Golden Oldies On the Big Screen Golden Oldies On the Big Screen

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET

EDITOR’S NOTE: This week’s big-screen golden oldie is the 1947 original black-and-white Christmas classic ‘Miracle On 34th Street,’ which will be shown at various Cinemark theaters around the country, including right here in Utah, on Sunday, Dec. 20, and on Wednesday, Dec. 23, at 2 and 7 p.m.

“Miracle On 34th Street” (1947, b/w) earned a best-supporting actor Oscar for Edmund Gwenn, whose winning performance as Kris Kringle (aka Santa Claus) is the standout performance in a terrific ensemble, and the film is an utter delight.

The story has Kris taking umbrage when he sees that the Santa in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is drunk. So event director Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara) asks him to take over as Santa, and before long he’s also performing the role in the store.

Meanwhile, a young attorney, Fred Gailey (John Payne), who has recently become Doris’ neighbor, tries to talk with her young daughter Susan (Natalie Wood) about Santa, but it seems that divorced and cynical Doris isn’t interested in filling her daughter’s head with fantasies, so Susan doesn’t believe in Santa Claus.

Things progress well for Kris at Macy’s, even when he starts sending customers to other stores if Macy’s doesn’t have what they want. The managers are aghast at first but eventually use Santa’s advice as a sales gimmick — and it works.

Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood, 'Miracle On 34th Street'

But when Kris reveals that he is the real Santa Claus, jealousies push others at the store to have him fired and committed to an institution. Can Fred and Doris and Susan come to the rescue — and will they have to believe in Santa to do so?

This great sentimental comedy is both hilarious and touching, pretty much perfect in every way, with a solid twist at the end that works quite logically.

Payne, who never rose above stardom outside of B-pictures, exhibits a lot of charm here, and he and O’Hara and Wood have some nice chemistry. O’Hara is as grand as always, and Wood, who would grow up to be a fine adult actress, is completely convincing here.

But it really is Gwenn’s picture, and he runs with it.

Co-stars include the great Thelma Ritter in her first film, along with William Frawley (later to play Fred Mertz on “I Love Lucy”) and such familiar character players as Porter Hall, Jerome Cowan, Gene Lockhart, Jeff Corey and Jack Albertson.

TRIVIA NOTE: For its first release in 1947, "Miracle on 34th Street' did not open on a date during the holidays to cash in on its Christmas theme, The studios had not yet tipped to holiday moviegoing, instead reasoning that shopping and parties would keep families out of theaters. So the film opened on May 2 and played through the summer, considered the prime moviegoing season (as it still is today). But it was nonethless nominated for four Oscars at the end of the year, including Best Picture. It didn't win that one but it did earn one for Gwenn, as mentioned above, as well as two screenwriting awards.