Sunday, December 12, 2010
Christmarathon Day 12: Miracle on 34th Street
Miracle on 34th Street is as perfect a Christmas movie as you'll ever find. It has all of the common tropes of the genre: a dysfunctional family, an appearance by Santa Claus who may or may not be the real thing, and a riveting court room scene that gets so intense you'll begin to think that Kris Kringle is about to yell out, "You want the truth?! You can't handle the truth! You need me on that chimney!" Or something like that. Anyway, Miracle on 34th Street is an all time classic, but it does get a little weird.
It opens with an alcoholic Santa who is too drunk to ride the sleigh during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. That's not something you seen in most Christmas movies. Luckily, there happens to be another man at the parade who looks exactly like Santa Claus, and as luck would have it he is actually named Kris Kringle. Kris is such a hit with in parade that he is hired on to be the regular department store Santa for Macy's. He becomes beloved with all of the customers and even increases store sales. That's some Santa.
Oh, and he also believes that he's the real Santa Claus, which is also a common trope for most of these Christmas movies. What separates this plot from all the rest is that, after making this belief known, Kris is institutionalized and put on trial to see if he is mentally fit to walk the streets with the rest of us sane citizens. So it's something of a feel good Christmas movie mixed in with a court room procedural that sets out to prove once and for all if there's Santa Claus.
Of course, you knew all that, since this film came out in 1947 and it has only grown in popularity over the years. Everybody knows the story right up until that iconic scene where the bailiffs bring in bag after bag of letters addressed to Santa Claus, thereby proving Kris Kringle's sanity because the US Postal Service would never knowingly deliver mail to the wrong person. I don't think that verdict would've flown on an episode of Law and Order, but it was clever enough at the time, when people actually had faith in the US Postal Service.
This is one of my all time favorite Christmas movies not only because it has such a fun, clever, rich story, but because it has the best portrayal of Santa Claus in any film ever made. Edmund Gwenn is amazing as Kris Kringle. He's funny, sweet, charming, and performs with such an amazing twinkle in his eye (and his nose) that it's enough o make me think that maybe he really was Santa Claus after all. He deservedly won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, which makes him probably the only actor to do so for playing Santa Claus.
They later remade the film in 1994 but I never saw the point. The original was perfect, so there was no reason to remake it. I think somebody just figured Richard Attenborough would be a wonderful Santa Claus, so they went ahead and built this remake around that premise. He is wonderful as Santa Claus, of course, but he couldn't top the iconic performance by Gwenn, and the movie just wasn't that good.
But the original is brilliant. Two thumbs way up!