The Twelve Flicks of Christmas

A New ben’s TEN Series

Get the Scoop You Won’t Find Anywhere Else on 12 Christmas Movies Old and New
[See complete list of reviews]

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Directed by George Seaton
Rated UR (suitable for all audiences)
Starring: Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, and Natalie Wood

Review by Jeff Koch

Conventional Synopsis:
When the regular Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Santa is found drunk, Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara) is forced to replace him at the last moment with a nice older gentleman she meets on the street. When he does such a wonderful and believable job in the role, he is hired on to be Macy’s in-store seasonal Santa. But is this mysterious Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn, in an Oscar-winning role) actually the real Santa Claus? The question goes all the way to the New York State Supreme Court for an answer. And, more importantly to Kris, all the way to the non-believing Doris and her skeptical young daughter (Natalie Wood).

Beneath the Surface:
Miracle On 34th Street cuts right to the core of two troubling Christmas dichotomies: consumerism vs. celebration and faith vs. reason. And on both fronts, it gives a very measured, fair and surprisingly complex reading.

In the beginning of the film, we see Kris Kringle railing against consumerism, saying that it is helping to make him and Christmas irrelevant. When asked to push certain toys on kids, Kris bristles. Instead, he tells an astonished mother to go elsewhere to find the toy that her child wants. Surprisingly, this act of helpfulness also becomes good business, as customers reward the honesty with loyalty. The edict comes down from Mr. Macy himself to make this store policy, as he sees how it will also increase store profit. Naturally, this incites competition from the other leading department stores, who also make it policy.

The ambiguous underpinnings here are astonishing for a “Christmas” movie. Kris gets what he wants, as these big stores move away from a profit-driven mode and a consumerism-based view of Christmas to a more charitable and spirit-driven model. But they do it because it’s good business. It raises the question: does intention matter? Or just the end result? Ultimately, we’re left to understand that the spirit of Christmas is in the spirit of giving and love, and that Christmas is about more than just the day, it’s a state of mind, as Kris points out. The movie clearly rails against consumerism. It just does it with a gentle push, not a heavy hand.

The matter of faith vs. reason weighs most heavily in the film. Santa Claus is quite literally put on trial, putting everyone’s faith to the test. No one wants to definitely say that Santa isn’t real, but no one wants to betray their common sense and say that he is real. Faith vs common sense; heart vs head. What everyone needs to learn, including the audience, is summed up by Fred Gailey (John Payne), Santa’s lawyer: “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.”

Isn’t faith ultimately what Christmas is about? Whether you celebrate religiously or not, the simple idea at the core of all that we do around this day is faith. Faith in people; faith in goodness; faith in “kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles”, as Fred says. We never know if Kris really is Santa, but it doesn’t matter; what matters is that, in the end, Doris and Fred and Susan believe he is, and all of us do, too. We let go of our heads and open up our hearts to belief, and we open up our hearts to faith.

Miracle on 34th Street shows us that the magic of Christmas isn’t about Santa or presents or candy canes and cocoa, it’s about leading with our hearts, and being open to experiencing something mystical and wonderful. It’s about freeing ourselves from the chains of common sense and embracing faith and embracing the intangibles. It’s about giving and receiving the greatest gift of all: love.

And if we can do it on this one day of the year, then perhaps the other 364 days of the year stand a chance as well.

Ratings

Cocoa Factor = 9 out of 10
How good is this one for cozying up with a fire burning, a hot beverage of your choice, and your new Snuggy?

Magicality = 10 out of 10
How well does this one transport you back to the timeless wonderment beyond rationality when Christmas enveloped you in magic? AKA “The Santa Clause factor.”

A Date with Grandma and Aunt Bernice = 10 out of 10
How appropriate/awkward is this one to watch with relatives of all ages? Will hot kissing scenes or male rear nudity spoil the mood?

Tiny Tim’s Big Truths = 10 out of 10
From the mouths of babes come life’s most profound lessons. At the heart of this flick, how authentic, heartfelt and lasting is the message? Does it transcend Xmas clichés and ring bells?

Overall = 10 out of 10

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About bensten

Teacher, writer, blogger and spiritual practitioner. Managing editor of bensten.wordpress.com.

One response »

  1. […] year, Jeff reviewed the original 1947 classic version that has become a permanent modern Christmas archetype. Needless to say, it scored well. More than […]

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