My favorite holiday movie will always be Miracle on 34th Street. And by Miracle on 34th Street, I mean the Natalie Wood version, not any of the insipid remakes. Which leads me to the to why I love Miracle on 34th Street – it’s totally not insipid. It’s the anti-insipid. The whole basis of the plot is altruism is great business (which I guess doesn’t make it altruism). The plot isn’t that all of these hard headed businesses people are doing the right things because they were overcome with the Christmas spirit. They are doing it because it will get them reelected (in the case of the Judge) and get them loads of free publicity and repeat customers. Mr. Macy and Mr. Gimbel fight over whole gets to give the Old Folks Home an X-ray machine because it’s a good photo op. And the deus ex post office comes because the hard bitten postal workers finally have a place to deliver the undelivered letters to Santa. Doing the right thing isn’t noble, it’s useful. I love that message. It’s so different from every other message you get about the holiday season.
The other messages that it gives is that faith does not equal stupidity. Doris (the mother) and Fred (the lawyer) don’t necessarily believe in Santa Claus the mythological figure, but they believe in Kris Kringle, this awesome guy with a beard who brings happiness to the world. Kris’s protegee Alfred isn’t some golly-gee-willikers idealist, he’s a disillusioned New Yorker who’s sad about the commercialism of the holiday season. The believe in Kris because he believes in them. He sees that all of them are good people. It’s awesome!
But none of this would be right if the acting didn’t hit it out of the ballpark. Edmund Gwynn plays Kris as a disillusioned Santa Claus. His Kris is fully aware of the state of the world and gets disillusioned when the bitter psychologist who has far greater mental health issues than he, gets to determine who is crazy and who isn’t. The Kris Kringle of the movie isn’t a saint, he’s kind of a know-it-all but a know-it-all who gives people the permission to be their best selves.
It’s also kind of amazing what a feminist movie this can be. Maureen O’Hara’s Doris is shown as a loving mother, but also a woman who has had life knock the stuffing out of her. She has a career and is damn good at it and doesn’t suffer because of it. She suffers because she’s forgotten how to believe but the movie never indicates she’s forgotten how to love. And her conversion isn’t about believing in Santa Claus, it’s about believing in people – specifically Kris Kringle and Fred Galley. It’s even more genuinely moving because of that.
Finally, this movie would be nothing without Natalie Wood’s Susan. How come Hollywood either has to lay on the sugar with children in movies or turn them into wiseasses? Natalie Wood plays the balance just right of a girl who doesn’t value the power of imagination to one who yearns for a world of imagination. And the kicker? What she wants from Santa isn’t a toy or even a new Daddy, she wants what everyone New Yorker wants – REAL ESTATE. How awesome is that?
I can’t imagine that you haven’t seen this movie but if you haven’t RENT IT NOW.