Miracle on 34th Street - 1947
Director(s): George Seaton
Writer(s): George Seaton (screenplay) and Valentine Davies (story)
Cinematography by: Lloyd Ahern Sr. and Charles G. Clarke
Editor(s): Robert L. Simpson
Cast: Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Gene Lockhart and Natalie Wood
Synopsis: A nice old man claims to be Santa Claus and is forced to defend himself in court or be institutionalized as insane.
It all comes down to a question of whether or not faith and personal belief is enough proof. If you truly believe in something, even when faced with what the consensus deems reality, is your belief enough to see you through? This is the case for our protagonist Kris Kringle, played joyfully by Edmund Gwenn, as he truly beliefs that he is the one and only Santa Claus. This belief would see him taken all the way to court because of his unwillingness to let go of it. As for his lawyer, played by John Payne, it’s a matter of faith he has in Kris that drives him to defend his client to the end.
Twenty-nine years in this world can leave you somewhat jaded and deprived of some of your childlike wonder and imagination. But to the credit of writer-director George Seaton, this movie had me smiling throughout the entire runtime. The story is structured in a way that they show you how jaded and unhappy adults have become after losing their imaginations. Doris Walker, played by Maureen O’Hara, is career driven and hell-bent on not letting her daughter, played by Natalie Wood, fall to any childhood fantasy, including Santa Claus. This goal of hers leads me to believe that the reality of the world after losing touch with her childhood fantasy was a rough emotional moment for her, something she harbors resentment towards. But, in an effort to safeguard her daughter from the same letdown, she has deprived her from having the happiness and emotion the holiday season has for children. Once Mister Kringle comes into the picture we see hers and her daughter’s walls slowly come down as their imaginations and, by association, their happiness comes to life. Seaton was able to capture both sides of the coin; both people who choose not to believe in Mister Kringle and the ones who let their imaginations run wild once again.
Quick note: the opening sequence takes place during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, as Mister Kringle replaces the drunk Santa Claus that was supposed to take part of the parade. When doing some light research, I read that they recorded this scenes during the actual parade. Actor Edmund Gwenn portrayed Santa in the parade and the production crew had to get creative in how they shot the scenes because of the crowds and the weather.
This movie has a great cast that reveled in each of their roles. Maureen O’Hara has the best arc, since at first she is so focused on purely living in the real world that by the end you can clearly see a spark of life and happiness in her eyes. John Payne as Fred, the lawyer that defends Mister Kringle, is upbeat, childlike and contagiously optimistic about the possibilities this world has, including a real Santa Claus. Natalie Wood as Susan is cute and funny and has great line delivery even at such a young age. Supposedly she still believed in Santa Claus during filming, so that may have helped with her interactions with Mister Kringle. Finally, the star of the movie must be Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle, aka Santa Claus. His smile made me smile every time. His kindness beamed through the screen and melted my jaded heart as I genuinely felt I was watching Santa Claus spreading joy to almost every person that he came in touch with.
Quick note: the funniest scene in the movie comes when Mister Kringle is getting evaluated by Macy’s “psychiatrist”. The way he bats all the questions and scenarios back to him is hilarious.
Miracle on 34th Street is a holiday treat that has aged well seventy years after its release. The story still rings true to this day as many of us live in the day-to-day grind, losing our sense of wonder and joy. It’s good to, every now and again, live in a world of imagination, even if it’s for the sake of your child or the children around you. There is a big part of me that misses not being able to go to sleep on the 24th knowing that when I wake up the next day my tree would be surrounded by presents. This movie made me relive the joy that Christmas brings to kids that still believe in Santa Claus. George Seaton’s story plus Gwenn’s portrayal of Santa Claus is why I love movies.
Miracle on 34th Street is currently streaming on multiple platforms. Watch it and revel in the Christmas spirit.
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