Retrospective Film Review: George Seaton’s Miracle on 34th Street

With Christmas being only two weeks away, it’s time to start watching some festive films. Where better to start than with a true classic: ‘Miracle of 34th Street,’ the 1947 original, of course. The Oscar winning movie follows single mother and Macy’s department store supervisor Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara) as she hires Kris (a perfectly cast Edmund Gwenn) to be the new Santa Claus for the store, only to regret her choice when he claims he really is Santa, insisting his name is Kris Kringle. Doris’ young daughter, Susan (Natalie Wood), has been raised to not believe in fairytales and, like her mother, doesn’t believe in Santa’s existence. However, when their lawyer neighbour Fred Gailey (John Payne) takes her to see the new Santa at Macy’s and she hears him talk to a Dutch girl in her own language, she wonders if he may be real after all.

Kris spreads holiday cheer throughout the film, becoming hugely popular at the store, impressing customers with his honest approach, referring them to other shops if they have a better product. Kris makes a plan with Fred to break down Doris cynicism, both in regards to the festive period and on her views on relationships after her failed marriage. Susan tells Kris of her dream for she and her mother to live in a house, rather than their high-rise apartment, and Kris promises he’ll try his best to help. She soon fully believes he is who he says he is, and he eventually even wins over Doris. He even manages to reconcile the feud between business rivals Mr. Macy and Mr. Gimbel in true Christmas spirit. Meanwhile, Kris must also defend himself in court, with Fred defending him to prove he isn’t delusional, and really is Santa Klaus.

miracleon34thstreet-11

Doris is a great, well-developed character, controversially for the time a divorced, single mother, and high-powered businesswoman. Her cynicism being broken down by two men is little clichéd, a typical, tired storyline of a woman having to change and conform. However, in the context and with a good helping of festive spirit, it’s actually quite heart-warming to see her scepticism lessen, and for her to open herself up to romance with Fred. However, the loveliest thing to see is certainly Susan finally being able to really be a child, indulging in make-believe, fantasy, and her Christmas wish coming true.

Unlike a lot of festive movies, and despite centring on a major department store, ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ avoids pure commercialism to actually critique the business of Christmas, and to refocus the season on compassion and family values. Despite being made in the 40’s, the film remains timely, exploring the extent of how shopping and spending has almost become the central focus of Christmas. If you’re feeling fed up of all the fuss, spectacle, and consumerism of the holidays, this is the ideal antidote to affirm the season’s true meaning of kindness, while still maintaining that child-like excitement. With witty dialogue, humorous asides, and oozing with old Hollywood charm, this is a sweet festive film to warm your heart this December.

Watch the trailer for ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ below: