Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
“Capture the spirit of Christmas with this timeless classic!”
Director: George Seaton
Cast: Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara, John Payne
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.
If you had to have some old chap invade your home on Christmas Eve, you couldn’t wish for a more lovable one than the affable Edmund Gwenn (A Yank at Oxford) in George Seaton’s perennial Christmas feel-good movie, Miracle on 34th Street. He plays a dear old boy who may or may not be the real Santa Claus, and who, despite the best efforts of Doris (Maureen O’Hara – How Green Was My Valley, Rio Grande), the store’s Events Director and struggling lawyer Fred Galley (John Payne- The Razor’s Edge, Kansas City Confidential), finds himself committed to an asylum after going down a storm as Macy’s resident Santa during the run up to Christmas. Galley lives across the corridor from Doris, and thinks nothing of inviting her young daughter, Susan (eight-year-old Natalie Wood) to join him in his pad unaccompanied by other adults. Just goes to show you how times have changed, I guess. One thing that apparently hasn’t however is the commercialisation of Christmas, judging by old Kris’s complaints, although it’s difficult to watch that scene without wearing a wry smile. Today we find ourselves watching elaborate Christmas adverts on TV while the Guy Fawkes fireworks are still whistling and banging outside.
Anyway, Miracle on 34th Street still generates warm fuzzies in the same way as that other beloved 1940s Christmas classic, It’s A Wonderful Life, when viewed during the festive season, although Capra’s movie didn’t suffer the indignity of a remake in the way this one has. The trouble with remakes is that younger moviegoers tend to favour them over the originals regardless of their comparative qualities and, as good as it is, the 1994 version can’t hold a candle to this one.
Maureen O’Hara looks good enough to eat as a prototype single mum, and Natalie Wood is cute as her daughter, displaying a natural talent in front of the camera and a rare gift for imitating monkeys. Edmund Gwenn is the perfect incarnation of Santa – or of a compassionate soul who believes himself to be the big man – whose gentle manner endears him to the audience to such a degree that we end up truly hoping he really is the genuine article. The movie wisely sidesteps the responsibility of revealing his true identity, and is all the better for it. After all, it’s not about whether he is or not, it’s about whether as adults we can still retain a tiny measure of that childhood belief which was once so unquestioning.
(Reviewed 10th November 2014)