Best Movies of All Time + [Porter Hall]

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET1947
Not Rated

"Oh, Christmas isn't just a day, it's a frame of mind... and that's what's been changing. That's why I'm glad I'm here. Maybe I can do something about it."
-- Kris Kringle

Miracle on 34th Street is a 1947 dramatic comedy directed by George Seaton that serves as an annual holiday classic. When Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade coordinator Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara) learns that her current "Santa Claus" is a drunkard, she turns to a man who appears to be a perfect fit for the job. After the parade, Doris learns that the man calls himself Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) and claims himself to be the real Santa Claus. Despite his seeming insanity, he happens to have a rather brilliant marketing strategy, so the higher-ups at Macy's elect to keep him on as their resident Santa for the holidays. At the same time, Kris hopes to show both Doris and her daughter Susan (Natalie Wood) the true spirit of Christmas. However, when Kris deliberately assaults Macy's company psychologist Granville Sawyer (Porter Hall), Kris finds himself committed to a mental institution and ultimately finds himself facing trial. The hearings, however, turn to a discussion over whether or not Kris happens to be the one and true Santa Claus.

When a film becomes a holiday classic, you know that it's bound to have some sort of dignifying feature that keeps audiences coming back to it year in and year out. While I know I've seen snippets of Miracle on 34th Street over the years, I can't honestly say that I've seen it in its entirety until this morning. I knew all about its accolades: it has always been very well-received critically, and it even managed to nab three Academy Awards along the way. It even spawned a 1994 remake of the same name. With such a high-class resumé, you can imagine the expectations I held going into my viewing.

I do have to say that the film at least met, if not exceeded, each and every expectation I had going into the film. We're getting a very clever screenplay - one that ultimately won two Oscars (one for the Original Story, and one for the screenplay itself) - so you can imagine just how good it actually is. Sure, there are moments where you'll be scratching your head. It takes a little bit of time to realize just why the real Santa Claus might be hanging around New York City, but considering the bit of anti-commercialism message trying to be conveyed, what better place for the man to make his existence known? In a way, it's almost as if the story, which focuses on proving to the doubters that Santa exists, is also trying to prove to the audience that he exists. Especially in today's society, it's difficult to think that such a man might actually be real, and I'm not about to use this post as a soap box for my ranting and raving. I only know what the public and the media have told me, but there's an aspect of faith that's incredibly important when talking about the Santa Claus story. There's even a moment towards the end of the film where O'Hara's character says, "Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to." In a way, Miracle on 34th Street works to re-instill that Christmas faith and spirit in a way I haven't truly seen in another Christmas-oriented film.

To complement the story and the screenplay, we actually have a rather stellar cast to bring the characters to life. I can't say enough about Edmund Gwenn, who won an Oscar for his "supporting" role in the film. Were I ever to meet the real Santa Claus, I would hope he turns out to be just like the Kris Kringle that Gwenn brings to the screen. He's consistent in his jolliness and good will towards every man, woman and child he meets. He's the epitome of the man we all want to envision bringing gifts to all the good girls and boys come Christmas Eve. While Gwenn steals the show, there are still a few others worth mention. I thought O'Hara did quite well considering she doesn't have a ton of material with which to work, and Natalie Wood also proves to be a fantastic piece to the puzzle. John Payne, who plays O'Hara's love interest and Gwenn's attorney, probably brings forth the second-best performance in the film, and there's something about his everyman that's ultimately appealing. Even Porter Hall, who plays the sniveling weasel of a "villain" in this one, offers a stellar bit. It's just a great ensemble all around.

And so, if you're looking for a fantastic film for the Christmas season, you need not look further than the original Miracle on 34th Street. It should do quite a bit to re-instill the true Christmas spirit, and while there is quite a bit of talk about commercialism and politics, there's still a basis of love and happiness that shines through it all.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: B+
2 Thumbs Up