Sometimes a remake can be pretty darn good. Occasionally, however, you have to take a step back and admire the original because nothing new, no matter how flashy, will ever compete. This is one of those cases. The most recent remake of Miracle on 34th Street, made in 1994 with little Matilda, is cute and sweet but has nowhere near the charm of its 1947 counterpart. The way I see it, the 1947 classic feels like a long-overdue visit with your Grandma, complete with cookies, a new sweater, and a bit of the adorable silliness of old Hollywood.
Do you believe in Santa Clause? Do your parents believe? Would a New York State Supreme Court judge rule his existence to be true and indisputable? All these questions come to the forefront after Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) – just a “normal”, kind old man – becomes the new Santa at Macy’s. Kris does an excellent job of bringing people and commercial competitors together over the holiday season, making it his personal mission to transform his uptight and straight shooting boss, Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara), and her daughter, Susan (Natalie Wood), into Santa-believers. Along the way, unfortunately, Kris’ insistence that he is The One True Santa invites the attention of a miserable, humbug “psychiatrist”. This “psychiatrist” (Porter Hall) takes his dislike so far as to have Kris arrested and charged with insanity. It is now up to Kris’ friend and attorney, Mr. Gailey (John Payne), to prove that not only does Santa exist, but that he is currently on trial in New York – on Christmas Eve of all days!
The magic in this movie comes at you from all angles. From adults who find the will to believe again, to sweet old men who just want to be helpful, to one little girl who dislikes fairy tales because they set unrealistic expectations. Little Susan is the most practical girl to ever live, with a deadly look that will shut down your most fanciful daydreams. Her perfect counterpart is Kris Kringle – a true child at heart whose naïve, innocent eyes see a bright world full of wonder. He combats Doris’ and Susan’s belief that Christmas is all about the stuff we buy, encouraging them to see the magic of the season, saying, “Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind, and that’s what’s been changing.” Miracle on 34th Street is a classic holiday movie about consumerism, but one that is covered in a glossy coating of wonder, mystery, innocence, and most importantly, legal jargon.
Lawyer Fred Gailey (John Payne) has got to be my favourite part of this film. I do love old movies, but I find a lot of the delivery feels scripted and synthetic. Well, not with John Payne. Payne portrays a faithful, charming, funny character with a natural, smooth performance. Fred Gailey is like everyone’s best friend who’s been awkwardly plucked out of your present, like the little yellow man from Google Maps, and dropped into a time where dinner is at 3:00, the post-office is a booming business, newspapers are in every hand and every trouser pocket, and all blue-collar workers are named “Lou”.
Edmund Gwenn does an outstanding job of playing Kris Kringle, even if he does look strikingly like Sam the Snowman from Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. My biggest complaint is that he is English when everyone knows Santa is Canadian, with a mailing address of: North Pole, H0H 0H0, CANADA. Putting that serious falsity aside, however, Miracle on 34th Street still deserves to be called a classic, and is one of my welcomed re-watches every Holiday Season. 9/10.
Watch the trailer – IN COLOUR!