Soon the holiday season will be upon us and despite the economic hardships and economic uncertainty that might dampen the holiday spirit for many of us this year, some classic holiday movies might be able to take the edge off our worries and concerns—even if only for a few hours.
There’s a trove of classic holiday movies to choose from including such classics like A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life that have become part of the holiday season for many of us who have grown up watching them. Holidays would not be the same if we at least didn’t watch one or two of our favorite Christmas movies (not to mention some a few of the classic TV holiday shows like A Charlie Brown Christmas). For many, watching these films with friends and family has become a holiday tradition (I can’t wait to watch one of my favorite holiday films A Christmas Story with my sons Jeremy Aaron and Bia one day).
One of my favorite all-time holiday films that annually kicked off the holiday season (it was usually shown on WGN’s Family Classics—TV channel 9 out of Chicago—right after Thanksgiving) was Miracle on 34th Street (1947).
The story is both heartwarming and endearing and captures a lot of the holiday spirit that centers around whether or not there really is a Santa Claus. The film begins right before Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, when an actor who is playing Santa is discovered drunk by a whiskered old man (Edmund Gwenn). Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara), the very practical and career-driven special events director for Macy’s, persuades the old man—who looks a lot like Santa Claus to take the drunken man’s place.
The old man saves the day for Doris. In fact, he is such a sensation that he is quickly recruited to be the store Santa at the Macy’s Department Store. Although the man becomes a big hit with customers and children, Doris is surprised to learn that he calls himself Kris Kringle and claims to be Santa Claus.
Despite reassurances by Kringle’s doctor that he is harmless, Doris still has her misgivings, especially when she has cynically trained herself, and her daughter, Susan (a very young and adorable Natalie Wood), to reject all notions of belief and fantasy. And yet, people, especially Susan, begin to notice there is something special about Kris and his determination to advance the true spirit of Christmas amidst the rampant commercialism around him and succeeding in improbable ways.
Following a raucous conflict with the store’s cruelly incompetent psychologist Kris finds himself committed to a hospital where, in despair, Kringle deliberately fails a mental examination to ensure his stay at the hospital.
All seems lost until Doris’ friend, Fred Gaily (John Payne) an attorney (and who is also fond of Doris), reassures Kris of his worth and agrees to represent him in the fight to secure his release. To achieve that, Fred arranges a formal hearing in which he argues that Kris is sane because he is in fact Santa Claus.
Not to spoil the ending (just in case there is someone who has not seen it) it is definitely a holiday classic for all ages. It has been remade twice, once for a TV-made-movie with Sebastian Cabot—Mr. French from TV’s Family Affair—as Kris Kringle and a theatrical release back in the 90s with Sir Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle, but they are no match for the original B&W film as well as Gwenn’s stellar performance in this film.
To be sure, the reason why the film holds up quite well after all these years is that its message is just as important now as it was back then. After all, what the film is really about is believing that anything is possible just as long as you have faith—even when it comes to believing in Santa Claus. Additionally, the film’s stronger message that Christmas has become too commercialized comes across just as strong now as it did over 50 years ago.
This a family holiday movie so you can excuse the filmmakers for tugging on your heartstrings at times like the scene when Kris Kringle sings a song in Dutch for a young girl who just came to America and doesn’t speak any English. Such scenes reinforce the film’s message. Likewise there is also something innocent and pure about the film that makes it appealing and heartwarming.
If there were one film to get you into the spirit of the season (if you haven’t felt some of that holiday magic already) Miracle on 34th Street would be such a film.