Saturday, November 18, 2017

Movie Matinee #9: Miracle on 34th Street

My Kiddo's old VHS
*** Contains Spoilers ***

It's been 70 years since the movie Miracle on 34th Street was released in theaters, but for me, it has always been the go-to movie that ushers in the holiday season. 

The film was actually made in 1946, so it still the sense of the country coming out of its war-time deprivations. People were still hungry - not so much for turkey and all the trimmings, but for peace and prosperity. But Miracle on 34th Street is also a cautionary tale about the kind of commercialism doing without for so long can lead to, while still celebrating the idea of the American Dream - a family, a house in the suburbs - all it takes is a little faith. So, you could say that he real underlying theme of the movie is simply Peace on earth, Goodwill towards all people.

The movie opens with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The man hired to play Santa is found drunk by a charming, elderly, gentle well-dressed white bearded man, whose name just happens to be Kris Kringle. Kris is hired on the spot to replace drunk Santa by Doris Walker. Doris, a realist at heart, is ironically is in charge of making this fantasyland of a parade a reality. 

Meanwhile, Doris’s young daughter, Susan, a realist and a sceptic who does not believe in Santa Clause, is watching the parade from their apartment window with neighbor Fred Gailey, a handsome lawyer who just happens to be single and very interested in Doris when he learns she is divorced. 

Kris is such a great Santa, he’s hired by Macy’s to be their holiday Santa Clause stand-in. The only problem is that Kris isn’t much interested in Macy’s profit margin, but rather he’s more about making kids happy on Christmas morning. Poor Kris ends up in Bellevue’s mental hospital, to be psychologically evaluated. 

In the meantime, Kris has befriended Fred Gaily and little Susan, who is beginning to doubt her realist upbringing and think maybe there could be a Santa. So she tells him what she wants for Christmas - a house in the suburbs. All Kris can do is promise to do his best to deliver on her Christmas wish.

Eventually, Kris ends up in New York's Supreme Court defended by Fred, and things don’t look promising, but Fred manages to prove Kris is really Kris Kringle, thanks to the post office delivering 21 bags of letters addressed to Santa Clause - and it doesn’t hurt that the judges’s son is a big believer, too. 

Susan is very disappointed on Christmas morning when she finds nothing about a house under the Christmas tree (Fred’s influence). But sure enough, later in the day when she, her mother and Fred are driving out to visit Kris, there’s the house and there’s Kris’s cane in it. Did he or didn’t he? That is for the viewer to decide for her/himself.

(I like this whole movie, and the message is sends, but my very favorite scene in Miracle on 34th Street are when Kris is still Macy’s Santa and a little Dutch refugee is brought to see him. The look on her face when he begins to speak to her in Dutch is priceless.) 

Here are some interesting facts about Miracle on 34th Street:

The Macy’s parade scenes were really filmed during the 1946 parade, which a very cold morning. In the scenes of Santa waving to the crowd from his sleigh was really Edmund Gwenn, who plays Kris in the movie. And each of parade scenes only had one chance to get it all right. 

The scenes that take place in Macy’s were really filmed there, but after hours when there were not customers around.

It was so cold when the scene where Susan spots her dream house that the camera’s froze and they had to wait for the cameras to throw before they could continue. Neighbors invited the cast into their home to warm up.

You may recall that in the parade scene outside Susan’s front window, There were six balloons in the parade in 1946, but it is Harold the baseball player balloon is floating by Susan’s window. Harold hasn’t been seen again since 1946.. Well, this year, to mark the 70th anniversary of the movie, they are reintroducing Harold: 

You can find more interesting facts about Miracle on 34th Street HERE
You can find the original NY Times movie review by Bosley Crowther (June 5, 1947) HERE

The new 70th anniversary DVD 

1 comment:

  1. This is my favorite Christmas movie EVER - and I don't even celebrate Christmas. I can't choose a favorite scene - although the mail dump on the judge's bench and the part where the judge's grandchildren snub him are up there. (I also love Christmas Eve on Sesame Street.)