Originally released to theaters in 1947
by 20th Century Fox
, the film Miracle on 34th Street
was directed by George Seaton
and starred Maureen O'Hara
, John Payne
, a very young Natalie Wood
and Edmund Gwenn
as Kris Kringle. It was originally released in black and white, but there are now colorized
versions thanks to Ted Turner
. Personally, I recommend the black and white version.
The film is a wholesome family drama with touching moments and an enjoyable wit. The story is about a single mother who works as an executive for Macy's and is in charge of running the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The Santa Claus she hired turns out to be a drunk, and so she happens across a sweet elderly gentleman who is more than happy to pitch in as Santa at the last minute. Things seem alright until it's discovered this kind old man actually believes himself to be the one and only Santa Claus. The majority of the film handles the repercussions of such a claim, and attempts to realistically approach how people would respond if someone were to convincingly insist such a thing. It may also lend one to believe that if Santa Claus were to exist, it's pretty clear why he doesn't just walk up to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and announce himself. Mankind can't handle things like this. Along the way we learn about the daughter of the single mother, who has been raised not to believe in such silly things as Santa. Naturally, the fact Santa moves in across the hall to her does put the little girl's life in a bit of a tizzy.
As Christmas films go, this is one of the best. It's schmaltzy and mushy, but it's also fun, and Christmas really shouldn't be expected to be anything more than just flat out fun. The crown jewel of this film is of course the performance of Edmund Gwenn. He brings an genuine sincerity and kindness to the role. His matter of fact claims are very subtle and no-nonsense. He presents his character in every way just how one might suppose Kris Kringle would exist: a very intelligent, compassionate and simple man.
It should perhaps be pointed out that a remake of Miracle on 34th Street was made in 1994, this time starring Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott and Richard Attenborough. This version is in color, and attempts to modernize the story. Though the casting was excellent, the modern version veers from the original plot in many unnecessary ways, and simply does not quite hold a candle to the classic.