Miracle on 34th Street
directed by George Seaton
(20th Century Fox, 1947)

This is the movie that has defined Christmas for me all my life. Although It's a Wonderful Life is supposed to be the ultimate Christmas movie, I never saw it until I was an adult. Miracle on 34th Street, however, was an integral part of my childhood, and I never tired of seeing it.

The Christmas season started with watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade -- an effective device for keeping small children out from underfoot while dinner preparations were carried out in the kitchen, since we would stick it out until Santa's arrival at the end of the parade. In the weeks to follow, we kept an eagle eye on the television listings for showings of Miracle on 34th Street.

Edmund Gwenn plays Kris Kringle, who steps in for an inebriated Macy's Santa, much to the relief of the parade coordinator, Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara). Doris is a pragmatic single mother who has raised her daughter, Susan (Natalie Wood), to believe only in "real life." Doris doesn't believe that Kris is really Santa; she's just happy that her parade isn't spoiled.

But Kris manages to insinuate himself into her and Susan's lives. He becomes the official Macy's Santa, and flabbergasts customers and management when he starts recommending competing department stores for goods which Macy's doesn't have, a customer service style which wins loyal customers for the store. He sparks Susan's imagination and charms Doris, although she still doesn't believe that he's really Santa Claus.

When Kris takes on a company psychologist who thinks Kris doesn't have a full complement of reindeer pulling his sleigh, he gets sent to Bellevue, and it's up to up and coming young lawyer Fred Grailey (John Payne) -- also Doris' romantic interest -- to prove that Kris is Santa Claus. Thanks to the United States Postal Service, prove it he does.

From Gwenn's twinkling performance as the jolly elf (it is difficult to imagine him in any other role) to Wood's precociously sophisticated Susan, the cast works together beautifully to make a fairy tale come true. Don't even think about one of the remakes -- make the original Miracle on 34th Street one of your Christmas traditions.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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