Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Classic

Miracle on 34th Street
Director: George Seaton
Cast: Maureen O'Hara, Natalie Wood, Edmund Gwenn, John Payne
Released: May 2, 1947

Oscar nominations:
Best Picture (lost to Gentleman's Agreement)
Best Supporting Actor - Edmund Gween (won)
Best Original Story - Valentine Davies (won)
Best Screenplay - George Seaton (won - okay, isn't that the same as "original story"?)

For my traditional Christmas movie review, I was going to do a double review of this movie and the 1994 remake, but I could not get my hands on the '94 one. (You'd think this one would be the harder one to find!) The only time I saw it at my local video store was when I rented this one, but I didn't want to get that one too because I would look stupid renting two of the same movie. (They're not the same, but you know what I mean!) And even though it was my #1 on my Netflix queue, they kept sending me the discs for season 4 of Modern Family which were listed after that one. So no double feature this year. It would have been interesting to compare the two movies. Maybe I will do the '94 remake next year as a holiday bonus movie. If I can find it, that is!

This is the first time I've seen the original. I had seen the remake when it came out and then again on home video, but it's been awhile since I've seen that, though I certainly remembered elements from that one while watching this one. I'm pretty sure the remake is an exact replica of the original although I'm sure they changed a few things. I just can't tell you what those might be! Apparently there's also been two made-for-TV remakes that came out in 1959 and 1973 which I didn't even know had existed! It's been almost twenty years since the theatrical remake...I think it's about time for another rendition of this Christmas classic!

When I first saw the '94 version, my first introduction to this movie, I was old enough to know (spoiler alert!) Santa isn't real. (Please, I had figured that out when I saw a price tag from Toys R Us on one of my toys!) But I could totally suspend my imagination and believe that Santa could be real in movies like he is in Elf, Ernest Saves Christmas, and many others. So when I watched Miracle on 34th Street ('94), I just believed that he was the real Santa and didn't even think about it. But watching Miracle on 34th Street ('47), I wasn't so sure. Is he really Santa or is he just a kind-hearted man, but a bit loony and really believes he is a fictional character? I can't remember if they gave him any sort of magical powers in the '94 version that would make it no doubt he really was Santa or if it's just because I'm a little older and a little wiser and psycho-analyze things too much. This is why it would have been nice to re-watch the remake! In Elf, Santa lives in the North Pole with his toy-making elves (and Buddy!) and flies a sleigh pulled by his eight reindeer. Neither Santa does that in the Miracle movies, but there are other signs that he could be Santa Claus, although everything can be explained. You certainly can't explain how you can ride in a sleigh by flying reindeer!

The film starts out in New York at the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade where Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), as he calls himself, fills in for the drunk man who was supposed to play Santa. He seems to know what he's doing with the reins, but he could just be an excellent horseback rider. Before that, he tells a shop owner that his miniature reindeer are in the wrong spot. (How can you even tell Prancer from Cupid, Comet, etc.?) He could have just been pulling that out of his butt and telling the show owner some gibberish to make it sound like he knew what he was talking about. When he gets a job as a department store Santa at Macy's, instead of trying to sell the extra stock they have at the store like he was told, he tells the parents where they can find a toy if Macy's doesn't carry it. He could have just done his homework. Although this was before the Internet existed, so it probably took more time, but he could have visited every store and took inventory of their stock. By the way, I didn't know Gimbles was a real store. My first instruction to it was in Elf and I just thought it was a made up department store for that movie. Too bad Buddy the Elf wasn't around back then to decorate their department store for them.

When Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara), who hired Kringle at Macy's, asks to see his contact information, she is given a card with an address from the North Pole. It could be that he is homeless and just wrote the first thing he thought of! And since he really does believe he is Santa Claus (perhaps it's the beard?), he is taken to court to question his sanity. There is that scene where his lawyer (and Mrs. Walker's love interest), Fred Gailey (John Payne), shows evidence that he is the real Santa because all these bags of letters addressed to "Santa" have been delivered to the courthouse. Since all those letters were delivered to this man who says he is Santa at this address where he's being held, that must mean he really is Santa! Well, not exactly. There's a scene at the post office where they are trying to get rid of all the letters addressed to Santa they've accumulated throughout the years (what do they do with those anyway?), so they decide to send them to the courthouse because they've read about Kris Kringle in the paper and they just want to get rid of all those letters! I don't think that scene really proved he is Santa. And then you have the last scene (which I remember in the remake too) where it's Christmas day and Doris's daughter, Susan (Natalie Wood) is upset because she didn't get what she asked Santa for....which was a house, duh, of course it's not going to fit under your tree! She goes for a drive with her mom and Fred and makes them stop the car when she sees the house she showed a picture of to Kris with a "for sale" sign the yard. She yelps and jumps around the house, happy and pleased that Santa remembered her gift. I rolled my eyes when Fred says, "Well, now we have to buy it for her." Nice gift, "Santa", you're making the adults pay for it!

I'm not trying to be a total Scrooge, but I'm just pointing out that this so-called Santa could just be a demented, albeit kind, old man who does think he is really Santa. They never give you any concrete evidence that he is a character who travels around the world in one night to deliver toys to all the children. I think they want you to believe he is Santa, but leave it up to interpretation. Or maybe I'm just a total downer!

Let's talk about Susan. Let's just forget the fact that it was totally ridiculous that her mom and Mr. Gailey decide just to buy a new house because she asked Santa for one. That whole thing aside, I'm sorry, but this little girl has a stick up her butt. She is just so...unfun and acts more like an adult than a kid. I can't remember if Mara Wilson's Susan was like this too. Susan is probably no more than eight and doesn't believe in Santa. (I blame that on her mom who also seems to be really uptight). There's a scene where she's telling Kris that her schoolmates were pretending to be animals and they wanted her to be a bear and she indignantly tells him, "I'm not a bear! I'm a girl!" Oh my God, it's called having an imagination! Kids like that are the worst! She does learn to be more like a kid, so she gets a little better but she totally looses me again at the end with her ridiculous present from "Santa".

This movie came out in May, which today is unheard of for a Christmas movie not to come out in November or December. (The '94 one came out in November). The reason it came out nearly six months before Christmas was because more people back then went to movies during the summer rather than the winter and they wanted to be sure they made money. They didn't market the movie as a Christmas movie and instead of showing scenes from the movie when they were promoting it, they did an advertisement where they said this movie was "romantic", "thrilling", "funny", and any other adjective you could think of to make people see it. It seemed to work because it became a big hit for its time and was nominated for a few Oscars (and won most of them).  It's a nice movie, but to me, it really doesn't feel like a Christmas movie. It just seems to be lacking that extra spark.

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