Classic Movie ReviewsMovie ReviewsClassic Review: Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

leandromatos1981December 25, 2018

Miracle on 34th Street is all you need if you are looking to celebrate the Christmas spirit.

Synopsis: When a nice old man who claims to be Santa Claus is institutionalized as insane, a young lawyer decides to defend him by arguing in court that he is the real thing. (20th Century Fox)

Starring: Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, and Edmund Gwenn

Writer: George Seaton

Director: George Seaton

Rating: n/a

Running Time: 96mins


During the Macy’s Christmas parade, an old man (Gwenn) sees the actor hired to play Santa Claus is drunk out of his mind and ends up taking the part. He is so good at playing Santa Claus he gets a contract to do it during the entire month. He becomes a success in New York, beloved by all the children but one, Susan Walker (Natalie Wood) a girl who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus who happens to be the daughter of Doris, the woman who hired his services (Maureen O’Hara). In time, some people start noticing some strange behavior, until discovering that the old man truly believes he is Kris Kringle. His kind and welcoming nature shakes the beliefs of everyone around him. When he is wrongfully committed to a mental institution, his lawyer friend, Fred Gailey (John Payne), takes his case but turns the public opinion on his favor, proposing to prove that the man is, in fact, Santa Claus.

It’s impossible not to love Miracle on 34th Street. It’s the perfect Christmas movie; probably the best one ever made together with It’s a Wonderful Life. But if you are a cynic, don’t even waste your time. This is a movie that asks us to open our hearts to the idea that maybe Santa Claus is real, but most important than that, it asks us to open our hearts to the idea that the goodness he advertises can and should be our priority.

For being such a Christmas classic, one might forget how modern it was. You have a divorced single mother who does not mention the father of her child once. He’s not in the picture and she’s very independent, she can take care of herself and her child perfectly fine. She has a very natural romance with her neighbor, they both care for each other and her previous marriage is not treated like a problem at all. You have an entire subplot of corporate feud between Macy’s and the other competing department stores.

They all fight for providing the best representation of Christmas and in this case, Macy’s win with Kris Kringle himself. But when he starts directing clients to other stores to find better or sold out items, the heads of the company go crazy furious – until they see the positive image that gesture brings to the company and then they embrace it as if it was an original and planned idea to stimulate the Christmas spirit. Macy’s competitors, not wanting to give the impression that the corporate greed that drives them is actually corporate greed, decides to make the same efforts to help costumers having a merry holiday. But it’s very clear what is the true reason for such well-intended behavior.

When the story goes to court, all the warm-hearted ideas become even more intense and positive. At that moment, the movie enters a very tricky scenario: that’s when all these ideas are stated and reinforced by the characters, and the movie could just succumb for its too-good-to-be-true intentions. But that never happens. Seaton manages to address such themes with ease and he establishes a huge emotional connection between the audience and his story. He is able to do the (almost) impossible: to make the audience long for the ideas it depicts. He doesn’t lie to the public: we all know that this is not a true story. But the true genius of this tale is to make us want it to be real, to make us desire it deeply. We look at it and we wish we had the power to make that happen. And the movie points out that we actually can make it happen – we just need to practice these ideas ourselves.

Making all this work depended on actors who were able to convey all these emotions without pushing it beyond what the audience could swallow. Fortunately, the entire cast works perfectly. O’Hara and Payne make an effortless pair; their romance is soft, easy and we truly believe they care for each other; Wood is great as the child who doesn’t believe in Santa but starts doubting herself when she meets Kris. All the supporting players work wonderfully, but it’s really Gwenn who totally steals the spotlight. It’s impossible to think of anybody else doing Santa Claus after his portrayal. It’s absolutely perfect.

Plain and simply, Miracle on 34th Street should be prescribed by doctors on monthly doses.

Score: 10/10

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