REVIEW: ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ remains a miracle of a holiday film

Edmund Gwenn must convince the world and a skeptical NYC girl Susan Walker (Natalie Wood) that he is truly Kris Kringle in the 1947 film ‘Miracle on 34th Street.’ Promotional artwork courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

Endearing. Inspiring. Magical.

Miracle on 34th Street is an alluring concoction of enchanting Christmas spirit and heart-warming family togetherness. The comfort of a classic black and white film will not only be reminiscent of your beloved childhood but also welcome you into the essence of the holiday season. 

Magnificently directed by George Seaton, Miracle on 34th Street narrates the development of a court case charged against a man who believes himself to be the one and only Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn). It’s a war between the believers and non-believers, the spirit of magic versus the existence of logic. Originally hired by Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara) to step in for a drunk Santa Claus at the Macy’s Day Parade, Mr. Kringle becomes so beloved by the people that he becomes hired to be the notorious Macy’s store Santa. However, trouble ensues when Mr Kringle encourages parents to buy from other stores to get their child the gifts they want, rather than promote the toys at Macy’s. Before Mr. Shellhammer (Philip Tonge) is able to fire Kris Kringle from the store, a customer proclaims Kringle’s honesty and care is the epitome of Christmas spirit and vows to do all of her Christmas shopping at Macy’s. This second chance at his job eventually causes the ultimate court case. Kris Kringle’s frequent declarations that he is, in fact, Santa Claus forges unease that he isn’t mentally stable and his delusions only harm the beliefs of the children. Now, it’s a case of morality — Is Kris Kringle indeed the one and only Santa Claus?

With the movie originating in 1947, the fashion sense remains true to the war years decade. Each cast member’s hair was meticulously styled, not a single hair dare be out of place. The outfits themselves were consistently what we would consider formal attire today; actresses wore pleated blouses and skirts to keep warm for their winter filming and even included the notorious shoulder pads ever so popular in the 40’s. The actors wore many complete matching suits, often with many layers hidden underneath for their winter filming. Costumes were pristine, clean, and even as lavish as the hair. 

While technology in filmmaking was not as evolved as what we are used to today, the sense of realism and excellent cinematography truly makes this movie spectacular. From the soft lighting illuminating Kris Kringle’s pure nature to close pans of the characters’ impactful emotions, this film will keep you on the edge of your seat, yearning that the spirit of Christmas prevails. 

It isn’t a wonder how the cast members are notoriously known for their roles in Miracle on 34th Street. Their acting was so genuine that viewers will wonder if the cast was acting or truly became their character. The cast was so dedicated to their roles. A great example of this is Edmund Gwenn’s portrayal of Kris Kringle. When this film was in production, the cast members only had one shot to film the Macy’s Day Parade scene since they actually had to participate in the entire parade! If the shot had been messed up, the film’s release would be prolonged by one year as to have another shot at filming during the actual Macy’s Day Parade. However, Gwenn was immensely successful in his portrayal that the movie was able to release in 1947.

His ability to get along with the cast made the film seemingly authentic. Take the platonic chemistry between Gwenn and the beloved Natalie Wood, for instance. Most known by fans and critics for her role as Susan Walker in this film, Wood portrays the imaginative young girl who whole-heartedly believes Kris Kringle to be Santa Claus himself. The bond between young Wood and Gwenn is remarkable: the likeness of a little girl and her devotion to the belief of Santa Claus will inspire youngsters to flourish in their childhood beliefs in such tough times. Film fans won’t be surprised if they discover that Wood had even believed Gwenn to be the real Santa Claus behind the scenes of the 1947 film, even if only for a while. 

With the second world war having only ended two years prior to this film’s release, George Seaton set out to produce a film that would lift the people’s shaken spirits. In hopes to unite children and adults together in a sense of child-like joy and hope, Seaton created the holiday classic we know and love, Miracle on 34th Street. You’ll wonder just who prevails in the end — after all, “it’s not just Kris who’s on trial, it’s everything he stands for.” You’ll be left enraptured by the film’s sanguine effect and its lovely intangibles. 

So snuggle in with your family around the fire with a blanket and some hot chocolate as you watch the story of Kris Kringle’s controversy and allow the debate of the Christmas spirit unravel before you. 

Miracle on 34th Street is not rated. 

Kaitlyn Riley is a pop culture critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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