Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
A Millennial Lens
December 18, 2021
My name is Nicholas Tanaka. I fell in love with movies and studied film in college, but due to my age, I haven't seen many of the classics. I've decided to go back and watch the films that have formed our movie landscape today, and view them with a modern lens.
An absolute classic (written and directed by George Seaton), centered around the real Kris Kringle, who finds himself with a job at the retail giant Macy's as a parade and mall Santa. This Santa runs into a busy professional single mother Doris Walker and her precocious 7 year old, Susie. Doris works for retail giant Macy's and staffs the parade and the mall. Like many of us who have worked retail, she has lost her love for the holiday and has raised her child as such.
Kris Kringle takes it upon himself to raise the spirits of this family, and in the process is placed in a mental asylum on the basis that he believes himself to be the real Santa Claus. To my absolute surprise, the last half of this movie is about Kris and his lawyer roommate Fred deciding to sue the city of New York for Kris' freedom.
I have not been surprised by a film this old in a while. Usually the beats and best ideas have been mined from these movies and I see most of their twists and turns right away, but this film took me for a ride. It points out the consumerist cynicism that usually falls over Christmas and reveals the heart of the holiday. Many Christmas films become ham handed or clumsy when talking about the "Real Spirit of Christmas" but I think the wholesome and genuine enthusiasm from Kris Kringle really works.
Edmund Gwenn plays a marvelous Santa, who has a warm grandfatherly aura and whimsy. Gwenn is able to bounce off of John Payne's lawyer character very well. Their comedic scenes together are legitimately a fun time to watch and they have good chemistry. Payne would later say that this was his favorite movie of all time. Maureen O'Hara really sold her overworked executive role and stuck the landing.
The one antique from the past that may need explaining is the retail machine of the 50s. Back in the day, retail stores were the biggest game in town and very protective of their customers. The employees were incentivized to keep them at all cost, because they earned commission on their sales. So, the plot point where Kris Kringle influences these corporate giants to direct customers to each other's stores, for the good of the customer, is a huge deal.
It's a charming film that subverted my expectations more than a few times, and I would highly recommend it.