Welcome to today’s show, Miracle on 34th Street (1947), my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcast formally known as iTunes or follow the links to social media in the podcast show notes. So please subscribe when you are finished listening. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts.
Today’s movie is Miracle on 34th Street (1947). This movie is for true believers and if you are a true believer, it will be hard to throw too much snark at this one. But, I will endeavor to preserve. iMDB.com rates this movie 7.9. I thought it would be higher. Rotten Tomatoes has it at 96%. It is not in the AFI top 100 films list. It is 9th on the AFI’s 100 Most Inspiring Films of All Time. I thought it would be higher.
This is Thelma Ritter’s film debut. She had a small role as a harried shopper but it launched her career in movies. Valentine Davies got the idea for the story while struggling during a shopping trip.
There are a lot of show veterans today, so let’s get going.
John Payne played lawyer Fred Gailey. Payne was covered in Episode 38 – 99 River Street (1953).
Young Natalie Wood played Susan Walker. Wood was first covered in Episode 108 – The Searchers (1956).
Porter Hall played a real stinker as store psychologist Granville Sawyer. Hall was first covered in Episode 89 – Ace in the Hole (1951).
Jerome Cowan played DA Thomas Mara. Cowan was first covered in Episode 100 – The Maltese Falcon (1941).
Percy Helton was the drunken parade-Santa Claus. Helton was briefly covered in Episode 113 – The Set-Up (1949).
Jack Albertson played the role of a mail sorter with a big idea. Albertson was covered in Episode 134 – The Harder They Fall (1956).
Thelma Ritter played the role of a shopper. Ritter was covered in Episode 30 – Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).
Edmund Gwenn played the big man, Kris Kringle. Gwenn was born in England in 1877. While attending university in England, Gwenn became interested in theater. Gwenn’s father, who was a civil servant, threw the young man out of the house when the younger announced he wanted to work in theater. In 1895, at the age of 18, the broke young man got his first theater work. He spent more than a decade working in stock and traveling companies. Gwenn married, separated, traveled abroad, before his career improved. By 1908, he was a major actor.
Gwenn was drafted into the British Army during World War I. While he was still in the army, he was in his first film. Following the war, Gwenn returned to stage work. He also worked occasionally in the US and continued in English films. Gwenn acted in the silent film The Skin Game (1921) and reprised his role as “Hornblower” in The Skin Game (1931), this time directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
Gwenn began working for RKO in 1938 and made a string of successful movies. These films include Sylvia Scarlett (1935), Anthony Adverse (1936), A Yank at Oxford (1938), Pride and Prejudice (1940) no zombies, an assassin in the Hitchcock directed Foreign Correspondent (1940), One Night in Lisbon (1941), The Devil and Miss Jones (1941), not to be confused with The Devil in Miss Jones (1973) which is a porn and is widely regarded as helping to usher in the golden era of porn, Scotland Yard (1941), Charley’s Aunt (1941), where he was in drag romancing Jack Benny character, A Yank at Eton (1942), The Meanest Man in the World (1943), which may be where my father got that story about the tombstone, Lassie Come Home (1943), The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), Dangerous Partners (1945), Bewitched (1945) about a woman with split personalities, Of Human Bondage (1946), Green Dolphin Street (1947), and Thunder in the Valley (1947), where he played a dog killing SOB.
Then Gwenn got the role as Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street (1947). For this role, he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Amazing, the 71-year-old gained almost 30-pounds for this role.
Movies that followed his best-known film include Challenge to Lassie (1949), Louisa (1950), Mister 880 (1950) where he played a very friendly counterfeiter, Sally and Saint Anne (1952), Bonzo Goes to College (1952) as the football coach without the Gipper, Mister Scoutmaster (1953) with the oddly cast Clifton Webb as the lead, Them! (1954) where he battled giant ants for domination of the planet, It’s a Dog’s Life (1955), The Trouble with Harry (1955) which was Gwenn’s fourth film with director Alfred Hitchcock, The Student Prince (1954), and Gwenn’s last feature film was The Rocket from Calabuch (1956), where he played an atomic scientist trying to get away from it all. Gwenn died at the age of 81 in 1959.
A kindly old man with a beard (Edmund Gwenn) is walking down a New York street. He stops to explain to a store worker that he has the reindeer in the wrong position in the window display and we know he is Santa. A newspaper shows that Santa Claus will be in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade at 10 am. Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara) is working hard to organize the parade. When Santa get to the parade, he sees the parade Santa (Percy Helton) is drunk as a skunk. Santa goes to Doris to complain about the drunk. She already thinks he is Santa. Doris asks if he has had an experience as Santa and he says a little. She convinces him to take the job. Santa is a big hit as Santa. Edmund Gwenn played Santa in the 1946 parade so they could get all of the exterior shots they needed.
Her work done, Doris goes to her apartment and looks for her daughter Susan (Natalie Wood). She is with the neighbor’s, Fred Gailey (John Payne) apartment watching the parade from the window. Susan is completely jaded with no faith in anything or anyone. Susan reflects the same view as her mother. The Legion of Decency gave this film a B rating because Doris was divorced. Doris comes in and meets Fred. Fred admits to being kind to Susan so he could meet Doris. Susan doesn’t believe in Santa. Susan invites Fred to Thanksgiving dinner and then rats him out that it was his idea.
Doris gets a call from co-worker Julian Shellhammer (Philip Tonge) saying he wants to hire Santa as Santa. She agrees and Santa takes the job. On his first day, he meets kindly Alfred (Alvin Greenman) who plays Santa at the local YMCA. Julian gives Santa instructions on how to be a good Santa. On the job, of course, he is great. A boy wants a toy that no one has. His mother (Thelma Ritter) tries to signal Santa. Afterwards, he tells her where she can buy the toy at another store. Shellhammer hears Santa send a customer to Gimbles. The mother comes back and congratulates Shellhammer on the plan of putting Christmas ahead of commercialism. Interestingly, both Macy’s and Gimbel’s had final approval over the finished film and they both accepted the first cut. Could this happen now? I think they store lawyers would tie it up to doomsday.
Fred brings Susan to meet Santa. She thinks it’s a waste of time. He introduces himself as Kris Kringle and from here on I will refer to him as Kris or Santa as appropriate. Susan says that her mother hired him and she knows it not real. She wants to pull his beard and is shocked that it is real. Actually, it was a fake beard, just a good one. Susan doesn’t ask for anything. Doris gets a little pissy with Fred for taking her daughter to see Kris/Santa. A little Dutch orphan girl comes to see Santa. She had been living in an orphanage ever since those damn Nazis messed up Europe. Kris can speak to her in Dutch. When Susan sees this interaction, her shell begins to crack. Dang, little Natalie could act.
Doris calls Kris to her office to explain to Susan that he is not the “real” Santa. Kris says, that Santa is real and he is the dude. She calls for his employee card. He lists his name as Kris Kringle but his address is Brooks’ Memorial Home for the Aged. His age is listed as old as his tongue but younger than his teeth. Finally, the eight reindeer are listed as his next of kin. He must have gotten rid of Mrs. Claus or Kringle. Or maybe he has a couple of families. Anyway, among the reindeer names are Donder and Blitzen, which is correct! This is my pet peeve. There is no Donner. Donder and Blitzen mean thunder and lightning. As is blitzkrieg or lighting war when those damn Nazis were messing up Europe or shock and awe when others do similar things. Doris fires Kris because she thinks he is crazy. About that time, she is called to Mr. Macy’s office. The “policy” of Santa sending people to other stores is amazing and working great. She has to get Kris back. Her and Shellhammer decide they will have him examined by psychologist Granville Sawyer (Porter Hall) to see if he is really crazy or just a little crazy “like some of those men in Washington.”
Doris rehires Kris and tells him he has to have a mental exam. He is not worried. Doris calls the Brooks’ Memorial Home for the Aged and asks to speak to the doctor in charge.
In the morning, Kris meets with Sawyer who has a nervous habit of pulling his eyebrows. Kris knows all of the answers and turns the table on Sawyer for pulling his eyebrows and biting his fingernails. Sawyer calls Doris and his secretary has the same eyebrow pulling habit. The doctor from the home and Shellhammer are in Doris’ office when Sawyer comes in. He wants Kris committed. The doctor from the home says Kris is not harmful to anyone. He suggests that Kris get a roommate. Shellhammer plans to get his wife drunk before he asks if Kris can stay. Kris goes home with Doris and spends time with Susan. He tries to teach Susan how to use her imagination and play games. Fred offers to let Kris stay with him. This guy seems to nice to be a lawyer. The now drunk Mrs. Shellhammer calls Doris but the problem is already solved. Doris is shocked when she finds out Kris is staying with Fred. Kris gets Susan to admit that she really wants a home with a yard and a tree for a swing. He says he will do his best. That night Kris cogitates on how to get the house. Kris already has a plan. Kris sleeps with his whiskers out because cold air makes them grow.
The store puts together a shopping guide to other stores for their customers. Gimbel wants to know why his people didn’t think of the stunt. They decide to do the same thing as Gimbel’s. Both stores expand the policy to all of their stores. Gimbel and Macy meet and are photographed with Kris. Macy gives Kris a check and Kris says he wants to buy an x-ray machine for his friend. Gimbel agrees to pay the rest of the cost.
Later Kris is eating in the cafeteria with Alfred. Alfred is sad because Sawyer told him that wanting to play Santa is bad. He says Santa types have a guilty complex they are trying to make-up for. Sawyer has Alfred all confused. Kris goes to Sawyer’s office and starts chewing him out. Kris raps Sawyer on the head with an umbrella. Sawyer makes a federal case out of the incident. He says the attack was unprovoked after he merely mentioned Santa.
They trick Kris into leaving the store, even though he has a meeting scheduled with Mr. Macy to report Sawyer. They get Kris in the car and Sawyer jumps in as they tell the driver to go to Bellevue mental hospital. Fred is working at his law office and gets a call that Kris is in Bellevue. The doctor there tells him that he is recommending commitment. Fred hurries down there and finds Kris sitting sullenly after having intentionally failed the evaluation. He can believe Doris is not coming around and at first, believes she was part of his confinement. Fred convinces Kris that he should get back to work. However, he can’t get out. Fred agrees to represent Kris in the fight against the legal system.
Macy reads the riot act to Sawyer and demands he gets the mental case dropped against Kris. Judge Henry X. Harper (Gene Lockhart) reads the file with DA Thomas Mara (Jerome Cowan) who is made to resemble physical and with character details former Manhattan DA, former governor of New York and twice failed Republican presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey. It no surprise that they have a Republican trying to lock up Santa. Just before the judge signs the commitment papers, Fred comes in and asks for a hearing where he can bring witnesses. Sawyer is waiting outside and wants the charges dropped but it is too late.
Sawyer tries to pay off Fred to keep the case quiet and Fred decides publicity is what he needs. He gets the newspapers to cover the story. Judge Harper’s political advisor Charlie Halloran (William Frawley) advises him to get off the case. The judge says no one will blame him for doing his job. Then his grandkids refuse to hug him.
The DA calls Kris to the stand and they think the case will be shut and dry. Fred says his client will answer any questions. Kris is charming and says he is Santa Claus. The DA rest his case. Fred’s case is based on the fact that Kris IS Santa Claus and is thus sane. Fred comes in and kisses Doris on the check and says “Hello Darling.” Wait? What? When did this happen? Fred has quit his job over the case. Doris doesn’t believe in Kris. The pair has a big fight.
At his home, the DA is worried about how badly he is being treated in the papers. Even his wife is against him.
Alfred comes down to court to support Kris. Fred calls Macy. Macy, when asked if Kris is really Santa Claus, sees headlines for either answer. He decides to go with I do. Macy, following his testimony, he fires Sawyer. The judge is asked to rule on whether there is or is not a Santa Claus. Halloran explains to the judge the effect of ruling that there is no Santa Claus because he will destroy the economy. Judge Harper rules that he will keep an open mind and not rule either way.
Fred calls the DA’s son to the stand. Man, that’s low. The boy says he believes in Santa and he is sitting at the defense table. He also said his daddy told him about Santa and would never lie. The DA says the state accepts that Santa Claus exists. The court asks for non-opinion based testimony. Fred gets a continuance until the morning. Susan writes Kris a letter saying she believes and Doris signs it saying she believes too. Doris drops the letter in the US Mail.
At the post office, the mail is being sorted by a worker (Jack Albertson). He finds a letter addressed to Santa Claus at the federal court building. The worker gets the idea to deliver all of the Santa mail to the courthouse.
On Christmas Eve, at the courthouse, Santa reads Susan’s letter and is happy again. Fred is at a loss because he doesn’t have anyone to testify for Kris. A bailiff gets Fred and takes him outside. The DA begins to argue for the submission. Fred reads about the Post Office and its history, an idea created by the smartest American ever, Benjamin Franklin. It was removed as a cabinet level department in 1972.
The DA stipulates that the Post Office is a Federal agency and that it is unlawful to deliver mail to the wrong person. Fred gives the judge three letters addressed to Santa Claus and says postal employees delivered the letters to Kris. The DA objects to the three letters. Fred says he has more and the judge orders them to be put on the desk. Bailiffs then come in with dozens of bags of letters and bury the judge. Judge Harper rules that the court will not overrule the federal government and the case is dismissed. The DA runs out to get a present for his son. The judge slides two letters from his grandkids into the pile.
Kris meets with Doris and invites her to a Christmas Day celebration at the Brooks’ Memorial Home for the Aged. She accepts and invites him to dinner. Kris says not this night. In the morning, Doris and Susan go to the home. Alfred is working as a Santa and meets Macy. The Brooks’ Home doctor is happy with his new x-ray machine. Susan is sad because what she asked for in not under the tree. Santa says he tried his best. Susan says he is not Santa and just a nice old man. Doris says she must believe. Later Fred comes in and asks to drive Susan and Doris home. Kris gives them a quicker route home. As they drive, Susan, who is now saying she believes, sees the house she asked for with a for sale sign. She runs to back to see the swing. Fred is overcome and the pair kiss. They decide to buy the house and get married. Fred starting saying he is a great lawyer because he took a little old man and proved to the world that he is Santa… When he sees Kris’ walking cane in the corner by the fireplace. Doris sees it and says oh no, it can’t be. Fred thinks maybe he is not such a great lawyer. Was the trial all a part of Santa’s plan?
World-Famous Short Summary – You can say there’s no such thing as Santa, but as for me and grandpa we believe
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Beware the moors