Miracle on 34th Street (1947) | Movies to See Before You Die

Miracle on 34th Street

Miracle on 34th Street was a favorite in my house growing up. So much so, the 1947 original with a cast of legends that includes Maureen O’Hara, Natalie Wood, and Edmund Gwenn in the Oscar-winning role of Santa Claus was the only version my mom would acknowledge. We just didn’t talk about the 1994 John Hughes produced remake with Mara Wilson and a lot of subplots and a comparatively more serious tone that no one asked for. Hating a remake for simply existing is silly, but in my mom’s defense the original film from writer/director George Seaton in every conceivable way.

This isn’t an “the remake is inherently inferior” argument. Miracle on 34th Street has been remade several times and has even had a run on Broadway. What the original retains that at least the big budget 1994 reimagining lacks is astonishingly sincere innocence, and a thorough trust that the actors, screenplay, and tone of the movie would maintain that innocence in a way that audiences would respond to. The 1947 Miracle on 34th Street was very successful upon release, which proves my point even further because the movie came out in June. There’s nothing automatically wrong with remaking and expanding a story, but when the characters who fueled the popularity of the originality are also reshaped to reflect the new material, it’s possible to lose something special, and have nothing of your own to show for it.

The 1947 Miracle on 34th Street appeals to far more people than you suspect. Even the most cynical viewers tend to look at the film with more warmth and regard than most films from this period that people still recall.  Focusing on the immense likability of Edmund Gwenn in the Santa role, as a man who claims he’s the actual Kris Kringle while working at Macy’s as their store Santa, Miracle on 34th Street doesn’t need to be overbearing. Its characters win you over early on, and the movie staying with Kringle’s efforts to prove his identity, which eventually bring him to court, keeps the movie from taking on more drama or whimsy than necessary.

Almost everything about Miracle on 34th Street could be described as gentle. Simplicity is not the same as trivial or minor, and this film proves that with understated wit and excellent performances by Maureen O’Hara as Macy’s executive Doris Walker, Natalie Wood as her daughter, and John Payne as the lawyer who defends Kringle in court. The movie is so free of pretention, the sweetest moments in the movie hit as genuinely moving, instead of the near-fatal doses of saccharine you might be expecting. And at just 96 minutes, the film never overstays its welcome.

Shot on location at Macy’s in New York City, Miracle on 34th Street, on top of everything else it does well, also offers a fascinating time capsule. The New York City of 1947 shares as many differences with the city of today as it does similarities.

Miracle on 34th Street is one of the few Christmas movies, one with Santa Claus no less, that can appeal to people regardless of faith. Even the most aggressive elements of a commercialized season are grounded in people we genuinely like. You obviously don’t have to believe in Santa to like this movie, but the movie for at least a moment makes it all seem kind of plausible. Even the extras in the famous courtroom scene look like they’re having genuine fun. Miracle on 34th Street is infectious entertainment in a way that sometimes not even the actual Christmas season can make you feel.

READ NEXT: Grave of the Fireflies (1988) | Movies To See Before You Die

Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site. We cover gaming news, movie reviews, wrestling and much more.