Every year, ten movies are bestowed the honor of becoming nominated by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Many of these films will already have had various successes throughout the year: good festival attendance, box office success, and likely other prestigious awards as well. Yet, only one of the ten films ends the night being declared the best of the best.
Each month, I select a nominated film that, while not receiving the ultimate prize in the end, should be at the top of your must-see list: a film for your reconsideration. Every film nominated by the Academy has something special about it that makes it stand out amongst those from the entire year. Just because they didn’t get the highest recognition, we can’t ignore that there is something ‘must-see’ about them. This month, I bring to you Miracle on 34th Street directed by George Seaton.
Following in the steps of the 1946 holiday success of It’s A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street has become a Christmas classic of its own. It is a timeless film that warms the hearts of viewers and reminds them, young and old, to Believe.
The Miracle on 34th Street
Following the discovery that Santa Claus, the highly anticipated attraction of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, is intoxicated, Ms. Doris Walker (played by Maureen O’Hara) finds herself in need of a new jolly soul. She finds it in Kris Kringle (played by Edmund Gwenn), hiring him on the spot to save the day. His performance as the parade Santa astounds all who witness him, leading to the offer for him to become Macy’s department store Santa for the entire season.
Yet, questions soon begin to rise concerning the sanity of the old man, as well as his business practices with Macy’s shoppers. Promising gifts to children and assuring their presence under the tree Christmas morning, he starts directing parents to stores other than Macy’s to help them find that perfect gift. When word reaches corporate, they are fearful of what this will do to their bottom line. Yet, as the phones start ringing and the compliments start rolling in, Mr. Macy (played by Harry Antrim) realizes he has hit a goldmine. With shoppers finding the humanity in this capitalistic organization, Macy’s successfully begins to gain an exponential customer based loyalty from shoppers new and old.
Bringing humanity to capitalism is not the only mission that Kris Kringle is on within this film. After meeting the precocious Susie (played by Natalie Wood), the daughter of Ms. Walker, Kringle finds that the spirit of Christmas is missing in the hearts of this family. Susie, raised to believe that Santa doesn’t exist and who has never even been told a fairy tale, instantly starts to question the reality her mother has brought her up in following her meeting with Kringle. As Kringle and Susie continue to spend more time together, Susie and Ms. Walker discover that there may be an enrichment to life when you allow yourself to believe in something you once thought unreal.
The hope and joy that this man brings to the lives of the Walker family, and all the families he meets, is threatened when an altercation at Macy’s therapist’s office leads to Kringle’s incarceration within a mental facility – and the case to prove, or disprove, his sanity. With the courts against a man who believes himself to be Santa, all seems lost as Christmas Eve approaches. With the help of Mr. Galey (played by John Payne), a local lawyer who believes in the sanctity of Christmas and a neighbor of the Walkers, as well as the support of all those who have come to know Kringle, hope remains that Santa will win the hearts of the court and his freedom.
Behind the Scenes
The success and beauty of Miracle on 34th Street is in the story and how well it was written. Winning an Oscar for Best Writing Original Story and Best Writing Screenplay, Valentine Davies and George Seaton brought a captivating and well-timed story to life. Through their story, viewers find themselves wanting to believe in not just a childhood tale, but in humanity and good will. While watching this film, movie goers will find that it is relatable and still applicable to the times.
The magic of the story is quickly revealed to viewers through strategically placed foreshadowing. The film is inundated with references that Kris Kringle is the real Santa Claus, using these clues to help mesmorize people to fall under the hypnotic spell of Santa and the holiday season. All the foreshadowing has its own twist, as it does not definitively conclude with the realization that Kris Kringle is in fact the real Santa. Viewers are left in wonderment of the season and of the magic, with the realization that we see what we want to believe but that we make our own magic.
Yet, a story, even one of this caliber, is limited to the pages it is written on without someone to bring it to life. With that said, it’s no surprise that Edmund Gwenn received the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Kris Kringle. He is the first character in Miracle on 34th Street to be brought to life on the screen. His eyes are always filled with a sense of wonderment and joy, and there is a constant aura of Christmas, good will, and enchantment that encompasses his entire performance. The movie weighs heavily on Edmund Gwenn to carry the authenticity of his character, a weight he carries very well.
The Heart of a Child
The character of Susie is an interesting element within the story of Miracle on 34th Street. Upon first watching this film, one may find that the character of Susie and her storyline is unnecessary to the film, as there is a substantial amount of information and story behind Kris Kringle and his fight against the capitalistic organizations that drive the holiday season. Yet, a closer look shows that Susie’s character is vital to the overall message of the film.
Susie does not believe in Santa, as her mother told her early on that he does not exist. She has never been told a fairy tale, and has a precocious view on the doings of adults and the world. When asked by Kris Kringle what Santa can get her for Christmas she responds that her mother gets her anything she wants – as long as it is not too expensive and is reasonable. Yet, as she spends more time with Kris, and sees his unending means of reaching people, she begins to believe and allow the child within to come out.
Susie is the child who grew up too fast, but the realization is that it is never too late to change, to let the child back in – to Believe. Children are always pushing themselves to grow faster and reach the milestones of life that will solidify them as older – as adults. Yet, we lose a part of ourselves when we race to the finish line too quickly. If we take a moment to remember that magic is possible, we can make the future that we want for ourselves.
From the moment Miracle on 34th Street begins to play, adults and children alike are taunted with the possibility that the old man before them could possibly be THE Santa Claus. Viewers will want to Believe that he is the real Santa, finding themselves captivated by a well written story – with a Santa that could convince even the most disbelieving of individuals. Miracle on 34th Street was and continues to be a timeless classic for viewers of all ages.
Have you seen Miracle on 34th Street? Tell us what you thought in the comments below!
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