Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Miracle on 34th Street

When the Santa Claus slated to lead the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade reports for duty in a drunken stupor, a frantic Macy's executive (Maureen O'Hara) can't believe her luck when she stumbles upon an ideal replacement (Edmund Gwenn) who is so good that she offers him a seasonal gig in the department store. Soon though the hiring decision causes her personal and professional distress as Kris, who claims he is the real annual bestower of holiday cheer, disrupts her sales policy and spins his fantastical stories to her impressionable and sheltered young daughter (Natalie Wood). "Miracle on 34th Street" is a sweet, funny, surprisingly pointed, and occasionally very sharp Christmas tale directed by George Seaton and based on a story by Valerie Davies. The cast is very fine. I especially liked O'Hara as the tough but softhearted executive, John Payne as a benevolent attorney (though I was never able to figure out who he was in relation to O'Hara), Porter Hall as a shifty psychologist, Gene Lockhart as a bemused judge, and of course Gwenn, exemplary in his Oscar winning role. Natalie Wood is a little precocious and Thelma Ritter makes her very brief but highly impressionable debut. For those who haven't seen this film (I only saw it for the first time recently), I think it is natural to lump it together with all the other saccharine holiday offerings and avoid it entirely. Doing so, however, is a great miscalculation and a denial of one of the finest holiday films that plays just as well, if not better, for adults than children.