Combustible Celluloid
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With: Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Gene Lockhart, Natalie Wood, Porter Hall, William Frawley, Jerome Cowan, Philip Tonge, Theresa Harris, Thelma Ritter
Written by: George Seaton, from a story by Valentine Davies
Directed by: George Seaton
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 96
Date: 05/02/1947

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Claus for Celebration

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

For some reason, most Santa Claus movies are flat-out stinkers, from the low budget Santa Claus (1959) and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) to the big budget Santa Claus: The Movie (1985), the remake of Miracle on 34th Street (1994) and Tim Allen's two Santa Clause movies. The only really good one is this gentle, yet modern tale of what happens when the real Santa, a.k.a. Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), visits New York.

He meets a busy Macy's event planner, Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara) and her practical daughter Susie (Natalie Wood), who doesn't believe in Santa Claus. So Kris takes a job as the season's department store helper to set things right. John Payne co-stars as the slightly uninteresting, but charming, love interest for Doris. Directed by George Seaton, the film begins at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and continues through the busy, Christmas shopping season, and it still feels current as well as nostalgic. It captures the hectic mood as well as the little moments of happiness that occur throughout, such as a nice chat or a cup of hot coffee. The characters are smart, the situation is clever, and the pacing is tight, adding up to a terrific perennial holiday classic.

The wonderful Thelma Ritter co-stars in a terrific little scene ("I just don't get it!"). The film took home three Oscars; Gwenn won for Best Supporting Actor (how could anyone beat Santa Claus?), while Valentine Davies won for his original story and Seaton won for his screenplay.

Though it has been reissued, I really like the simple, lovely animated menus on Fox's 1999 DVD release; snowflakes dissolve into other images of snowflakes to the tune of distant Christmas carols. Otherwise, there are no extras other than a few language and subtitle options.

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