Anthony's Film Review
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Miracle on 34th Street is certainly a miracle for holiday movies...
Do you believe in Santa Claus? That's a question people might ask around Christmas time. Many people, especially children, will answer yes, while others will say no. It's something to think about. That's exactly what the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street intends to explore. It presents the Santa Claus question and a cast of characters representing both sides of the issue. The result is a film that not only makes us think about the spirit of Santa Claus but also inspires us to believe in him.
Let's start with Santa Claus himself. Edmund Gwenn plays a kind-hearted bearded old man named Kris Kringle. He is someone who can easily play the role of Santa Claus. But that's not all. He claims that he IS Santa Claus, and he makes this statement repeatedly without any doubts. Consequently, when Kris discovers a Santa who has a drinking problem, he criticizes the other Santa for being a disgrace to the children out there. It is no surprise that Doris Walker, played by Maureen O'Hara, asks Kris to be the replacement Santa for the Thanksgiving Day parade organized by the department store Macy's.
Speaking of Doris, she is one of the characters in this movie who does not believe in Santa Claus. That's because she is a divorced mother who now sees that the Prince Charming of fairy tales does not exist in real life. Naturally, she refuses to tell fairy tales to her young daughter Susan, played by Natalie Wood, so that this little girl has no knowledge of stories like Jack and the Beanstalk and no willingness to imagine anything or pretend to be anything. Like mother like daughter, Susan views the world with 100% realism the way Doris does.
As for the people who believe in Santa Claus, you can definitely see that when Kris as Santa meets children at a Macy's store on 34th Street in New York City. Some of the children ask for toys not available at Macy's, but rather than suggest an overstocked toy that Macy's has, as instructed by the head of Macy's toy department, Kris suggests competing stores that provide the exact toys the children want. At first, this annoys Macy's executives. But once Macy's customers praise the store for thinking of the customer first, rival department stores are forced to adopt the same good will, leading to a business environment of cooperation rather than competition.
As you can see, this film is about the spirit of Christmas. It's about doing good for others more than receiving gifts, the thought of gift-giving rather than buying or selling the best gift items, and touching people's hearts in ways that do not have to be material. Over the course of the movie, Kris inspires Susan to use her imagination, encourages a 17-year-old boy to be Santa without shame, becomes a respected figure for Macy's, and wins the hearts of many children. Even so, he has a few antagonists who do not believe in Santa Claus. The most notable of these is a Macy's employee psychologist who clearly has insecurities of his own.
This leads to the climactic courtroom scene where a hearing takes place to determine if Kris is just an old man who is delusional about being Santa Claus and needs to be committed to a mental institution. While it is a serious situation, it's not melodramatic like an emotionally charged courtroom drama film. There is lightheartedness as Kris proudly states that he is Santa Claus and the prosecution is frustrated with trying to establish insanity. If you think that's something, you'll be even more amused by how the defense actually vows to prove that Kris Kringle is Santa Claus. The way it ultimately happens would be highly unusual in real life, but is funny and creative here.
With a mixture of comedy and drama, Miracle on 34th Street amazingly straddles two genres while delivering holiday joy and inspiration from each. There are great Christmas comedies and great Christmas dramas, and then there are great Christmas comedy-dramas like this one. In addition, there is a wonderful cast playing memorable characters, especially Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle. The result is a simple yet delightful film that the whole family will enjoy. Just as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade continues to be a real-life annual holiday tradition, Miracle on 34th Street continues to be a classic holiday film. Watch it if you haven't done so, and soon, you too will believe in Santa Claus.
For more information about Miracle on 34th Street, visit the Internet Movie Database.