Saturday, February 8, 2014
MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947)
(May 1947, U.S.)
A Christmas movie released in May??? Seriously??? What kind of holiday spirit is that?? Hey, what do I know? I don't even celebrate the season. However, I can't help but notice that ever since this blog took off in 2010, every once in a great while, my posts have coincided well with actual dates or events pertaining to that film. I wrote about THE EXORCIST on Halloween. I wrote about THE IDES OF MARCH on Election Day. I wrote about KING KONG (1933) on the date of its 80th anniversary release and just recently, I wrote about Disney's MIRACLE on the eve of the Sochi Winter Games as well the movie's own 10th anniversary release. But never, never have I been able to coincide a post for a Christmas film anywhere near or on the actual holiday of Christmas. Coincidence and their place in my alphabetical collection just don't seem to want to allow me that sort of good timing. And so it happens again...I present to you MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET in February, six days before Valentine's Day!
One of the first things I should mention about this classic black and white Christmas tale is that I rarely associate it with Christmas for my own personal viewings. You see, over the years, I've come to enjoy watching this film on Thanksgiving Day. Yes, you heard me correct. Although billed as a Christmas tale, a good portion of the film's beginning takes place on Thanksgiving Day, including a rather detailed account of the famous Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and all its morning preparations. That alone has kept my viewer's brain focused on a very specific association and I've never let go of it. So there you have it. Once again, I break the rules of holiday tradition and do things in my own ass-backwards manner!
Now given the fact that I'm Jewish and I was raised much like the little girl character of Susan Walker (played by the child Natalie Wood) in which I had no belief in fairy tales or myths, I had more of a chance believing in Edmund Gwenn playing a Macy's Santa Claus than I ever would believing in the real thing. Look well at his kind, gentle face and the well-detailed costume and beard and you'll see why it's so convincing...
The film's purpose, though, is not so much to get its characters and it's viewing audience to believe so much in Santa Claus himself, but rather the spiritual essence that Christmas is meant to promote between people every year. Yes, our hero in this film believes himself to be the real Santa Claus and even goes by the name of Kris Kringle when filling out job applications and greeting people. By all practical accounts, however, he's just a sweet old man with convincing white whiskers. Particularly unconvinced are little Susan and her hard-as-nails-realistic mother Doris Walker (played by Maureen O'Hara). Doris works for Macy's and it's her job to promote the idea of Santa Claus to sell toys to customers with money to spend, but that's where it ends. In mentioning Macy's more than once, it's interesting to note that this film also takes its time in not only promoting the legendary department store on 34th Street (as well as another store known as Gimbels that's been defunct since 1987), but also the entire department store shopping experience during the holiday season, something that's kicked off every year in our country on "Black Friday".
So, the ultimate question here is, "Is Kris crazy?" Does a man walking around claiming he's the real Santa Claus have all of his marbles in a six pack (or something like that?)? Most folks in the film think that's a definite yes! In particular is the Macy's psychologist Sawyer (or a man who acts like one!) played by Porter Hall. This is a man we come to view as despicable in every fashion. Because of his own insecurities and high-end ego, he's more than willing to send up a kind old man like Kris to Bellevue Hospital simply for refusing to go along with society's norm and act normal (whatever the fuck that is!). But when you have a "bad guy" like that, you're destined to have the "good guy" who will make things right, and that guy is Fred Gailey (played by John Payne), an idealistic lawyer who strives to defend the little guy against all of the injustices of the world. So now his task is to not only free Kris from a mental institution but to also get those around him (including Susan and Doris) to genuinely believe in this man's claim to be Santa Claus. At a formal hearing before a New York Supreme Court Judge, arguments are made as to whether Kris is crazy and as to whether there is such a person as Santa Claus. In the end, we have to remember that this is a holiday family film, so no such film is about to send Santa Claus up the river, right? With the help of the United States Postal Service, a recognized official American government agency, Kris is legally proven to be the one-and-only Santa Claus. Does that make it real, even by the film's expectations? Of course not! The film's point is not to prove the existence of such a man, one way or another, but rather to promote the belief in the man's mythology and spirit of the season's good will. Well, at least that's what this Jew has come to understand over the years! Don't forget, my idea of Christmas Day is bowling with my family and then partaking in a Chinese restaurant. It used to mean spending the day on the ski slopes, but that's when I was younger with more funds to spend. It used to mean going to the movies, but that was before the rest of the audience became too intolerable for me!
And so, my friends, unless something new rears its way in my viewing appreciation, MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET appears to be the last Christmas film in my collection. So with that, I'll say for next year...HAPPY HANUKKAH!!!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Fred Gailey: "Look Doris, someday you're going to find that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn't work. And when you do, don't overlook those lovely intangibles. You'll discover those are the only things that are worthwhile."