Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Miracle on 34th Street remains perennial yuletide viewing, largely thanks to the charm of the cast, the innocence of the main characters and the lack of any heavyhanded preaching.

After seeing the Santa at the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade staggering around drunk, Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) protests to the parade organiser Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara). She offers him the job and he proves to be such a hit, he is taken on as the in-store Santa too. However, after a run-in with a psychologist, Kringle is sent to a mental institute - but a wily lawyer reckons he can get him out, if he can legally prove that he is the real, genuine, one and only Santa Claus.

Gwenn is utterly charming as Kringle, bringing a total unironic sincerity and a genuine sweetness that makes him impossible to dislike. The other star is Natalie Wood as Walker's daughter Susan, a girl brought up by her disillusioned mother to only believe in the rational and not to waste time on imagination. The character's pessimism stops her from becoming cloying, but Wood also manages to give her enough charm to make her likeable. Also, look fast for the always enjoyable Thelma Ritter making her big screen debut as a harried toy-hunting mom, before going on to memorable roles in the likes of Rear Window and All About Eve.

It is perhaps easy to label a much-loved film like this as timeless, but in many ways, it is very much of its time. A world without computers, iPads and mobile phones (and one where a mother happy to let a complete stranger spend whole days babysitting her young daughter and taking her out to the zoo) seems like a completely foreign one. Basing the story around departments stores and marketing men puts it between the time of post war euphoria and the increasing commercialism and Mad Men style ad campaigns of the 1950s. The film doesn't beat you over the head with a radical anti-capitalist message, but if there is anything to take away, perhaps it should be that amongst the noise, booze, shopping and stress, there should always be time for a little bit of magic.