Miracle on 34th Street
Reviewed in December 2009
Director: George Seaton. Cast: Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood, Porter Hall, Gene Lockhart, Jerome Cowan, William Frawley, Philip Tonge, Harry Antrim, Alvin Greenman, Thelma Ritter, Herbert Hayes, Percy Helton, Theresa Harris. Screenplay: George Seaton (based on an original screen story by Valentine Davies).

Photo © 1947 20th Century Fox
I get it that none but the grinchiest could take exception to Miracle on 34th Street, but if you have actually seen the movie recently, and if we can set aside its ritual ensconcement as part of the yuletide avalanche of synthetic good cheer that the movie purports to lament, it's pretty astonishing how listlessly it's acted and assembled. George Seaton isn't quite Ed Wood, but there are more than enough hilariously flat or else bizarrely overdone reaction shots here to attain at least a weekend pass to Woodville. Edmund Gwenn gives the most natural, calmly engaging performance as, strangely, the only character who isn't a completely mundane and by-the-numbers human. I don't know why the entire rest of the cast finds this to be such a hard target to hit, but Maureen O'Hara sounds barely off-book, and incongruously new to the profession; John Payne is just as stiff and airless as her neighbor and eventual knight. There's a chuckle-worthy bit when Kris Kringle first encounters and grumpily supplants a liquor-swiller who's been cast in his role in the Macy's Day Thanksgiving Parade, but just try counting all the slow, broadly pantomimed skits among various character actors in suits, several of whom seem largely unmoved by the material. The camera occasionally has to be saved in the middle of a shot from chopping off the top or the side of someone's head, and the designers and doubled-up cinematographers show an odd affection for glaring white walls as the drab, off-center, cheap-looking backgrounds for a lot of their wayward tableaus.

All the way to the ineptly scripted and delivered final line, and the aggressive bit of "Love this! It's charming!" percussion that follows, I kept wondering: what would Jesus think about this movie, a kiddie pic that indicts America for losing sight of the one person that Christmas was always supposed to be about, and that's Santa! I'd love to take the temperature of the room when this plays the 'plex up in Heaven; I can already surmise that it plays like gangbusters with Macy's board members and stockholders, who agreeably play the heavies for 97 minutes, knowing they'll rake up the profits for generations to come. I practically want to pat the movie on the head for stumbling around so wildly with its softball critique of materialism. Here's where we quickly wind up: you shouldn't just shop at the huge department store, you should shop everywhere, in a way that makes you fall in love forever with the huge department store! Miracle is innocuously and consistently bad enough that I enjoyed laughing at it, no matter how many child actors tried to ruin my good cheer. I mean, seriously: foreign, orphaned, and gap-toothed? The progeny of the prosecutor, called up to the stand in knickers? Natalie Wood, already gearing up for her "Who lives??" in Rebel without a Cause? I made it through, which is more than could be said for the director and most of the performers, but I have to admit, I was expecting something a lot less Amateur Hour. C–

Academy Award Nominations and Winners:
Best Picture
Best Supporting Actor: Edmund Gwenn
Best Original Story: Valentine Davies
Best Screenplay: George Seaton

Golden Globe Nominations and Winners:
Best Supporting Actor: Edmund Gwenn
Best Screenplay: George Seaton

Permalink Home 1947 ABC Blog E-Mail