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Miracle on 34th Street

Original movie poster
Directed by George Seaton
Produced by William Perlberg
Written by Valentine Davies (story)
George Seaton
Starring Maureen O'Hara
John Payne
Natalie Wood
Edmund Gwenn
Harry Antrim
Music by Cyril Mockridge
Cinematography Lloyd Ahern
Charles G. Clarke
Editing by Robert L. Simpson
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) May 2, 1947 (US)
Running time 96 minutes
Language English

Miracle on 34th Street is a 1947 Christmas film written by Valentine Davies, directed by George Seaton and starring Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn. It is the story of what takes place in New York City following 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.

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 novella version of the tale, which was published by Harcourt Brace simultaneously with the film's release.

Contents

Plot

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 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 shopper (Thelma Ritter) to go to another store for a fire engine for her son that Macy's doesn't have. 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 for her daughter.

Fred Gailey (John Payne), an attorney and neighbor of Doris, is babysitting the young divorcee's nine-year-old daughter Susan (Natalie Wood) and takes her to see Kris. When Doris finds out, she lectures Fred about filling Susan's mind with fantasy. Meanwhile, Susan sees Kris talking and singing with a Dutch World War II orphan girl in her native tongue and begins to wonder if perhaps Kris is real. When Doris asks Kris to tell Susan that he really isn't Santa Claus, Kris surprises her by insisting that he is.

Doris decides to fire him, fearing he might harm someone. However, Kris has generated so much good publicity and customer goodwill for Macy's that a delighted R. H. Macy (Harry Antrim) promises Doris and Shellhammer generous bonuses. To overcome Doris's misgivings, Shellhammer proposes getting Granville Sawyer (Porter Hall) to give Kris a "psychological evaluation". Kris easily passes the test, but antagonizes Sawyer by questioning Sawyer's own psychological 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 respond in kind. Eventually, Kris accomplishes the impossible: Mr. Macy shakes hands with Mr. Gimbel (Herbert H. Heyes).

Pierce (James Seay), the doctor at Kris's nursing home, assures Doris and Shellhammer that Kris's delusion is harmless. Meanwhile, Fred offers to let Kris stay with him so he can be closer to work. Kris makes a deal with Fred - he will work on Susan's cynicism while Fred does the same with the disillusioned Doris, still bitter over her failed marriage.

Then Kris learns that Sawyer has convinced a young, impressionable employee, Alfred (Alvin Greenman), that he is mentally ill simply because he is generous and kind-hearted (Alfred plays Santa Claus at his neighborhood YMCA). Kris confronts Sawyer and, in a fit of anger, raps him on the head with his cane. Doris and Shellhammer 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 Kris not to give up. To secure his release, Fred gets a formal hearing before Judge Henry X. Harper (Gene Lockhart) of the New York Supreme Court. Ordered by Mr. Macy to get the matter dropped, Sawyer pleads with Fred not to seek publicity. To Sawyer's dismay, Fred 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 law firm to defend Kris and has a falling out with Doris, who calls his resignation an "idealistic binge" over some "lovely intangibles." He replies that one day she might discover that they are the only worthwhile things in life.

At the hearing, District Attorney Thomas Mara (Jerome Cowan) 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 Kris is not insane because he actually is Santa Claus - and he will prove it. Mara requests the judge rule that Santa Claus does not exist. Harper is warned privately in chambers by his political adviser, Charlie Halloran (William Frawley), that doing so would be disastrous for his upcoming reelection bid. The judge buys time by deciding to hear evidence before ruling.

Fred calls R.H. Macy as a witness. Mara pointedly asks if he really believes Kris to be Santa Claus. Macy starts to equivocate, but when Mara asks him point-blank, Macy remembers the expressions on the faces of small children upon seeing Kris and firmly states, "I do!" On leaving the stand, Macy 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!" 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. A mail sorter (Jack Albertson) 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 Kris.

Kris is uplifted by Susan's letter. Just then, Fred learns that over 50,000 pieces of mail have been delivered to Kris. He presents Judge Harper with three letters addressed only to "Santa Claus", which the U.S. Post Office, a branch of the federal government, has just delivered to Kris. When Harper demands that Fred produce "further exhibits", the judge is soon hidden behind many bags of letters. Harper 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, Kris gives Fred and Doris a route home that will supposedly avoid traffic. Along the way, Susan is overjoyed to see the house of her dreams (exactly matching the drawing she had given Kris earlier) 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 managed to do the seemingly impossible. However, when he notices a cane leaning against the fireplace that looks just like the one Kris used, he wonders "Maybe I didn't do such a wonderful thing after all."

Cast

Home video releases: VHS / DVD / Blu-ray

Miracle on 34th Street was released on VHS in the late eighties. On November 2, 1993, it was released on VHS in a colorized version. On April 11, 1997, it was re-released as a "50th Anniversary Edition" on VHS. The first DVD release came on October 5, 1999. On November 21st, 2006, it was released as 2-disc edition DVD containing both the black and white and colorized versions. This version also includes a documentary interviewing many of the actors and production crew associated with the original filming, including a full-length commentary by Maureen O'Hara. On October 6, 2009, 20th Century Fox released the movie on blu-ray disc.

Production

Despite the fact that 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 began scrambling to promote it while keeping the fact that it was a Christmas movie a secret. Fox's promotional trailer for the film 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 predominately featured O'Hara and Payne with Gwenn's character kept in the background. 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 house shown at the end of the film is located at 24 Derby Road in Port Washington, New York. It looks practically the same as it did in 1947, except that the roof line has been altered by the addition of a window.

Awards and honors

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 its AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers. 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.[1][2]

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".

Inaccuracies

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 says that Daniel D. Tompkins was John Quincy Adams' Vice President, but Tompkins actually served under James Monroe. John C. Calhoun is the correct answer.

R. H. Macy died in 1877, 70 years prior to the time of the film.

Remakes

There are four remakes of the movie, as well as a Broadway musical. In addition, Lux Radio Theater broadcast an adaptation in 1948 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 television movie featured Jane Alexander, David Hartman, Roddy McDowall, Sebastian Cabot, 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.

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 remake 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 (http://www.racinetheatre.org/) in December, 2009. The characters' names are those used in the novella, and the stage setting is distinctly late 1940's. Production rights are held by Samuel French, Inc. (http://www.samuelfrench.com/store/product_info.php/products_id/5042)

Character names in different versions

1947 1955 1959 1963 Broadway musical 1973 1994
Doris Walker Karen Walker Dorey Walker
Frederick M. Gailey Fred Gaily Bill Schaffner Bryan Bedford
Kris Kringle
Susan Walker Susan Elizabeth 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. 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 Thomas J. Mara Ed Collins
Mrs. Mara [eliminated] [eliminated] Rebecca Collins
Macy's Department Store Cole's Department Store
Gimbels Department Store Shopper's Express

References

External links








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