popular that young Susan (Natalie Wood), Doris' daughter, thinks he is the real Santa. Doris tells him to make clear that he isn't - but Kris says he can't do that, because he really is Santa Claus.
Kris, Susan, Doris and Fred look at a Christmas tree in Miracle on 34th Street
A 1940s view of Heaven
Doris wants to fire him, but word has gotten around that Macy's has the best Santa in town. So much good publicity results that Mr. Macy (Harry Antrim) gives both Doris and the head of the toy department, Julian Shellhammer (Philip Tonge) bonuses. Kris passes a psychological test and remains as store Santa, and a little of the holiday spirit creeps into the retail sector as all the store have their Santas refer customers to the best place to get a toy even if it isn't their own store.
Doris holds Susan in Miracle on 34th Street
Maureen O'Hara really had to work hard to steal any screen time from Natalie Wood
Fred Gailey (John Payne), an attorney friend of Doris', lets Kris stay with him. A romance blossoms between Fred and Doris, and Kris learns that Susan's only wish is to live in a nice house with a swing in the back.
Kris hugs Susan in Miracle on 34th Street
The world was a better place when this was the picture of pure innocence
The store psychologist, Granville Sawyer (Porter Hall), who doesn't like Kris, makes disparaging comments about him. Kris retaliates by rapping him on the head with his umbrella in frustration. Sawyer convinces the authorities to lock Kris up in Bellevue Mental Hospital. Kris is discouraged that Doris appears to be against him and deliberately fails a mental test. Fred is determined to fight for Kris, though, and takes the case to court, where it becomes front page news in front of judge Henry X. Harper (a very comically confused Gene Lockhart), who is advised by his political guru Charlie Halloran (William Frawley) about the case's sensitivity.
Kris Kringle riding in a sleigh in Miracle on 34th Street
The perfect Santa
The film, released the same year as "It's A Wonderful Life," came out in May in one of the strangest studio decisions of all time. It didn't matter, though, as the film became so popular that there have been four remakes, a Broadway Musical, television and radio adaptations, and, of course, the book, which came out at the same time as the film.
Original film poster for Miracle on 34th Street
This was the Summer 1947 poster - can you see any sign of Christmas, or a Santa?
This is a terrific holiday treat, mixing the sentimental with the mundane. Perhaps the best scenes are in the courthouse, something you would not expect in a holiday movie, as Fred fights to keep Kris out of the mental ward (commonly known as a "Section 8" order). William Frawler, better known as Fred on "I Love Lucy," plays a pivotal role in this proceeding that fits in perfectly with his later characterization of the tough, street-smart antagonist of all the crazies in his life.
Kris and Fred in court in Miracle on 34th Street
One of the best courtroom scenes ever filmed
Everybody should see this at some point during the season. Maureen O'Hara and Natalie Wood are delightful, and Gwenn really did deserve that Oscar.
Kris holds Susan's hand in Miracle on 34th Street
Every child's dream in the 1940s

You may view the trailer below. As the man says, it's groovy!


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