Saturday, November 9, 2013

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Thanks, Santa, for this wonderful Christmas treat.

Reel Popcorn Junkie has endured some less-than-stellar Christmas films in recent weeks. But Miracle on 34th Street is a pleasant cinematic present for viewers. Here's a movie that definitely deserves a viewing during the Christmas holidays.

Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) lashes out at a Santa who's had too much to drink before the start of Macy's annual Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City. "You're a disgrace," he admonishes the higher-than-a-kite Claus. Event organizer Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara) recruits Kringle to fill in for his drunken predecessor. Hey, this guy looks like Santa Claus without the accessories. He's portly and sports a fine, long grey beard. Kringle's personality is warm and jovial. Talk about a people person.

Kringle is a hit with the kids along the parade route. The department store hires him to chat one-on-one with youngsters to learn their hopes for Christmas.

Kringle turns a few heads in management when he starts recommending competing merchants who have better products mothers and fathers should buy.

Macy's brass turns this into a marketing opportunity with vows to send shoppers to other retailers if they have the better buy. The plan is to develop a warm rapport with customers and make even more money because they'll be impressed with how they're treated.

Kringle doesn't find many doubters among his young fans at Macy's. But Walker's daughter, Susan (Natalie Wood), isn't a believer. Mom has taught her daughter not to believe in fantasy figures like Santa. Poor Susan has to even be coaxed by Kringle into imagining she's a monkey. She demands a gift far bigger, and difficult to obtain, than all others to see if Kringle is the real deal.

If that's not challenge enough, Macy's shrink Granville Sawyer (Peter Hall) suggests Kringle is prone to violent outbursts. This snowballs into Kringle being considered mentally unwell and committed to an institution. Yikes. It's up to Walker's neighbour, lawyer Fred Gailey (John Payne) to prove conclusively that Kris Kringle is Santa Claus.

Some of the film's best fun comes from the politics associated with Kringle's appearance. Judge Henry Harper (Gene Lockhart) is warned by his rainmaker Charlie Halloran (William Frawley), that he'll lose votes come re-election if he rules Kringle is not Santa Claus. It's not often trade unions and Santa get mentioned in the same breath, but Frowley does it here with great effect. Merchants trying to market their businesses based on Kringle's generous attitude is also a hoot - especially when two retail titans bicker over buying an X-ray machine for a doctor Kringle knows.

Younger viewers will cheer on Kringle as he tries to clear his name. Adults can enjoy the behind-the-scenes scheming Kringle's presence helps create.

Finally, a Christmas film worth putting under the tree.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Edmund Gwenn (The Trouble with Harry , Foreign Correspondent ) won an Oscar for best supporting actor for his work in Miracle on 34th Street.

William Frawley was Fred Mertz in I Love Lucy.

Alvin Greenman appears as Macy's custodian in Miracle on 34th Street. He's the only actor from the first film version to return, as a doorman, in the 1994 remake, IMDB reports.

Director George Seaton won Oscars for his screenplays for Miracle on 34th Street and The Country Girl. He was also a contributing writer to The Wizard of Oz.

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