Miracle on 34th Street (1947) – Blu-ray Review


It’s a little dismaying to think that the fight against the commercialism of Christmas has been going on for at least the last 60 years. And over those 60 years, the commercialism of Christmas has gotten to the point where a huge corporation will plan to make tons of money by commercially releasing a remake of an anti-commercialism classic. Extra irony? You’re soaking in it. Regardless, the original Miracle on 34th Street, made all the way back in 1947, still rings true and stands easily along other classics of the Christmas movie genre.

The story is about Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), the real deal Santa Claus, being hired by Macy’s (amazing that they let the makers use their real name considering the light in which they are cast) as the store Santa Claus and being the best store Santa ever. He can speak Dutch to the girl from Holland, he can charm the pants off the parents, and he even sends folks to other stores if Macy’s doesn’t have the toys they’re looking for.

This last point is a bit sticky, but when it turns out Macy’s customers love the idea of a store that puts their customers first, Macy’s immediately finds a way to capitalize on it. They’ll make tons of money posing as “the store with a heart.” Even when learning that a little human interaction is the best policy, it is immediately turned into a commodity.

Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara) is the no-nonsense woman who hires Santa and while she doesn’t buy into any of his Santa Claus shtick, she’s happy enough that he’s making Macy’s successful. More problematic, however, is that the attractive man across the way, attorney Fred Galley (John Payne) is not only sweet on Doris, but is trying to fill her daughter’s head with all sorts of fantastic Christmas mumbo-jumbo. Said daughter, Susan (Natalie Wood), doesn’t believe any of it anyway, as she has been raised in a fantasy-free environment. A kid that doesn’t believe in Santa Claus? That just seems evil.

But there are other evil forces at work, forces that don’t like this uppity Santa. One such force is the story psychiatrist, Granville Sawyer (Porter Hall), who is convinced Kris is nuts and even takes him to an institution to have him committed. What results is a court battle with Fred defending Kris as his fate hangs on whether or not the judge decides Santa Claus is real.

The 1994 remake of Miracle stuck pretty close to this same formula, though the original keeps things streamlined. There are no henchmen from another store trying to take down Santa. There’s no going into detail, trying to explain how he does his present delivery gig. There’s not even a giant whopper of a wish from Susan (Natalie Wood). There also isn’t a constant sticky sweetness to every moment. The New York City Kris has to deal with is the real place. These are real people and a real situation. This lets the movie run leaner (and shorter), giving it the brevity a story like this needs.

What’s also missing – and the remake followed suit on this one – are any substantive clues that Kris really is the real Santa Claus. There is no magic here. Even when Christmas wishes are granted, we don’t see Kris waving a magic wand. Are these granted wishes just coincidence? Are they due to a supernatural jolly man? Or are they the result of believing that such a thing as Santa exists? However you come down on the issue may say more about you than it does about the movie and that’s a pretty neat trick for a Christmas movie.

One important note about the disc – despite the fact that the back of the box claims this is an “all-new, colorized Blu-ray version”, the movie contained on the disc is the original black and white.

The film is presented in 1.33:1 and has the gauzy, classic black and white Hollywood texture. The Blu-ray presentation brings out every silvery grain. The audio is presented in English in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Mono, Spanish Mono, and French Mono with Spanish subtitles. Sound is impressive, especially considering the monaural source.

Audio Commentary by Maureen O’Hara – O’Hara reminisces about the film, though she maybe could’ve done with maybe a film historian to get a little dialogue going.

AMC Backstory: Miracle on 34th Street – Among other revelations in this short bit is the story of how they got Macy’s and Gimble’s to give permission to use their names – which would give most producers hives. (22:07)

Fox Movietonews: Hollywood Spotlight – An old news reel featuring a quote from Edmund Gwenn upon winning the Oscar for Miracle.(1:46)

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: Floating in History Featurette – More backstory on the film, this one centering on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (15:32)

Promotional Short – An odd bit of advertising for Miracle in that it’s a promotion that doesn’t mention what the film is about. (5:08)

Poster Gallery – A nice if short gallery of promotional art – that still stays away from mentioning Christmas in conjunction with the movie. (0:39)

Miracle on 34th Street deserves every last bit of praise it has gotten over the last sixty years and this disc is a worthy representation.

Twentieth Century Fox presents Miracle on 34th Street. Directed by: George Seaton. Starring: Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Gene Lockhart, Natalie Wood, William Frawley. Written by: George Seaton. Running time: 96min. Rating: Not Rated. Released on Blu-ray: October 6, 2009. Available at Amazon.com

Tags: ,