A treat every single time I see it. I always forget how pointed some of the satire is. It’s not just about jolly old Kris Kringle.
Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara) has been burned by romance and has decided to run her life on common sense. She is raising her daughter Susan (Natalie Wood) to have no illusions as well. No fairy tales and definitely no Santa Claus.
Doris is the executive responsible for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Her Santa is hitting the bottle. So she enlists the help of the kindly bearded stranger who reported the man. He does so well on the float that Macy’s hires him to be its store Santa. On duty, this Santa refers customers to rival Gimbel’s if Macy is out of the toy a child desires. This proves to be an enormous hit and publicity coup for the store.
After the parade, Doris learns he calls himself Kris Kringle and believes himself to be Santa Claus. Worried, she sends Kris for an evaluation by company psychologist Mr. Sawyer (the wonderful Porter Hall). Kris passes the mental acuity test with flying colors. Then he offers some advice to the neurotic, chronically angry Sawyer. This makes Sawyer so mad that he tells Doris Kris is apt to break out in a homicidal fit at any moment. Fortunately, the doctor at the old folks’ home where Kris lives says he is harmless. It is decided that someone who lives close to the store should take Kris in for the season. This turns out to be Doris’s neighbor Fred (John Payne), who sees this as an opportunity to step up his wooing of Doris. Kris likes the idea because he wants to work on Susan.
Kris is aggravated into mild violence during his next encounter with Sawyer. Although unharmed, Sawyer has the poor man sent to Bellvue. Kris, despondent because he thinks Doris was in on the maneuver, intentionally fails his mental test. Then Fred, a lawyer, comes to the rescue during a sanity hearing in which his defense is that Kris is, in fact, Santa Claus.
This movie captures not only the happiness of a Christmas but its crass commercialism. As such, it is even more applicable now than when it was made. The dialogue is really witty. I especially love the trial scenes when Christmas takes on a political dimension as well. A classic for a reason. Why is this not on the 1001 Movies List???
Miracle on 34th Street won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Gwenn); Best Writing, Original Story; and Best Writing, Original Screenplay. It was nominated for Best Picture.
The DVD I rented contained an excellent commentary by Maureen O’Hara recorded at her home in Ireland in 2006. She was one sharp old lady. Many nice remembrances especially of Natalie Wood. O’Hara said she appreciated the young actress because she had started out at age seven herself.
Trailer – Fox trots out its stable of stars – may contain one of the earliest uses of the expression “groovy”!