Saturday Night Cinema: Miracle on 34th Street

  1. You didn’t think tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema would be something other than Christmas? You know me better than that. Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema feature is one of the sweetest pictures ever turned out by Hollywood — the charming Christmas class, Miracle on 34th Street. This completely captivating film is irrefutable proof that gentle sentimentalism can inspire and uplift.

What better movie to curl up with during the Christmas season?

Miracle on 34th Street is a 1947 Christmas comedy-drama film written and directed by George Seaton and based on a story by Valentine Davies. It stars Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn. The story takes place between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day in New York City, and focuses on the impact of a department store Santa Claus who claims to be the real Santa. The film has become a perennial Christmas favorite.

Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) is indignant to find that the man assigned to play Santa in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (Percy Helton) is intoxicated. When he complains to event director Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara), she persuades Kringle to take his place. He does such a fine job that he is hired as the Santa for Macy’s flagship New York City store in Macy’s Herald Square.

Ignoring instructions to steer parents to buy from Macy’s, Kringle directs one shopper (Thelma Ritter) to another store. Impressed, she tells Julian Shellhammer (Philip Tonge), head of the toy department, that she will become a loyal customer. Kris later informs another mother that archrival Gimbels has better ice skates.

‘Miracle on 34th Street,’ With Edmund Gwenn in the Role of Santa Claus, at Roxy — ‘Web’ at Loew’s Criterion
Published: June 5, 1947

For all those blasé skeptics who do not believe in Santa Claus—and likewise for all those natives who have grown cynical about New York—but most especially for all those patrons who have grown weary of the monotonies of the screen, let us heartily recommend the Roxy’s new picture, “Miracle on 34th Street.” As a matter of fact, let’s go further: let’s catch its spirit and heartily proclaim that it is the freshest little picture in a long time, and maybe even the best comedy of this year.

If that sounds like wild enthusiasm for a picture devoid of mighty stars and presented without the usual red-velvet-carpet ballyhoo, let us happily note that it is largely because this job isn’t loaded to the hubs with all the commercial gimmicks that it is such a delightful surprise. Indeed, it is in its open kidding of “commercialism” and money-grubbing plugs that lies its originality and its particularly winning charm.

What would you think, to put it plainly, if you ran across an old man who not only looked like Kris Kringle but confidently claimed that he was? And what would you think, more specifically, if you were an executive of Macy’s store, employing the old man to lure the kiddies before Christmas, and caught him sending customers to Gimbel’s, down the street. Would you see in this merchandising technique a “friendly policy,” as Mr. Macy does, or would you figure the old fellow crazy and a menace, as does a sour psychiatrist?

Well, if you were Valentine Davies and George Seaton, who wrote the story and script of “Miracle on 34th Street” for Twentieth Century-Fox, you would give free rein to the latter point of view and you would get the old man before the Supreme Court on a question of his sanity. You would, for the sake of the story and an uncommonly fascinating jest, call for a formal court decision as to whether there is actually a Santa Claus. And, furthermore, you would demand substantiation that this old fellow is the true Santa himself—and you would then go ahead and prove it by the highest authority in the land. By doing so, you would not only gladden the hearts of all New York but you would bring a young couple to matrimony and you would lift a little girl’s doubts.

At least, that is what Mr. Davies and Mr. Seaton have done in their bright yarn. And, appropriately, in this buoyant spirit, Mr. Seaton has directed it. He has got Edmund Gwenn to play Kris Kringle with such natural and warm benevo-lence that, if ever the real Santa wants to step down, Mr. Gwenn is the man for the job. His candor with Mr. Macy, an awesome tycoon; his charm with little Sue and his genuine attitude of generosity toward everybody are cherishable in this dark day.

Good, too, are Maureen O’Hara and John Payne, as the lady and gent who help Mr. Kringle spread sunshine. And most amusing are little Natalie Wood as the child who has been trained to sniff at Santa and Gene Lockhart as the much embarrassed judge. Porter Hall is a tangle of malice as the big-business psychiatrist and at least a dozen others are delightful in small roles or bits. Scenes shot in actual New York settings add credibility to the film.

As a lesson in merchandising not only store products but good-will this “Miracle on 34th Street” is a dandy. Does Macy’s tell Gimbel’s? It should!

On the stage at the Roxy are Jerry Lester, comedian; Art Lund, singer; Jan August, the Salici Puppets and the Gae Foster Roxyettes.

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, screen play by George Seaton, based on a story by Valentine Davies; directed by George Seaton; produced by William Perlberg for Twentieth Century-Fox. At the Roxy.
Kris Kringle . . . . . Edmund Gwenn
Doris Walker . . . . . Maureen O’Hara
Fred Gailey . . . . . John Payne
Judge Henry X. Harper . . . . . Gene Lockhart
Susan . . . . . Natalie Wood
Mr. Sawyer . . . . . Porter Hall
Politician . . . . . William Frawley
District Attorney Mara . . . . . Jerome Cowan
Mr. Shellhammer . . . . . Philip Tonge
Dr. Pierce . . . . . James Seay
Mr. Macy . . . . . Harry Antrim
Mothers . . . . . Thelma Ritter
Mary Field
Cleo . . . . . Theresa Harris
Albert . . . . . Alvin Greenman
Mrs. Mara . . . . . Anne Staunton
Thomas Mara Jr. . . . . . Robert Hyatt
Mrs. Shellhammer . . . . . Lela Bliss
Dutch child . . . . . Marlene Lyden

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