Matt’s Walt Disney Pictures Live-Action Reviews: Miracle On 34th Street

Miracle on 34th Street

Released on May 2, 1947

Budget: $630,000

Box Office: $2.7 Million

Starring: Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, & Natalie Wood

Director: George Seaton

Plot (Per Wikipedia): Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) is indignant to find that the man (Percy Helton) assigned to play Santa in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is intoxicated. When he complains to event director Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara), she persuades Kris to take his place. He does so well he is hired to play Santa at Macy’s flagship New York City store on 34th Street.

Kris directs one shopper (Thelma Ritter) instead to another store because the desired item is not available at Macy’s. Initially confused, but nevertheless impressed, because Kris tells the truth (and ignores prior instructions from Julian Shellhammer (Philip Tonge), head of the toy department, to steer parents to Macy’s items), she informs Julian that she will become a loyal Macy’s customer.

Attorney Fred Gailey (John Payne), Doris’s neighbor, takes the young divorcée’s daughter Susan (Natalie Wood) to see Santa. Doris has raised her to not believe in fairy tales, but Susan is shaken after seeing Kris speak Dutch with a girl who does not know English. Doris asks Kringle to tell Susan that he is not Santa, but he insists that he is.

Worried, Doris decides to fire him. However, Kris has generated so much positive publicity and goodwill for Macy’s that Macy (Harry Antrim) promises Doris and Julian bonuses. To alleviate Doris’s misgivings, Julian has Granville Sawyer (Porter Hall) administer a “psychological evaluation”. Kris passes easily, but Sawyer still recommends his dismissal.

The store expands on the concept of steering customers to competitors if necessary. To avoid looking greedy, Gimbels implements the same policy, forcing Macy’s and others to reciprocate. As a consequence, Kris does the impossible, reconciling bitter rivals Macy and Gimbel (Herbert Heyes).

Pierce (James Seay), the doctor at Kris’s nursing home, assures Doris that Kris is harmless. To alleviate Doris’s worries, Pierce suggests Kris stay with someone. Fred volunteers. Later, Kris makes a pact with Fred: he will work on Susan’s cynicism while Fred does the same with Doris’s. When Susan reveals to Kris she wants a house for Christmas, showing him a photo of her dream house torn from a magazine, he reluctantly promises to do his best.

In the company cafeteria, young employee Alfred (Alvin Greenman) tells Kris that Sawyer convinced him that he is unstable simply because he is kind-hearted. Kris immediately goes to Sawyer’s office, to confront him, eventually striking him on his head with an umbrella. Sawyer exaggerates his pain to have Kris confined to Bellevue Hospital. Tricked into cooperating, and believing Doris to be in on the deception, Kris deliberately fails his examination and is recommended for permanent commitment. However, Fred persuades Kris not to give up.

At a hearing before Judge Henry X. Harper (Gene Lockhart), District Attorney Thomas Mara (Jerome Cowan) gets Kris to assert that he is Santa Claus and rests his case. Fred argues that Kris actually is Santa. Mara requests Harper rule that Santa does not exist. In private, Harper’s political adviser, Charlie Halloran (William Frawley), warns him that doing so would be disastrous for his upcoming reelection bid. Harper buys time by hearing evidence.

Doris quarrels with Fred when he quits his law firm to defend Kris. Fred calls Macy as a witness. When Mara asks if he believes Kris to be Santa, Macy starts to equivocate, but when pressed, he responds, “I do.” On leaving the stand, Macy fires Sawyer. Fred then calls Mara’s own young son (Bobby Hyatt), who testifies that his father told him that Santa was real. Mara concedes the point.

After his son and wife leave the courtroom, Mara then demands that Fred prove that Kris is “the one and only” Santa Claus on the basis of some competent authority. While Fred searches frantically, Susan writes Kris a letter to cheer him up, which Doris also signs. When a New York Post Office mail sorter (Jack Albertson) sees Susan’s letter, which is addressed to Kris at the New York courthouse, he suggests delivering all of the letters addressed to Santa Claus, in the dead letter office, to Kris.

When court resumes, Fred still has not found some competent authority to back Kris’s claim, but then an official gestures to Fred about the arrival of the mailbags at the courthouse. Fred presents Harper with three of the letters, addressed simply to “Santa Claus” that were just now delivered to Kris, asserting that the Post Office–a branch of the U.S. federal government–has acknowledged that Kris is the one and only Santa Claus. When Mara objects, on the grounds that three letters alone do not constitute sufficient proof, Fred tells Harper that he hesitates to produce many more such letters that he says that he has. Following Harper’s insistence for Fred to produce the other letters, Fred signals to the official to direct the postmen to dump all of the letters addressed to “Santa Claus”, in all of the mailbags, onto Harper’s desk. Unpiling himself from the deluge of letters, Harper (with great relief) dismisses the case.

On Christmas morning at a celebration at Dr. Pierce’s clinic, Susan loses faith in Kris when he does not give her the house she wanted. Kris offers Fred and Doris a route home that avoids traffic. Along the way, Susan sees the very image of her dream house with a “For Sale” sign in front. Susan demands that Fred stop the car, whereupon she joyfully runs into the house, exclaiming “Mr. Kringle IS Santa Claus!” Fred learns that Doris had encouraged Susan to have faith and suggests they purchase the house–a proposition with which Doris joyfully agrees. He then boasts that he must be a great lawyer since he proved an eccentric old man was Santa. However, when he and Doris spot a cane in the house that looks just like Kris’s, he is not so sure that he worked this miracle alone.

Final Thoughts:  When I think of classic Christmas movies, I think of 3 movies, It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, & Miracle on 34th Street.  If you were to have asked me when I was a kid, I probably would have given you a different answer, most likely it would have included Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, & Home Alone.  Though those movies are great in their own right, to me this movie trumps them all.  It takes a simple concept that for all Christmas lovers hold true to themselves, the existence of Santa Claus.  What would you do if someone came up to you claiming that they were Jolly Ole St. Nick himself?  Would you believe him or would you cast him aside believing him to be mentally insane?  

What I love about this movie is that even though the movie is 73 years old, whenever I see it I feel like I am 8 years old again.  It brings me back to a time when I believed that there truly was a Santa Claus.  To the point where I would have gone to court to prove there was a real Santa Claus.  It didn’t hurt that this movie brought together two of my favorite holiday event, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (Which I still watch to this day) and the entire Christmas season leading up to the big day.  

The movie itself has a great pace to it, with some great dialogue.  That keeps you entrenched in the story.  The movie is so well written that it won Academy Awards for Best Writing, Original Story & Screenplay.  Just the interactions between Kris Kringle & Susan steal the show.  The Edmund Gwenn would go on to win the Best Supporting Actor Award for his role and it was well deserved.  I firmly believe that the young Natalie Wood stole the show here.  She would go on to act in many great movies, such as Rebel Without a Cause & The Searchers to name two.  But her start here showed how great of an actress she would become.  

This movie is a must see for any Christmas movie junkie with great acting and a great story.  It leads you into a world of true fantasy that will always put  a smile on your face.

Final Score: 5 out of 5

Next Review: Treasure Island

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