Weekend Movies: Five Reasons to Watch Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
It occurred to me that for a film analysis site, I don’t often go back to some of the oldies but goodies. I need to correct that and be better, because older films have something to say and can be just as enjoyable as the newer fare (if not more so in some cases). Take, for example, 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street. Director George Seaton gave us a tale of a department store Santa (Edmund Gwenn) who engages in a legal battle to have himself declared the real Santa Claus. As if that doesn’t sound adorable enough, here are five reasons to watch it this weekend.
#1 – SANTA!!!!!!!!
I was one of the kids that didn’t want to let Santa go. I was in the fourth grade – one of the last in the group – when I finally let go of the ghost. But man, what a ride. Here’s the thing though: when you see Gwenn as Santa, it suddenly becomes real again. You’re a little kid, and there’s the promise that something will be under your tree. You’re hopeful that there’s a spark of magic in the world. For me, I hope that spark extends to others as well – which is why something like Toys For Tots is crucial. When you’re a kid, Santa is magic. A film like this brings back Santa. So hang on to that feeling, and share it: be Santa for someone who needs it.
#2 – Logical parenthood
Macy’s Event Director Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara) raises her daughter, Susan (Natalie Wood), with logic. There is no make-believe or day-dreaming, just facts. Admittedly, it seems a bit drab and spirit-killing, but not everyone gets fairy tales growing up – some kids have reality thrust upon them from a young age. Before anyone decries this, take a look at the intentions and think about the perspective. Not everyone buys into the magic of the season. It’s not bad; just different, and worth a moment’s pause.
#3 – The great American tradition: lawsuits
We do love to sue people in the United States. Gwenn’s Kris Kringle sets out on a quest to prove that he’s Santa Claus. He’s able to convince the general public, but there’s a pesky clinician named Granville Sawyer (played by the equally nefariously-named Porter Hall) who’s out to stop him. Can the plucky Kringle prove he’s the true Saint Nick? Will he be legally declared Santa? Only the American Justice System can determine that. Lord help us all.
#4 – Maureen O’Hara
Shit was O’Hara graceful in a way I could never pull off. On top of that, she played a woman who was not only divorced, but was raising a daughter in a realistic fashion and working a successful gig at a department store in 1947. Think about that one: a single mother making bank at a prestigious job in the big city, raising a kid with realistic expectations and an enquiring mind. Hollywood liked their women to be respectable stay-at-home moms who made life look effortless, not working mothers who told their kids that fairy tales were crap. She also refused to take crap behind the scenes too – John Wayne famously called her “the greatest guy I ever met.” I tip my hat to you, Maureen.
#5 – Little Natalie Wood
Natalie Wood was nine years old in this film. That child was adorable, and you could tell that she was something special. Watching her grow up onscreen is a wild experience, and it must have been even more so for her. She plays the part of Susan, who’s been taught not to believe, as the most wondrous thing of all: a child who is seeing it all for the first time. Not all child actors can do that, so when you see a good one, appreciate it.
It’s Christmastime – you know this film is being shown somewhere on basic cable.