Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Five Weeks 'Til Christmas, Week 1: Miracle On 34th Street (1947)

Christmas is my favorite holiday and one of my favorite things about it is watching all the wonderful Christmas movies! I thought it would be fun to do a weekly countdown during the holidays (5 weeks, counting this week!) where each week I'll review one of my favorite Christmas films, starting today with the original 1947 version of Miracle On 34th Street.


The movie starts out in a festive atmosphere. It is Thanksgiving and the employees of Macy's department store are busy with preparations for the annual Thanksgiving day parade. Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hare) is in charge of the parade. She anxiously hires Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) to replace the man she hired to play Santa Claus when she discovers the original Santa is too intoxicated to even get on the float. Kris does such a good job that Mrs. Walker asks him to stay on in the role and be the department store's Santa. She soon has serious doubts about her decision when she discovers that her new Santa really believes he is Santa Claus.

Mrs. Walker is a working, single mother, who works for Macy's Department Store in New York City. Natalie Wood plays her daughter, Susan. As the result of a failed Marriage, Doris raises her daughter to accept reality. There is no room for fantasy or make believe in her life. Susan is a quiet, child who acts more like a grown up than a 6 year old. She has difficulty using her imagination, and has become just as skeptical as her mother. Since Kris believes that "the important thing is to make children happy," winning the affection of Susan and her mother is his main objective.

Whether or not Kris is the real Santa Claus, there is no doubt that he seems to have an influence on almost everyone he meets--except for Macy's staff psychologist .Mr. Sawyer believes that Kris is delusional, and has him committed to thrown into a mental institution. In order to get out, Kris must face a court hearing, where not only is his sanity questioned, but the state of New York will decide if there really is a Santa Claus. Fred Gailey (played by John Payne) a neighbor of Doris Susan Walker agrees to represent Kris. The predictable end to the story is that Fred and Doris become attracted to each other, and as Fred works hard to secure Kris' freedom, Doris finds herself not only believing in Kris, but also in believing in fantasy.

Maureen O'Hara portrays Doris Walker with poise and sophistication. Although the movie is over 55 years old, the idea of a single working mom trying to raise her daughter after a bitter divorce, tells a story that is relevant by today's standards. Natalie Wood does such a good job at playing as the bright six year old, Susan, that you can almost imagine her going straight from being a baby to being an adult. John Payne, as Fred Gailey, predictably plays the handsome attorney who falls in love with Mrs. Walker. Finally, Edmund Gwenn's portrayal of Santa Claus is so believable. The Oscar he won for this part was well-deserved.

Miracle On 34th Street is a very touching film that's an essential to watch this holiday season!

I hope you enjoyed this review, and stay tuned for next week's installment!

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