Miracle on 34th Street

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This article is about the 1947 film. For other uses, see Miracle on 34th Street (disambiguation).
Miracle on 34th Street
Miracle on 34th Street.jpg
Original movie poster
Directed by George Seaton
Produced by William Perlberg
Screenplay by George Seaton
Story by Valentine Davies
Starring Maureen O'Hara
John Payne
Natalie Wood
Edmund Gwenn
Porter Hall
Gene Lockhart
Music by Cyril J. Mockridge
Cinematography Lloyd Ahern
Charles G. Clarke
Edited by Robert L. Simpson
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • May 2, 1947 (1947-05-02) (USA)
  • December 18, 1947 (1947-12-18) (AUS)
Running time 96 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $630,000
Box office $3,150,000

Miracle on 34th Street (in the United Kingdom first released as The Big Heart[1]) is a 1947 Christmas film written and directed by George Seaton and based on a story by Valentine Davies. It stars Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn. The story takes place between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day in New York City, and focuses on the impact of a department store Santa Claus who claims to be the real Santa. The film has become a perennial Christmas favorite.

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.

Davies also penned a short novelization of the tale, which was published by Harcourt Brace simultaneously with the film's release.

Plot[edit]

Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) is indignant to find that the person (Percy Helton) assigned to play Santa in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is intoxicated. When he complains to event director Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara), she persuades Kris to take his place. He does such a fine job that he is hired as the Santa for Macy's flagship New York City store on 34th Street.

Ignoring instructions to steer parents to buy from Macy's, Kris directs one shopper (Thelma Ritter) to another store. She is so impressed, she tells Julian Shellhammer (Philip Tonge), head of the toy department, that she will become a loyal customer. Kris later informs another mother that archrival Gimbels has better skates.

Fred Gailey (John Payne), Doris's attorney neighbor, takes the young divorcee's second grade daughter Susan (Natalie Wood) to see Kris. Doris has raised her to not believe in fairy tales, but her lack of faith is shaken when she sees Kris conversing in Dutch with an adopted girl who does not know English. Doris asks Kris to tell Susan that he is not really Santa Claus, but Kris insists he is.

Doris decides to fire him, worried that he is delusional and might harm someone. However, Kris has generated so much good publicity and goodwill for Macy's that a delighted R. H. Macy (Harry Antrim) promises Doris and Julian generous bonuses. To alleviate Doris's misgivings, Julian has Granville Sawyer (Porter Hall) give Kris a "psychological evaluation". Kris easily passes, but antagonizes Sawyer by questioning Sawyer's own mental health.

The store expands on the marketing concept. Anxious to avoid looking greedy by comparison, Gimbels implements the same referral policy throughout its entire chain, forcing Macy's and other stores to escalate in kind. Eventually, Kris accomplishes the impossible: he reconciles bitter rivals Mr. Macy and Mr. Gimbel (Herbert Heyes).

Pierce (James Seay), the doctor at Kris's nursing home, assures Doris and Julian that Kris is harmless. Kris makes a deal with Fred – he will work on Susan's cynicism while Fred does the same with Doris, disillusioned by her failed marriage. When Susan reveals her wish for a house, Kris reluctantly promises to do his best.

Kris learns that Sawyer has convinced impressionable young employee Alfred that he is mentally ill simply because he is generous and kind-hearted. When Kris confronts Sawyer and finds him to be intractable, Kris raps Sawyer on the head with his cane. Sawyer exaggerates his pain in order to have Kris confined to Bellevue 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 Kris not to give up.

At a formal hearing before New York Supreme Court Judge Henry X. Harper (Gene Lockhart), District Attorney Thomas Mara (Jerome Cowan) gets Kris to assert that he is Santa Claus and rests his case, believing he has prima facie proven his point. Fred argues that Kris is not insane because he actually is Santa Claus. Mara requests the judge rule that Santa Claus does not exist. In private, Harper's political adviser, Charlie Halloran (William Frawley), warns him that doing so would be disastrous for his upcoming reelection bid. The judge buys time by deciding to hear evidence before ruling.

Doris quarrels with Fred when he quits his job at a prestigious law firm to defend Kris. Doris calls his resignation an "idealistic binge" over some "lovely intangibles". He replies that one day she might discover that those "lovely intangibles" are the only worthwhile things.

Fred calls Mr. Macy as a witness. When Mara asks if he really believes Kris to be Santa Claus, Macy starts to equivocate, but when pressed, he recalls the good will Kris has spread and states, "I do!" On leaving the stand, Macy fires Sawyer. Fred then calls Mara's own young son (Tommy Hamilton), who testifies that his father told him that Santa was real. Outmaneuvered, Mara 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 Fred searches frantically, Susan, by now a firm believer in Kris, writes him a letter to cheer him up, which Doris also signs. When a mail sorter (Jack Albertson) sees Susan's letter, he suggests clearing out the many letters to Santa taking up space in the dead letter office by delivering them to the courthouse.

Fred presents Judge Harper with three of those letters addressed simply to "Santa Claus" and delivered to Kris, asserting the U.S. Post Office (and therefore by extension the Federal Government) has thus acknowledged that he is the Santa Claus. When Harper demands "further exhibits", mailmen bring in 21 full bags. Harper dismisses the case.

On Christmas morning, Susan is disappointed that Kris could not get her what she wanted. Kris gives Fred and Doris a route home that avoids traffic. Along the way, Susan sees the house of her dreams with a "For Sale" sign in the front yard. Fred learns that Doris had encouraged Susan to have faith and suggests they get married and purchase the house. He then boasts that he must be a great lawyer since he did the impossible by proving Kris was Santa Claus. However, when they spot a red cane inside the house that looks just like Kris's (and which Kris had been without on Christmas morning), he is not so sure that he did such an impressive thing after all.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Although the film is set during the Christmas season, studio head Darryl F. Zanuck insisted that it be released in May, arguing that more people went to the movies during the summer. So the studio rushed to promote it while keeping its Christmas setting a secret. Fox's promotional trailer depicted a fictional producer roaming the studio backlot and encountering such stars as Rex Harrison, Anne Baxter, Peggy Ann Garner, and Dick Haymes extolling the virtues of the film. In addition, the movie posters prominently featured O'Hara and Payne, with Gwenn's character kept in the background. The film opened in New York City at the Roxy Theatre on June 4, 1947.[3] By contrast, modern home video packaging has Gwenn and Wood dominating the imagery, with the DVD release having Kringle in his Santa Claus costume.

The Christmas window displays seen in the film were originally made by Steiff for Macy's. Macy's later sold the window displays to FAO Schwartz in New York. FAO Schwartz then sold the windows to the Marshall & Ilsley Bank of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where they are on display every December in the bank's lobby on North Water Street.

The house shown at the end of the film is a 1703 square foot single family home built in 1943 at 24 Derby Road, Port Washington, New York. The home looks practically the same as it did in 1947, except that the roof line has been altered by the addition of a window.

Reaction[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

Miracle on 34th Street received mostly positive reviews from critics. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times said: "For all those blasé skeptics who do not believe in Santa Claus—and likewise for all those natives who have grown cynical about New York—but most especially for all those patrons who have grown weary of the monotonies of the screen, let us heartily recommend the Roxy's new picture, 'Miracle on 34th Street.' As a matter of fact, let's go further: let's catch its spirit and heartily proclaim that it is the freshest little picture in a long time, and maybe even the best comedy of this year."[4] Today, it is considered by many as one of the best films of 1947.[5][6] The film currently holds a 94% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.[7]

The movie was given a 'B' rating, signifying that it was morally objectionable in part, by the Catholic Legion of Decency for its portrayal of the mother as being divorced.[8] The B category was eventually merged into the O category causing the movie to appear on the List of films condemned by the Legion of Decency.

Awards and honors[edit]

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 ranked ninth by the American Film Institute on 100 Years... 100 Cheers, a list of America's most inspiring films.[9] In June 2008, AFI revealed its "Ten top Ten" – the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres – after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Miracle on 34th Street was acknowledged as the fifth best film in the fantasy genre.[10][11]

In 2005, Miracle on 34th Street was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[12][13]

American Film Institute Lists

Inaccuracies[edit]

In the book Reel Justice, the authors claim that Judge Harper could have dismissed the case early without the political repercussions he feared. In their theory, once the prosecutor rested his case immediately after Kris Kringle admitted in court simply that he believed he was Santa Claus, Judge Harper could have ruled that prosecution had forfeited its opportunity to prove that Kringle was dangerous (the basic point of such hearings; Kringle's actual mental state itself being irrelevant), and ordered him immediately released. However, this high standard for involuntary commitment was not instituted until 1975 with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision O'Connor v. Donaldson.

When demonstrating that he has taken several mental examinations in the past, Kris Kringle answers his own question about who was the Vice President under John Quincy Adams as Daniel D. Tompkins. Tompkins actually served only under James Monroe. John C. Calhoun is the correct answer to Kringle's question.[17]

Rowland Hussey Macy died in 1877, 70 years prior to the time of the film.

Home video releases: VHS / Laserdisc / DVD / Blu-ray[edit]

Miracle on 34th Street was first released on VHS and laserdisc in 1987. In 1985, it became one of the first full-length black-and-white films to be colorized.[citation needed] The 4½ month process was carried out by American Film Technologies.[citation needed] In 1993, this version was released on laserdisc and VHS and was followed four years later by a "50th Anniversary Edition", remastered by THX. The first DVD release came in October 1999. In November 2006, it was re-released as a 2-disc "Special Edition" DVD, in both the original black-and-white and an "all new colorized version" however, the colorized version was actually the original 1985 version. This issue also included a documentary interviewing many of the actors and production crew, and a full-length commentary by Maureen O'Hara. The "65th Anniversary" edition released in 2012 is similar. In October 2009, 20th Century Fox released the black-and-white version on Blu-ray.[18]

Other versions[edit]

There are four remakes of the movie and a Broadway musical. In addition, Lux Radio Theater broadcast an adaptation in 1947 which starred the original cast including Natalie Wood. In 1948 it was done again on Lux, without Natalie Wood's participation, and it was adapted as a half-hour radio play on two broadcasts of Screen Director's Playhouse, all featuring Edmund Gwenn in his screen role. In addition, Samuel French, Inc. owns the rights to a stage version performed by community theaters and others.

A 1955 one-hour television adaptation of the movie starred Thomas Mitchell as Kris, Macdonald Carey as Fred, Teresa Wright as Doris, and Sandy Descher as Susan. This version did not show the drunken Santa at all. Titled "The Miracle on 34th Street", it originally aired as an episode of The 20th Century Fox Hour. It was later re-run as "Meet Mr. Kringle".

Ed Wynn played Kris in a 1959 television adaptation of the movie. Also featured was Orson Bean. It was broadcast live and in color on NBC the day after Thanksgiving. NBC made a kinescope of the program, probably for broadcasting opening night on the West Coast. The copy was in a large collection of kinescopes donated by NBC to the Library of Congress and recently unearthed by Richard Finegan, who reported his experiences in the December 2005 issue of Classic Images.

A 1963 Broadway musical version, entitled Here's Love, was written by Meredith Willson.

A 1973 version featured Jane Alexander, David Hartman, Roddy McDowall, Sebastian Cabot as Kris (oddly sans his natural beard; he was forced to shave and wear a false beard for the role), Suzanne Davidson, Jim Backus, David Doyle and Tom Bosley. It was adapted by Jeb Rosebrook from the George Seaton screenplay, and directed by Fielder Cook. Mrs. Walker's first name is changed to Karen in this version. This would prove to be the final version in which the department store was actually Macy's. David Doyle, who played R. H. Macy in this version had played Mr. Sawyer in the original Broadway cast of Here's Love 10 years earlier.

A 1994 feature film starred Richard Attenborough, Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott, J. T. Walsh, Timothy Shea, James Remar, Jane Leeves, Simon Jones, William Windom and Mara Wilson. It was adapted by John Hughes from the Seaton script, and directed by Les Mayfield. Due to Macy's refusal to give permission to use its name, it was replaced by the fictitious "Cole's". Gimbels no longer existed by 1994 and was replaced with the fictional "Shopper's Express". Alvin Greenman (Alfred in the original version) played a doorman. This version had a more serious tone than the original and a large portion was rewritten, although the majority of the plot and characters remained intact. The film also added a subtext concerning religious faith.

The book was adapted into a stage play by Will Severin, Patricia Di Benedetto Snyder and John Vreeke (possibly in 2006). It seems to be run in many community and regional theaters around the Christmas season, including Racine, Wisconsin's Racine Theatre Guild[19] in December 2009. The characters' names are those used in the novella, and the stage setting is distinctly late 1940s. Production rights are held by Samuel French, Inc.[20]

The flagship Macy's Department Store at Herald Square in New York features a 30-minute puppet version of the story within its Santaland display, featuring the voice talents of Broadway stars Brian Stokes Mitchell and Victoria Clark.

Character names in different versions[edit]

1947 1955 1959 1963 Broadway musical 1973 1994
Doris Walker Karen Walker Dorey Walker
Frederick M. Gailey Bill Schaffner Bryan Bedford
Kris Kringle
Susan Walker
Cleo [eliminated]
Drunk Santa [no name given] [no name given] Tony Falacchi
Julian Shellhammer Mr. Shellhammer Marvin Shellhammer Horace Shellhammer Donald Shellhammer
Mrs. Shellhammer [eliminated]
Alfred Alfred [eliminated]
Granville Sawyer Dr. Albert Sawyer Dr. William Sawyer Dr. Bartholomew Sawyer Dr. Henry Sawyer [eliminated]
R. H. Macy Mr. Macy R. H. Macy C. F. Cole
Mr. Gimbel Victor Landbergh
Dr. Pierce [eliminated] Dr. Pierce [eliminated]
Hon. Henry X. Harper Hon. Harper Hon. Martin Group Hon. Harper Hon. Henry Harper
Charlie Halloran [eliminated]
Thomas Mara Mr. Mara Thomas Mara Ed Collins
Mrs. Mara [eliminated] [eliminated] Rebecca Collins
Macy's Department Store Cole's Department Store
Gimbels Department Store Shopper's Express

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ BFI: Miracle on 34th Street Retrieved 2012-12-22
  2. ^ O'Hara, Maureen; John Nicoletti (2005). 'Tis herself : a memoir. London: Pocket. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-7434-9535-6. 
  3. ^ Brown, Gene (1995). Movie Time: A Chronology of Hollywood and the Movie Industry from Its Beginnings to the Present. New York, NY: Macmillan. p. 186. ISBN 0-02-860429-6. 
  4. ^ Review by Bosley Crowther in the New York Times, June 5, 1947.
  5. ^ "Greatest Films of 1947". Filmsite.org. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  6. ^ "The Best Movies of 1947 by Rank". Films101.com. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  7. ^ "Miracle on 34th Street Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  8. ^ "Miracle on 34th Street1947". Retrieved 2013-11-05. 
  9. ^ http://connect.afi.com/site/DocServer/cheers100.pdf?docID=202
  10. ^ American Film Institute (2008-06-17). "AFI Crowns Top 10 Films in 10 Classic Genres". ComingSoon.net. Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  11. ^ "Top 10 Fantasy". American Film Institute. Retrieved 2008-06-18. 
  12. ^ "Miracle on 34th Street | Tour New York City TV & Movie Locations – NY, NYC Sightseeing Tours (Manhattan)". Screentours.com. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  13. ^ Miracle on 34th Street (1947) - Awards
  14. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees
  15. ^ AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees
  16. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Ballot
  17. ^ "The Making of Miracle on 34th Street, 50th Anniversary Edition" (Sindpiper Publishing), 1997
  18. ^ "Miracle on 34th Street Blu-ray". Blu-ray.com. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  19. ^ "Welcome to the Racine Theatre Guild". Racinetheatre.org. Retrieved 2010-05-31. 
  20. ^ Samuel French, Inc. The House of Plays & Musical Plays for Over 175 Years

External links[edit]

Streaming audio