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Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Miracle on 34th Street poster.jpg

How can an exercise in realism conceivably work as a magical heartwarming Christmas movie? And yet this does. George Seaton, an admirable writer/director/producer, took a story by Valentine Davies, went on the streets of New York City and into the halls of its most famous department store,Macys, and unravelled the likelihood of there being a Santa Claus. Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara) is the busy working divorced mom who needs to find a convincing replacement for the toy department Santa because the latest one showed up drunk at the Thanksgiving Day parade. She hires as his replacement Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) an elderly gentleman she’s met on the streets because he looks right but when she realises he thinks he’s the real thing she regrets her decision. She can’t get him fired because he has created so much goodwill in the shoppers.  Her small daughter Susan (Natalie Wood) is an outright sceptic and neighbour attorney Fred Gailey (John Payne) is romancing her and trying to persuade the little girl to believe in the magic of Christmas. When Susan sees Kris speak Dutch to a war orphan she begins to change her opinion. An argument with a co-worker sees Kris committed to Bellevue mental hospital and Fred defends him in court where his competence is questioned.  The existence  of Santa Claus is debated and thousands of letters addressed to him are presented as evidence in the court room … Susan’s dream of a proper family home is granted on Christmas morning when Kris recommends an alternative way home with less traffic and a For Sale sign invites them inside, where a red cane indicates Kris has brought them the gift they always wanted. It’s the home she has dreamed of having. Natalie Wood is mesmerising as the little girl who comes to believe in Santa, Edmund Gwenn is the perfect Kris Kringle and Maureen O’Hara, who had returned to live in Ireland, was persuaded back to the US by the quality of the script. Seaton was a significant multi-hyphenate who had early success first as radio’s Lone Ranger, then as a writer for the Marx Brothers. He worked as a director then parlayed his way to auteur status with this (for which he won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay) and The Big Lift. Both can be considered significant examples of post-WW2 filmmaking. He also received the Oscar for The Country Girl and he directed Grace Kelly and several others to Oscar success – including this film’s performance by Edmund Gwenn for Supporting Actor as Santa Claus.  He’d get my vote every year. An evergreen.

About elainelennon

An occasional movie-watching diary.

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