One of the great things about holiday magic (which, shut up, is something that I very seriously believe in) is its ability to elevate the mundane: cheesy made-for-TV movies and classic cartoons are simply better by virtue of their Christmas-y subject matter. So when you take a justifiably engaging and entertaining movie and sprinkle that Christmas magic all over it, you have an instant classic.
So it is with Miracle on 34th Street, released 65 years ago, and my absolute favorite holiday movie ever since I first saw it six years ago. For those who haven’t experienced it, it follows a mother and young daughter who don’t believe in anything they can’t see, including imaginary games, magic, and certainly not Santa Claus. The movie traces their encounter with a department-store Santa who, the movie sincerely posits, is The Real Santa Claus. As they slowly come around to the possibility that this “nice man with a white beard” might be more than they initially thought, they realize they’re not alone. Santa, or Kris Kringle, as he’s officially known in the movie, has spread his charm to every character, be they young children or greedy department store heads.
So the plot has a LOT of cheese-potential, but somehow, in the execution, Miracle on 34th Street manages to underscore the story with enough gravitas and serious, earned heart that there’s not even the whiff of cheap sentiment. And the characters are not just well-written, but perfectly cast: Edmund Gwenn, who plays Kris Kringle, won an Oscar for this role, and it’s so deserved. It’s impossible to watch him and not wish that there really WAS a Santa, and that he decided to just go ahead and let these filmmakers film him just doing his thing. The rest of the cast is spectacular too, especially the adorable, but again, in NO WAY cutesy Natalie Wood as the young girl.
If you need a reminder as to what’s so special about this time of year that could make the craziness worth it (so… all of us), please watch this. You’ll be positively HUMMING with Christmas magic by the last scene!
The perfect, hilarious, original 1947 trailer shows almost NO footage from the movie, but captures its charm and essence perfectly:
WHY do they not make trailers like this any more???
(Photo courtesy of Modern Times)