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Miracle on 34th Street (originally released in the United Kingdom as The Big Heart) is a 1947 American Christmas comedy-drama film written and directed by George Seaton and based on a story by Valentine Davies. It stars Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn. The story takes place between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day in New York City, and focuses on the impact of a department store Santa Claus who claims to be the real Santa. The film has become a perennial Christmas favorite.

The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Edmund Gwenn), Best Writing, Original Story (Valentine Davies) and Best Writing, Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Picture, losing to Gentleman’s Agreement. In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”. The Academy Film Archive preserved Miracle on 34th Street in 2009.

Miracle on 34th street
Miracle on 34th street

Plot of Miracle on 34th Street

In downtown Manhattan, Kris Kringle, a white-bearded man, protests to Doris Walker, the organizer of the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, that the man who will portray Santa Claus is drunk. Doris then hires Kris to substitute for the now unconscious Santa. When Doris, a widow, returns to her apartment, she discovers that her young daughter Susan is watching the parade from the apartment of their neighbor, lawyer Fred Gailey. Doris joins them, thanks Fred for his kindness to Susan, and learns that he has been cultivating a friendship with Susan in hopes of meeting her.


Later, at Fred’s instigation, Susan wrangles an invitation for him to join them for Thanksgiving dinner. Because of his successful portrayal of Santa during the parade, Kris is hired to be Macy’s store Santa. Although Mr. Shellhammer, the head of the toy department, advises Kris to suggest certain toys to indecisive children, Kris instead tells harried mothers where to find the toys their children want, even if it is not at Macy’s. Shellhammer is about to fire Kris, when one of the mothers thanks him for putting the Christmas spirit back into the holiday and vows to do all her shopping at Macy’s. Later, when Fred brings Susan to visit Santa, Doris, who was disillusioned by a bad marriage to Susan’s father, chastises him for filling her head with myths and fairy tales. While they quarrel, Susan witnesses Kris speaking Dutch to a Dutch orphan and begins to think that Kris may really be Santa Claus.

Miracle on 34th street
Miracle on 34th street

Doris then asks Kris to tell Susan who he really is and when he insists that he is Santa, she asks to see his employment card. Learning that he has given his name as Kris Kringle, Doris becomes afraid that he is insane and is about to dismiss him when store owner Macy praises her and Shellhammer for developing the new policy he believes they have instituted. Afterward, Shellhammer dissuades Doris from firing Kris and suggests that she have him evaluated by Sawyer, the personnel director. In the meantime, Doris calls Dr. Pierce, the head of the Brook’s Home for Old People, where Kris lives. Kris passes his psychological tests, but the bad-tempered Sawyer recommends his dismissal anyway.

Pierce counters by saying that Kris suffers from a delusion for good and insists that he is not dangerous. He further suggests that Kris live closer to the store until his job ends. Fred, having seen the positive effect that Kris has on Susan, offers to let the old man stay with him. That night, Susan reveals to Kris that she wants a real house for Christmas and shows him a magazine picture of her dream house. Although Kris makes no promises, he does agree to try to get it for her.

Miracle on 34th street
Miracle on 34th street

One day, Kris has lunch with seventeen-year-old Alfred, a janitor who plays Santa at the YMCA. When a disconsolate Alfred reveals that according to Sawyer, playing Santa is evidence of a guilt complex, Kris angrily confronts Sawyer and hits him on the head with his cane. Sawyer lies about the causes of the encounter and, using a series of ruses, contrives to have Kris committed to the mental ward at Bellevue. Because he is convinced that Doris participated in Sawyer’s plot, Kris deliberately fails his competency tests.

The hospital then contacts Fred, who, after questioning Kris, agrees to help him gain his release. Fred successfully swings public opinion in Kris’s favor, and at his trial, announces that he will prove that Kris actually is Santa Claus and is therefore sane. Judge Henry X. Harper is distressed by Fred’s announcement as he is up for re-election and does not want to alienate either parents of children who believe in Santa or those who think Kris is a crazy old man. Doris tries to talk Fred out of his decision, and learning that he quit his job in order to defend Kris, accuses him of being unrealistic.


The next day in court, Fred calls his witnesses. Macy testifies that he believes Kris is Santa, then fires Sawyer. After District Attorney Thomas Mara’s young son testifies that his father told him there is a Santa Claus, an embarassed Mara concedes that there is a Santa Claus, but insists that Fred must produce official proof that Kris is the one and true Santa. That night, Doris and Susan write Kris a note to cheer him up. A postal worker, seeing the courthouse address, then decides to send all the letters addressed to Santa to the courthouse.

Miracle on 34th street
Miracle on 34th street

On Christmas Eve, Fred uses the bags of mail as official proof from the U.S. government that Santa exists, and the judge happily dismisses the case. On Christmas, Susan, Doris and Fred celebrate with Kris at the Brook’s Home. Kris presents Pierce with an X-ray machine purchased with a bonus from Macy’s, but Susan is so disappointed that she did not get her wish that she announces her disbelief in Santa. Doris, who has fallen in love with Fred, then explains that it is important to believe in something even if common sense says otherwise.

After the party, Fred drives Doris and Susan home, following directions from Kris. To Susan’s delight, they drive right past her dream house, which is for sale, and she rushes out of the car into the vacant house. Susan’s excitement prompts Fred to propose to Doris, and when she accepts, he notices Kris’s cane leaning against the wall.

Miracle on 34th street
Miracle on 34th street

Remake

A 1994 feature film starred Richard Attenborough, Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott, J. T. Walsh, Timothy Shea, James Remar, Jane Leeves, Simon Jones, William Windom and Mara Wilson. It was adapted by John Hughes from the Seaton script, and directed by Les Mayfield. Due to Macy’s refusal to give permission to use its name, it was replaced by the fictitious “Cole’s”. Gimbels no longer existed by 1994 and was replaced with the fictional “Shopper’s Express”. Alvin Greenman (Alfred in the original version) played a doorman. This version had a more serious tone than the original and a large portion was rewritten, although the majority of the plot and characters remained intact. The film also added a subtext concerning religious faith.

What’s your favorite New York City Christmas movie? Leave a comment!

 

 

 

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
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