Miracle on 34th Street

(George Seaton, 1947)

with the whole family, Christine Gray, and Graham Stone, on DVD in Cache 6, 12/23/10


To call Miracle on 34th Street a great Christmas movie would be underrating it; it’s a great movie, period.  Some might dismiss the movie as sentimental, but in fact it’s a passionate, carefully constructed defense of sentimentality, set not in a world of unmitigated sweetness and nobility, but in a world of heartbreak, compromise, greed, and bungled good intentions. There’s not one character in Miracle on 34th Street who doesn’t display some blend of admirable and disreputable traits; Doris is kind-hearted but ruthlessly pragmatic, Fred is patient and brave but far from blind to his own career advancement, and even Kris Kringle has his petulant moments — indeed, the movie would have no third act if he didn’t.  The movie isn’t about perfect people living beautiful lives in a fluffy, postcard landscape; it’s about flawed people trying desperately to find something they can believe in.  Edmund Gwenn’s performance is a landmark in cinema historyperhaps the only fully convincing portrayal of Santa Claus ever committed to film.  (The fact that his character isn’t necessarily Santa Claus only adds to the effect.)  The note-perfect casting in even the most minor role gives the film a rich and broad canvas; it’s as much about New York as it is about Christmas.  And as for the central dramatic question of the movie – Is Kris Kringle Santa Claus? – the movie, brilliantly, never provides an answer.  If “faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to,” why should the filmmakers let us off the hook?

Published in: on December 26, 2010 at 12:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

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