In the canon of Santa Claus flicks, few movies come close to Miracle on 34th Street. After all, the 1947 classic has everything you’d want in a holiday movie: a perfect Kris Kringle look-alike (Edmund Gwenn), an adorable kid (Natalie Wood), and loads of holiday spirit. AMC honors this Christmas classic with four nights of Can’t Get Enough Miracle on 34th Street, beginning Fri., Dec 17, at 8PM | 7C. In the meantime, prep yourself with these top ten reasons we can’t get enough Miracle on 34th Street.
10. Vintage New York City
Director George Seaton didn’t cut any corners: the Thanksgiving parade shots that appear in the movie were filmed at the actual 1946 Thanksgiving parade. On top of that, Edmund Gwenn was the Santa in the actual parade, and all the Macy’s scenes were shot at the real Macy’s on 34th Street. How’s that for authenticity? You’re looking at true vintage New York City.
9. Minimal Mush
Sure, it’s a movie about a real-life Santa Claus, but that doesn’t mean the story has to feel fake. Writers George Seaton and Valentine Davies threw in enough cynicism to make the film feel more realistic than sentimental: indeed, most people think Kris Kringle is crazy when he tells them that he’s Santa. Balancing sentiment and realism is no easy feat, but Seaton and Davies pull it off.
8. Santa, the Matchmaking Therapist
Unlike boring Santas in other holiday movies, this Kris Kringle is multidimensional. Not only does he grant kids’ wishes, but he’s also an excellent wingman and counselor: he coaxes Fred (John Payne) into making the moves on Doris (Maureen O’Hara) by taking her to dinner and the theater. “Try a little harder!” he advises. Moments later he’s consoling a teenager about self-esteem. As a jack-of-all-trades, there’s never a dull moment with this old guy.
7. Not Too Commercial
When Kris Kringle starts working at Macy’s, he bristles when his boss tells him to push overstock merchandise on the kids. “The way they commercialize Christmas!” he grumbles, then proceeds to steer customers to other stores — stores that stock the toys kids really want. Many modern-day parents are right there with Mr. Kringle’s anticommercial sentiment.
6. Insider Info on Santa
When the one and only Santa mingles with New Yorkers, he schools them on the ins and outs of being Kris Kringle. For instance, we learn that his reindeer Dasher is always on his right-hand side and that Donner’s antlers have four points, instead of three. He also sleeps with his beard outside of his blanket “because cold air makes them grow.” How’s that for Santa 101?
5. Santa’s Legal Defense
Lawyer Fred Gailey faces a tough task: proving in a court of law that Kris Kringle is indeed the real Santa. He pulls some smart moves, but his biggest coup comes when he calls a caravan of U.S. Postal Service workers into the courtroom. They pile a mountain of bona fide Santa letters on the judge’s podium, all bearing Kringle’s address: the USPS calls him Santa, ergo he must be Santa. Case closed. It’s a classic moment in the history of courtroom cinema.
4. Natalie Wood’s Star-Making Performance
Long before she was Maria (West Side Story) or Gypsy Rose Lee (Gypsy), Natalie Wood was Susan Walker, the darling girl who didn’t believe in Santa or any other make-believe nonsense. The quizzical looks that Wood casts at Gwenn as he explains the concept of imagination are priceless. We applaud her precocious performance as she transforms from cynic to believer.
3. Color and Black-and-white Versions
Do you like your classics in original black-and-white? Or do you prefer to see them in full color? Luckily, with Miracle on 34th Street, you don’t have to pick because it comes both ways. Considering that Christmas is such a colorful time of year — Santa with his red suit, little Susan with her plaid-green jacket — the colorized version can really enhance the holiday spirit. On the other hand, nothing beats the drama of black-and-white imagery. Both air on AMC.
2. Better Than the Remakes
Miracle on 34th Street was a hit when it came out, in 1947, so you can see why studios have since spawned four television and theatrical remakes. All of them, however, pale in comparison to the original. The 1955 adaptation was too rushed, and the most recent, 1994 version didn’t even feature Macy’s — they used a fictional store named Cole’s instead. Oh, the horror.
1. Edmund Gwenn, the Ultimate Santa
Those sparkling eyes, that jolly grin, and, of course, the ample white beard — there’s no question that Gwenn was born to play Santa. His grandfatherly charm, especially when interacting with the young Wood, earns him a perfect ten in Santa performance. The Academy agreed and awarded him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.