Miracle on 34th Street (initially released as The Big Heart in the United Kingdom) is a 1947 American Christmas comedy-drama film released by 20th Century Fox, written and directed by George Seaton and based on a story by Valentine Davies. It stars Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood, and Edmund Gwenn. The story takes place between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day in New York City, and focuses on the effect of a department store Santa Claus who claims to be the real Santa. The film has become a perennial Christmas favorite.
Miracle on 34th Street won three Academy Awards: Gwenn for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Valentine Davies for Best Writing, Original Story, and George Seaton for Best Writing, Screenplay. The film was nominated for Best Picture, losing to Gentleman's Agreement. In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant". The Academy Film Archive preserved Miracle on 34th Street in 2009.
Davies also wrote a short novelization of the tale, which was published by Harcourt Brace simultaneously with the film's release.
Kris Kringle is indignant to find that the man assigned to play Santa in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is intoxicated. When he complains to event director Doris Walker, she persuades Kris to take his place. He does so well he is hired to play Santa at Macy's flagship New York City store on 34th Street.
Ignoring instructions from toy department head Julian Shellhammer to recommend overstocked items to undecided shoppers, Kris directs one woman to another store to fulfill her son's Christmas request. Initially confused, but nevertheless impressed by Kris's honesty and helpfulness, she informs Julian that she will become a loyal Macy's customer.
Attorney Fred Gailey, Doris's neighbor, takes the young divorcée's daughter Susan to see Santa. Doris has raised her to not believe in fairy tales, but Susan is shaken after seeing Kris speak Dutch with a girl who does not know English. Doris asks Kringle to tell Susan that he is not Santa, but he insists that he is.
Worried, Doris decides to fire him. However, Kris has generated so much positive publicity and goodwill for Macy's that R. H. Macy promises Doris and Julian bonuses. To alleviate Doris's misgivings, Julian has Granville Sawyer administer a "psychological evaluation". Kris passes easily, but Sawyer still recommends his dismissal.
The store expands on the concept of steering customers to competitors if necessary. To avoid looking greedy, Gimbels implements and further expands the same policy, forcing Macy's and others to reciprocate. As a consequence, Kris does the impossible, reconciling bitter rivals Macy and Gimbel.
Pierce, the doctor at Kris's nursing home, assures Doris that Kris is harmless. To alleviate Doris's worries, Pierce suggests Kris stay with someone. Fred volunteers. Later, Kris makes a pact with Fred: he will work on Susan's cynicism while Fred does the same with Doris's. When Susan reveals to Kris she wants a house for Christmas, showing him a photo of her dream house torn from a magazine, he reluctantly promises to do his best.
In the company cafeteria, young employee Alfred tells Kris that Sawyer convinced him that he is unstable simply because he is kind-hearted. Kris immediately goes to Sawyer's office to confront him, eventually striking him on his head with an umbrella. Sawyer exaggerates his pain to have Kris confined to Bellevue Hospital. Tricked into cooperating, and believing Doris to be in on the deception, Kris deliberately fails his examination and is recommended for permanent commitment. However, Fred persuades Kris not to give up.
At a hearing before Judge Henry X. Harper, District Attorney Thomas Mara gets Kris to assert that he is Santa Claus and rests his case. Fred argues that Kris actually is Santa. Mara requests Harper rule that Santa does not exist. In private, Harper's political adviser, Charlie Halloran, warns him that doing so would be disastrous for his upcoming reelection bid. Harper buys time by hearing evidence.
Doris quarrels with Fred when he quits his law firm to defend Kris. Fred calls Macy as a witness. When Mara asks if he believes Kris to be Santa, Macy starts to equivocate, but when pressed, he responds, "I do." On leaving the stand, Macy fires Sawyer. Fred then calls Mara's own young son, who testifies that his father told him that Santa was real. Mara concedes the point.
After his son and wife leave the courtroom, Mara then demands that Fred prove that Kris is "the one and only" Santa Claus on the basis of some competent authority. While Fred searches frantically, Susan writes Kris a letter to cheer him up, which Doris also signs. When a New York Post Office mail sorter sees Susan's letter, which is addressed to Kris at the New York courthouse, he suggests delivering all of the letters addressed to Santa Claus, in the dead letter office, to Kris.
When court resumes, Fred still has not found some competent authority to back Kris's claim, but then an official informs Fred of the arrival of the mailbags at the courthouse. Fred presents Harper with three of the letters, addressed simply to "Santa Claus" that were just now delivered to Kris, asserting that the Post Office—a branch of the U.S. federal government—has acknowledged that Kris is the one and only Santa Claus. Mara objects, on the grounds that three letters alone do not constitute sufficient proof, and Fred tells Harper that he hesitates to produce many more such letters that he says that he has. When Harper insists, Fred has all of the letters addressed to "Santa Claus", in all of the mailbags, dumped onto Harper's desk. Unpiling himself from the deluge of letters, Harper (with great relief) dismisses the case.
On Christmas morning at a celebration at Dr. Pierce's clinic, Susan loses faith in Kris when he does not give her the house she wanted. Kris offers Fred and Doris a route home that avoids traffic. Along the way, Susan sees the very image of her dream house with a "For Sale" sign in front. Susan demands that Fred stop the car, whereupon she joyfully runs into the house, exclaiming "Mr. Kringle IS Santa Claus!" Fred learns that Doris had encouraged Susan to have faith and suggests they purchase the house—a proposition with which Doris joyfully agrees. He then boasts that he must be a great lawyer since he proved an eccentric old man was Santa. However, when he and Doris spot a cane in the house that looks just like Kris's, he is not so sure that he worked this miracle alone.
The original trailer
for Miracle on 34th Street
omitted any mention of its Christmas themes.
Miracle on 34th Street was shot on location in New York City, with the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade sequences filmed live while the 1946 parade was happening. "It was a mad scramble to get all the shots we needed, and we got to do each scene only once," Maureen O'Hara recalled in her memoir. "It was bitterly cold that day, and Edmund and I envied Natalie (Wood) and John Payne, who were watching the parade from a window."
Although the film is set during the Christmas season, studio head Darryl F. Zanuck insisted that it be released in May, arguing that more people go to the movies in warmer weather. The studio rushed to promote it while keeping its Christmas setting a secret. Fox's promotional trailer depicted a fictional producer roaming the studio backlot and encountering such stars as Rex Harrison, Anne Baxter, Peggy Ann Garner, and Dick Haymes extolling the virtues of the film. In addition, the movie posters prominently featured O'Hara and Payne, with Gwenn's character kept in the background. The film opened in New York City at the Roxy Theatre on June 4, 1947. By contrast, modern home video packaging has Gwenn and Wood dominating the imagery, with the DVD release having Kringle in his Santa Claus costume.
O'Hara was initially reluctant to take the role, having recently moved back to post-war Ireland. She immediately changed her mind after reading the script and came back to the United States for the film.
Arthur Jacobson, assistant director, filmed the Macy's Parade on Thanksgiving morning with nine cameras simultaneously. He said he "plunked actors Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood in the department store cafeteria line during a weekday lunch-rush". When Maureen O'Hara requested a special police escort for a Christmas shopping spree through Macy's he said "I know New Yorkers. They aren't going to pay any attention to you. And don't wear a bandanna around your head or dark glasses. Just be normal."
The Christmas window displays seen in the film were originally made by Steiff for Macy's. Macy's later sold the window displays to FAO Schwarz in New York. FAO Schwarz then sold the windows to the BMO Harris Bank of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where they are on display every December in the bank's lobby on North Water Street.
The house shown at the end of the film is a 1703 square foot single family home built in 1943 at 24 Derby Road, Port Washington, New York. The home looks practically the same as it did in 1947, except that the roof line has been altered by the addition of a window.
Rowland Hussey Macy, called R. H. Macy in the film, died 70 years prior to the film (in 1877), and the Macy family had sold its ownership of the company in 1895.
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Miracle on 34th Street mostly received positive reviews from critics. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times said: "For all those blasé skeptics who do not believe in Santa Claus—and likewise for all those natives who have grown cynical about New York—but most especially for all those patrons who have grown weary of the monotonies of the screen, let us heartily recommend the Roxy's new picture, Miracle on 34th Street. As a matter of fact, let's go further: let's catch its spirit and heartily proclaim that it is the freshest little picture in a long time, and maybe even the best comedy of this year." Today, it is considered by many to be one of the best films of 1947. The film currently holds a 96% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.
The Catholic Legion of Decency gave the movie a "B", "morally objectionable in part" rating. This was mainly due to the fact that O'Hara portrayed a divorcée in the film.
Awards and honors
The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Edmund Gwenn), Best Writing, Original Story (Valentine Davies) and Best Writing, Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Picture, losing to Gentleman's Agreement.
It was ranked ninth by the American Film Institute on 100 Years... 100 Cheers, a list of America's most inspiring films. Miracle on 34th Street was listed as the fifth best film in the fantasy genre in the American Film Institute's "Ten top Ten" lists in 2008.
In 2005, Miracle on 34th Street was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
American Film Institute Lists
Home media and colorization
Miracle on 34th Street was first released on VHS and LaserDisc in 1987.
In 1985, it became one of the first full-length black and white films to be colorized. The 4½-month process was carried out by Color Systems Technology, Inc. In 1993, this version was released on VHS and LaserDisc, and was followed four years later by a "50th Anniversary Edition" on both formats, remastered by THX.
The first DVD release was in October 1999, featuring the B&W version alongside the original theatrical trailer and a TV spot. In November 2006, it was re-released as a two-disc "Special Edition" DVD, with disc one containing an "all new colorized version" carried out by Legend Films. The second disc had the original black-and-white version and numerous extras, including The 20th Century Fox Hour's 1955 TV remake. Both discs also included a full-length audio commentary by Maureen O'Hara. The B&W disc has since been re-released several times, including in a pairing with the 1994 remake.
In October 2009, 20th Century Fox released the B&W version on Blu-ray with all previous extras, bar the TV remake.
In 2017, the film was restored in 4K resolution; so far this version is only available via DCP.
A 1994 feature film starred Richard Attenborough, Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott, J. T. Walsh, Timothy Shea, James Remar, Jane Leeves, Simon Jones, William Windom and Mara Wilson. It was adapted by John Hughes from the Seaton script, and directed by Les Mayfield. Due to Macy's refusal to give permission to use its name, it was replaced by the fictitious "Cole's". Gimbels no longer existed by 1994 so its name was replaced by the name of the fictional "Shopper's Express". Alvin Greenman (Alfred in the original version) played a doorman. The 1994 remake of the film had a more serious tone than the original 1947 film had and a large portion of the plot was rewritten, although the majority of both the plot and the characters remained intact. The 1994 film also added a subtext which described concerns about religious faith.
In other media
There are numerous remakes of the movie, as well as a Broadway musical.
Lux Radio Theatre aired a one-hour adaptation of the movie on three occasions: on December 22, 1947, which starred the original cast including Natalie Wood; on December 20, 1948, without Natalie Wood's participation; and on December 21, 1954. There were also two broadcasts on Screen Directors Playhouse: as a half-hour play on December 23, 1949; and then as a one-hour play on December 21, 1950. All of these adaptations had Edmund Gwenn reprising his screen role.
A 1963 Broadway musical version, entitled Here's Love, was written by Meredith Willson.
The novella was adapted into a stage play by Will Severin, Patricia Di Benedetto Snyder and John Vreeke in 2000. It is a favorite in many community and regional theaters during the Christmas season. The characters' names are those used in the novella, and the stage setting is distinctly late 1940s. Production rights are held by Samuel French, Inc.
A 1955 one-hour television adaptation of the movie starred Thomas Mitchell as Kris, Macdonald Carey as Fred, Teresa Wright as Doris, and Sandy Descher as Susan. This version did not show the drunken Santa at all. Titled "The Miracle on 34th Street", it originally aired as an episode of The 20th Century Fox Hour. It was later re-run as "Meet Mr. Kringle".
Ed Wynn played Kris in a 1959 television adaptation of the movie. Also featured was Orson Bean. It was broadcast live and in color on NBC the day after Thanksgiving. NBC made a kinescope of the program, probably for broadcasting opening night on the West Coast. The copy was in a large collection of kinescopes donated by NBC to the Library of Congress and later unearthed by Richard Finegan, who reported his experiences in the December 2005 issue of Classic Images.
A 1973 television version featured Jane Alexander, David Hartman, Roddy McDowall, Sebastian Cabot as Kris (without his natural beard; he was forced to shave and wear a false beard for the role), Suzanne Davidson, Jim Backus, David Doyle and Tom Bosley. It was adapted by Jeb Rosebrook from the George Seaton screenplay, and directed by Fielder Cook. Mrs. Walker's first name is changed to Karen in this version. This would prove to be the final version in which the department store was actually Macy's. David Doyle, who played R. H. Macy in this version, had played Mr. Sawyer in the original Broadway cast of Here's Love 10 years earlier.
In 2012, the flagship Macy's Department Store at Herald Square in New York City featured a 30-minute puppet version of the story within its Santaland display, featuring the voice talents of Broadway stars Brian Stokes Mitchell and Victoria Clark.
A short clip of the film was seen on the kitchen television screen in Home Alone (another Christmas film released by Fox) and also the ending was seen in the den television screen in The Preacher's Wife (another Christmas film released by Touchstone).
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