Classic Christmas Film Review – Miracle On 34th Street5 min read

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Brenda Fellman

As I have previously written in ‘Four of the best Christmas movies you could ever watch‘, I am aiming to write up full reviews for 3 of them because I only gave a small review for each in that article. So without further adieu, here is the first one; Miracle on 34th Street.

Miracle on 34th Street – Plot

Miracle on 34th Street starts when a old man (Edmund Gwenn) is hired by Macy’s to play Santa by their no-nonsense special events director, Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara). While he is quite successful, Ms. Walker learns that he calls himself Kris Kringle and believes that he really is Santa. Despite reassurances by Kringle’s doctor that he is harmless, Doris still is worried, especially since she has trained herself and her daughter, Susan (Natalie Wood), to reject all notions of belief and fantasy and to just believe in logic. As the film progresses Kris, with the help from a young lawyer, Fred Gailey (John Payne), starts to turn those beliefs upside down. Eventually things come to head and Kris is institutionalised for being insane. Fred decides to defend him by arguing in court that he is the real thing.

Miracle on 34th Street, won a several awards the year it came out. These included Best Writing, Original Story, Best Writing, Screenplay and Best Actor in a Supporting Role at the Oscars. At the Golden Globes, the film won Best Supporting Actor and Best Screenplay. This all makes sense as the story has a lot to say about several topics; how to raise a child, how a person of questionable sanity gets treated, how greedy drives business, how politics play out in a courtroom and what to do with all the mail addressed to Santa Claus! It also (literally) put Christmas on trial and lets the festive spirit prevail.

Edmund Gwenn shines in the role of Kris Kringle the elderly, eccentric man who may or may not be the real Santa Claus. This is reflected in the Oscar and Golden Globe Best Supporting Actor wins. Maureen O’Hara’s performance as Doris Walker brings out the qualities of what a woman, hurt from divorce, in the 40’s may have been like. The character’s stiffness, fear of losing control, and anxiety about her job make a great deal of sense.

John Payne is great as the struggling up and coming lawyer Fred Gailey. As Fred Gailey, John Payne  not only helps Kris Kringle but helps bring the fun to the Walker family. Little Natalie Wood as Susan Walker is amazing as a young girl who was brought up by a no-nonsense mother to only believe in the practical and to look after herself. The one thing she was not taught was how to be a child. This is emphasised in a small scene where Susan and Kris are talking about how the other children in the building were pretending to be animals and she didn’t see the reason for it.

This film is filled with insights into the customs of that time period. The costumes show a time when everybody was  dressed up for everyday things. Women wore dresses, gloves and hats whilst men donned hats and suits. You can also notice the some habits that would have been common in the 40’s. An example of this is when Doris Walker enters a room filled with Macy’s executives, even though they are the bosses and she is lower management, they all stand up instantly.

Another thing that is interesting in this film is the Doris Walker is divorced which at time was not as common as it is today. This is brought out neatly in the movie when Fred Gailey does a double take when he learns from her daughter about the divorce. The character probably had assumed she was a war widow like many women at the time. At that time in history, society largely agreed that women should stay home to raise their children. Women were rarely in management positions, and couldn’t expect promotion. Sadly, women were normally last to be hired and the first to be fired.

Miracle on 34th Street has been remade four times. Three of those times were for TV in 1955, 1959, and 1973. The fourth time was as a feature film in 1994 (the film was more serious and less fun than the original). These adaptations come close to the magic of the original. None of the remakes are bad, they just don’t measure up.

The message that Miracle on 34th Street is trying to get across is not about the real meaning of Christmas, nor is it about the commercialism that has dominated the holiday for years. The message of the movie is that make believe and fantasy play are an important role in our live and without them we would have no source for our hopes and dreams. This film is magical and beautiful. In my opinion, there is not one bad scene throughout the movie. The cast is amazing and everyone does a great job in pulling this film together. So give this film a watch you will enjoy it.

Miracle On 34th Street – Cast

Maureen O’Hara – Doris Walker

John Payne – Fred Gailey

Edmund Gwenn – Kris Kringle

Gene Lockhart – Judge Henry X. Harper

Natalie Wood – Susan Walker

Christmas movies

Want to watch some other great movies this festive period? Here are 10 of the best Christmas movies to watch this Christmas.

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