One of the quintessential Christmas movies, Miracle on 34th Street is as pure and sentimental as holiday entertainment can get without becoming saccharine. Edmund Gwenn won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of arguably the best on-screen Santa Claus, genial and honest, accommodating but willing to confront vice in the name of virtue. When younger, I was always told that the Santa at the end of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was the real Santa (as opposed to all his impersonating helpers out there in the malls and department stores and street corners), and this film cemented that belief.
Maureen O’Hara is both likable and frustratingly pragmatic as divorced mother Doris, whose growing relationship with the idealistic lawyer Fred Gailey (John Payne) is a cogent endorsement of the “lovely intangibles” that make life enjoyable. A young Natalie Wood gives a precocious performance as doubting Susan, who doesn’t know what to believe as the adults pull her in different intellectual directions.
Though there are some instances of Golden-Age-of-Hollywood overacting, its Oscar-winning screenplay succeeds at balancing humor, schmaltz, and intelligence. The courtroom scenes are particularly well-formulated, with an implausible claim being “proven” in a surprisingly persuasive way. Though we never see Kris Kringle in full Santa mode, delivering toys and such, he embodies and disseminates the goodwill, generosity, and “faith” of the secular side of Christmas. No remake can compare with the magic of the 1947 original (non-colorized, please).
Interestingly, despite its reputation as a holiday classic, the film was not advertised as a Christmas movie. Its trailers simply featured actors bestowing vague praise on some inspiring story called Miracle on 34th Street, and it was actually released in the United States in May. Even with its spring release, the film was recognized as a Christmas delight, one of those enduring bits of Americana that can be watched year after year.Best line: (Fred) “Look, Doris, someday you’re going to find out that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn’t work. And when you do, don’t overlook those lovely intangibles. You’ll discover they’re the only things that are worthwhile.” VC’s best line: (Mr. Shellhammer, on the phone with Doris) “Yes. Just a moment. Mrs. Shellhammer wants to talk to you. I made the martinis triple strength, and she feels wonderful! Here, my pet.” (Mrs. Shellhammer, on the couch and snockered, holding the phone upside down) “Thank you. Hello? Hello?” (Mr. Shellhammer, switching phone around but still upside down) “No, no, no, no. No, dear.” (Mrs. Shellhammer, laughing) “Thank you, darling. [Loudly] Hello?” (Mr. Shellhammer, turning phone right-side up) “No, no, no, dear. There.” (Mrs. Shellhammer) “Oh, darling. How silly of me. [Very loudly] Helloooo? [Laughs] Why, we’d love to have Santa Claus come and stay with us. Mm-hmm. I think it would be simp-ly charming!” Rank: 54 out of 60
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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