HGA

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)


Miracle on 34th Street
Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood and Maureen O'Hara


'Miracle on 34th Street'is a Christmas comedy film made in 1947 and written and directed by George Seaton. It stars Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn. Unusually for a Christmas themed movie, it was released in the month of May as MGM considered the potential spring and summer audiences to be bigger.

The film was well received by the critics and received four Academy Award nominations, winning for Best Supporting Actor, Best Writing, Original Story and Screenplay but losing out to 'Gentleman's Agreement' for the Best Picture Oscar. It was added to the National Film Registry in 2005 and is placed at number 9 on AFI's 100 Most Inspiring Movies list.

Plot

The action takes place in Manhattan at Christmas time between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. In the Christmas parade the actor who is supposed to be playing Father Christmas is found drunk. The man who discovers him is asked by the organiser to take over the role, which he does brilliantly well and results in him being asked to take over the job of Santa at the prestigious Macy's department store. During his time at Macy's the new store Santa, named Kris Kringle, played by begins to tell people that he actually is Father Christmas.

Kris is advised by Mr. Shellhammer, the head of the toy department, to suggest specific toys to children, Kris instead tells harrassed mothers where to find the toys their children realy want, even if it means leaving Macy's to get them. Shellhammer is about to fire Kris for losing the store business, when one of the mothers thanks him for putting the Christmas spirit back into the holiday and vows to do all her shopping at Macy's. The store's Events Director, Doris Walker, a working single mother, played by Maureen O'Hara , hears that Kris is claiming to really be Father Christmas.

The realistic, business-minded Doris and her daughter, Susan, played by Natalie Wood, reject the fantasy of Christmas, yet they both come to realise that there is, indeed, something special about their new Santa.

Every fairy story needs a baddie and he appears in the form of Mr. Sawyer, Macy's staff psychologist, played by Porter Hall who is not convinced about Kris, believing him to be delusional. and has him committed to a mental institution. In order to get out, Kris has to face a court hearing, where both his sanity and the very existence of Santa Claus is questioned. Those close to Kris, namely Fred Gaily, take up the challenge.

Fred Gailey (played by John Payne) a neighbor of Doris and Susan Walker agrees to represent Kris. The predictable end to the story is that Fred and Doris become attracted to each other, and as Fred works hard to secure Kris' freedom, Doris finds herself not only believing in Kris, but also in believing in fantasy. Santa wins his case!

Production

The film was taken from a story originally written specifically for the screen by Valentine Davis. Davis later developed it into a full novel which was published in the same year as the film's release, 1947.

The movie was originally released in the UK with the title 'The Big Heart' and other working titles considered were 'My Heart Tells Me' and 'It's Only Human'.

Some of the scenes of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade are of the actual parade. A number of scenes were also shot on location at Macy's Department Store in New York and some scenes were filmed inside the Supreme Court Building in New York City. Because the filming unit used more electricity than Macy's store was able to provide, the unit had to provide extra generating capacity.

Main Cast

Edmund Gwenn deservedly won a Best Supporting Actor Award for his brilliant performance, and he is supported by a wonderful cast, all of whom have their chance to shine.

Maureen O'Hara ... Doris Walker
John Payne ... Fred Gailey
Edmund Gwenn ... Kris Kringle
Natalie Wood ... Susan Walker
Porter Hall ... Granville Sawyer
William Frawley ... Charlie Halloran
Jerome Cowan ... District Attorney Thomas Mara
Philip Tonge ... Julian Shellhammer
Alvin Greenman ... Alfred
Gene Lockhart ... The Hon. Henry X. Harper
Harry Antrim ... R. H. Macy
Herbert Heyes ... Mr. Gimbel
James Seay ... Dr. Pierce
Thelma Ritter ... a harried shopper
Percy Helton ... the drunken Santa Claus stand-in the parade
Ann Staunton ... Mrs. Mara
Bobby Hyatt ... Thomas Mara, Jr.

Maureen O'Hara (b.1920) A beautiful Irish actress known for her flaming red hair. She starred in the Oscar winning picture 'How Green was my Valley' in 1941 and appeared numerous times with her great friend, John Wayne, in such pictures ... 'Rio Grande' in 1950 and 'The Quiet Man' in 1952. She was living in Ireland when she received the script but considered it so good that she returned to America to film.
Edmund Gwenn (1877-1959) received an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his brilliant , compelling performance which makes the film the masterpiece it is. A British actor whose first movie appearance was in 1916, Gwenn settled in Hollywood in 1940 and appeared in some eighty films in England and America.
John Payne (1912-1989) Payne was an American actor who became a star in 1940s musicals like 'Tin Pan Alley' in 1940 , and ' Springtime in the Rockies' in 1942. Later in his career he appeared in several films noir and Westerns as a tough guy. As Fred Gailey, he plays the straight role of the handsome, quiet and thoughtful lawyer who falls in love with Mrs. Walker and who gradually comes to believe in his client.
Porter Hall (1888-1953) Excels in his role of Macy's staff psychologist, and plays it to the hilt. After an early career acting exclusively in the theater, Hall began his movie career in 1931 at the age of 43 and quickly established a reputation for playing pompous, unpleasant people - completely unlike his real self and exactly like his characer in 'Miracle on 34th Street'.
Thelma Ritter (1902-1969) Makes her mark, albeit uncredited, with a strong performance ... the tired mother of the child who is reccomended by Kris Kringle to go to another store. This was her movie debut after an early career on stage. She subsequently received six unsuccessful Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress, most famously for her performance as Birdy in the classic 'All About Eve' in 1950.
Natale Wood (1938-81) gives a wonderful performance, at once as hard-headed as her mother, yet completely believable as a child. After fame as a child star she received a nomination as a teenager for Best Supporting Actress for 'Rebel Without a Cause' in 1955. She hit the headlines as Maria in 'West Side Story' in 1961 and she was subsequently nominated twice for Best Actress Oscars in 1961 and 1963. Her death from drowning in 1981 is still unexplained and her husband Robert Wagner was one of the prime suspects.

Credits

Director ... George Seaton
Producer ... William Perlberg
Screenplay ... George Seaton
Music ... Cyril Mockridge
Cinematography ... Lloyd Ahern, Charles G. Clarke
Format ... B & W
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date ... May 2, 1947
Running time ... 96 minutes

Academy Awards

Three Wins:
Best Supporting Actor ... Edmund Gwenn
Best Writing, Original Story ... Valentine Davies
Best Writing, Screenplay ... George Seaton
One Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Picture ... 20th Century Fox