|“||Oh, Christmas isn't just a day. It's a frame of mind.||”|
— Kris Kringle, fairly summing up his character's outlook
Miracle on 34th Street is a 1947 film, written by Valentine Davies, directed by George Seaton, and starring Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood, and Edmund Gwenn. Notably the first Christmas film released by 20th Century Fox, it is the story of what takes place in New York City following the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, as people are left wondering whether or not a department store Santa might be the real thing. Because of its Christmas theme, the film has become a perennial Christmas favorite, even though it was released on May 2nd of that year. Davies also penned a short novel version of the tale, which was published by Harcourt Brace simultaneously with the film's release.
The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Edmund Gwenn), Best Writing, Original Story (Valentine Davies) and Best Writing, Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Picture, losing to Gentleman's Agreement. It was selected in 2005 for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant", and was officially preserved by the Academy Film Archive four years later.
The film has since seen at least five different remakes - as a one-hour TV special in 1955, a TV special in 1959, a made-for-TV movie in 1973, and a theatrical film in 1994. It was also adapted as a Broadway musical, titled Here's Love, in 1963.
Kris Kringle is indignant to find that the person assigned to play Santa in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is intoxicated. When he complains to the event's director, Doris Walker, she persuades him to take his place. He does such a fine job that he is hired to be the Santa for Macy's flagship New York City store on 34th Street.
Ignoring instructions to steer parents to goods that Macy's wants to sell, Kris tells one female shopper to go to another store for a fire engine for her son that they don't have. She is so impressed that she tells Julian Shellhammer, head of the toy department, that she will become a loyal customer. Kris later informs another mother that archrival Gimbel's has better skates for her daughter.
Fred Gailey, an attorney (United States terminology for a lawyer) and neighbor of Doris, is babysitting the young divorcee's nine-year-old daughter Susan and takes her to see Kris. When Doris finds out, she lectures him about filling Susan's mind with fantasy. Meanwhile, she sees Kris talking and singing with a Dutch World War II orphan girl in her native language and begins to wonder if perhaps he is real. (In the 1994 remake, he communicates with a deaf girl via sign language.) When Doris asks him to tell Susan that he really isn't Santa Claus, he surprises her by insisting that he is.
Doris decides to fire him before he can harm anyone. However, Kris has generated so much good publicity and customer goodwill for Macy's that a delighted R. H. Macy promises Doris and Shellhammer generous bonuses. To overcome Doris' misgivings about keeping Kris, Shellhammer proposes sending him to Granville Sawyer to get a "psychological evaluation". He easily passes the test, but antagonizes Sawyer by questioning his own psychological health.
The store expands on the marketing concept. Anxious to avoid looking greedy by comparison, Gimbel's implements the same referral policy throughout its entire chain, forcing Macy's and other stores to respond in kind. Eventually, Kris accomplishes the impossible: Mr. Macy shakes hands with Mr. Gimbel.
Dr. Pierce, the doctor at Kris's nursing home, assures Doris and Shellhammer that his apparent delusion is harmless. Meanwhile, Fred offers to let him stay with him so he can be closer to his workplace. He makes a deal with him - he will work on Susan's cynicism while he does the same with disillusioned Doris, still bitter over her failed marriage.
Kris then learns that Sawyer has convinced a young, impressionable employee, Alfred, that he is mentally ill simply because he is generous and kind-hearted (Alfred plays Santa Claus at his neighborhood YMCA). He confronts him and, in a fit of anger, raps him on the head with his cane. Doris and Shellhammer arrive at that point and only see the aftermath; Sawyer exaggerates his injury in order to have Kris confined to Bellevue Mental Hospital.
Tricked into cooperating and believing Doris to be part of the deception, a discouraged Kris deliberately fails his mental examination and is recommended for permanent commitment. However, Fred persuades him not to give up. To secure his release, Fred gets a formal hearing before Judge Henry Harper of the New York Supreme Court. Warned by Mr. Macy to get the matter dropped, Sawyer pleads with Fred not to seek publicity. To his dismay, he thanks him for the idea. As a result, Judge Harper is put in an awkward spot - even his own grandchildren are against him for "persecuting" Santa Claus.
Fred quits his job at a prestigious New York law firm to defend Kris and has a falling out with Doris, who has no faith in his abilities and calls his resignation an "idealistic binge" over some "lovely intangibles." He replies that one day she might discover that those intangibles are the only worthwhile things in life.
At the hearing, District Attorney Thomas Mara gets Kris to assert that he is in fact Santa Claus and rests his case, believing he has prima facie proven his point. Fred stuns the court by arguing that he is not insane because he actually is him - and he will prove it. Mara requests the judge rule that he does not exist. Judge Harper is warned privately in chambers by his political adviser, Charlie Halloran, that doing so would be politically disastrous for his upcoming reelection bid. He buys time by deciding to hear evidence before ruling.
Fred calls Mr. Macy as a witness. Mara pointedly asks if he really believes Kris to be Santa Claus. He starts to give an equivocal answer, but when Mara asks him point-blank, he remembers the expressions on the faces of small children upon seeing Kris and firmly states, "I do!" On leaving the stand, he fires Sawyer. Fred then calls Mara's own young son to the stand. Thomas Mara, Jr. testifies that his father had told him that Santa was real and that "My daddy would never tell a lie! Would you, Daddy?" Outmaneuvered, he concedes the point.
Mara then demands that Fred prove that Kris is "the one and only" Santa Claus, on the basis of some competent authority. While he searches frantically, Susan, by now a firm believer in Kris, writes him a letter to cheer him up, which Doris also signs. A mail sorter sees that it is addressed to the courthouse and realizes that the post office could clear out the many letters to Santa taking up space in its dead letter office by delivering them to him.
Kris is uplifted by Susan's letter. Just then, Fred learns that over 50,000 pieces of mail have been delivered to him. Seeing an opportunity, Fred presents Judge Harper with three letters addressed only to "Santa Claus" and notes that they have been delivered to Kris by the United States Post Office, a branch of the federal government. When he demands that Fred produce the "further exhibits" he mentioned, he is soon hidden behind the bags of letters - 21 in all. He rules in favor of Kris. Afterwards, Doris invites Kris to dinner, but he reminds her that "It's Christmas Eve!"
On Christmas morning, Susan is disillusioned because Kris was unable to get her what she told him she wanted most. As they are about to leave, he gives Fred and Doris a route home, supposedly to avoid traffic. Along the way, Susan is overjoyed to see the house of her dreams (exactly matching the drawing she had given him earlier) with a For Sale sign in the front yard. Fred learns that Doris had encouraged her to have faith, and suggests they get married and purchase the house. He then boasts that he must be a great lawyer, since he managed to do the seemingly impossible, proving that an eccentric old man was the real Santa Claus. However, when he notices a cane leaning against the fireplace that looks exactly like the one Kris used, he wonders who had the miracle, saying "Maybe I didn't do such a wonderful thing after all."
The film was first released on VHS and Laserdisc in 1987.
In 1985, the film became one of the first full-length black-and-white ones to be colorized. The 4½-month process was carried out by American Film Technologies. In 1993, it was released on VHS and was followed four years later by a "50th Anniversary Edition".
The film's first DVD release came in October 1999. In November 2006, it was re-released as a 2-disc "Special Edition" DVD, which featured both the original black-and-white film and a newly computer-colorized version by Legend Films. It also included a documentary interviewing many of the actors and production crew, a full-length audio commentary by Maureen O'Hara, and the 1955 TV remake.
In October 2009, 20th Century Fox released the black-and-white version on Blu-ray. It included all the extras from the 2006 DVD except for the 1955 remake.
|Maureen O'Hara||Doris Walker|
|John Payne||Frederick M. Gailey|
|Edmund Gwenn||Kris Kringle|
|Porter Hall||Granville Sawyer|
|William Frawley||Charlie Halloran|
|Jerome Cowan||District Attorney Thomas Mara|
|Philip Tonge||Julian Shellhammer|
|Gene Lockhart||Judge Henry Harper|
|Harry Antrim||R. H. Macy|
|Herbert H. Heyes||Mr. Gimbel|
|James Seay||Dr. Pierce|
|Thelma Ritter||A hurried shopper|
|Percy Helton||The drunk Santa Claus stand-in|
|Ann Staunton||Mrs. Mara|
|Bobby Hyatt||Thomas Mara, Jr.|
| Jack Albertson|
|Two post office employees|
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