Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
“Christmas isn’t just a day — it’s a frame of mind.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Response to Peary’s Review:
Indeed, the film’s Christmas-time setting is apt, given that this is when the “good-versus-greedy battle within each person” is especially evident — as epitomized by the scene involving Thelma Ritter’s harried mother, whose son wishes for a certain toy she can’t find anywhere (the more things change, the more they stay the same!); it’s up to Kringle to manifest the true spirit of Christmas by breaking allegiance with Macy’s and telling her precisely where she can go to find one. Of course, one could argue that Kringle’s brilliant “marketing scheme” — co-opted immediately by all of Macy’s significant rivals — merely perpetuates the commercialism so rampant during the holidays. Yet tapping into the power of the “Christmas spirit” is also shown to signify a potentially deeper change of heart: for Maureen O’Hara (Susan’s mom, a cynical divorcee), it means opening herself up to both new romance (with suitor John Payne) and a life outside of the corporate ladder; for Wood, it means learning how to fantasize, dream, and “make-believe” for the first time in her young life.
Part of the film’s success lies in the fact that we (especially adult viewers) never really know how much of the story is fantasy versus a manifestation of Kringle’s highly creative take on reality. As a result, we’re left to wonder — is Kringle “really” Santa Claus? And if so, what does that mean, pragmatically speaking? Why would Santa be living in a halfway home in New York, rather than at the North Pole? The mere fact that we’re led to contemplate these questions, however, speaks to the strength and veracity of Seaton’s screenplay — and of the stellar performances given throughout. O’Hara and Payne are well-cast in critical supporting roles, and the entire ensemble cast provides “splendid characterizations”, with “no one play[ing] their parts tongue-in-cheek”. Gwenn, of course, is notoriously “perfect” as Santa (Peary opens his review by stating, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and, using Edmund Gwenn’s SAG card, he gave a convincing performance as himself”). Perhaps most impressive, however, is Natalie Wood, who gives one of the single best child performances ever — watch how convincingly she portrays young Susan as alternately cynical, hopeful, playful, dejected, and overjoyed.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: