75 Years of Film: 1947–Miracle on 34th Street

Yet another classic neither I nor my wife had seen before. After all, how many Christmas movies can you possibly watch every year? I haven’t even seen the remake with Mara Wilson. Oh, well, it’s the perfect opportunity to watch the film and examine 1947 a little closer.

A jolly old man named Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) comes to town, seeming to think he’s the real Santa Claus. His sweet mannerisms warm the hearts of everyone he meets, particularly little Susan (Natalie Wood), who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, and her mother Doris (Maureen O’Hara) who believes in nothing at all. But when the situation escalates, the kindly old Kris ends up in trial to prove he’s not a crazy man. Of course, that means proving that he really is Santa Claus!

You bet it is. Gwenn is a remarkable Santa Claus. According to IMDB, he acted just as much like Santa off-screen as on. He was even the real Santa in the 1946 Macy’s Day parade, which was filmed for this movie.  In fact, eight-year-old Natalie Wood herself was actually convinced he was Santa! The chemistry between those two is adorable and the film itself is charming in a way only old Christmas movies can be.

I think the main reason this film is still popular is because the message only becomes more relevant every year: Christmas is more than commercialism.

Even people who don’t believe in the birth of Christ know there’s something wrong with all the frantic, selfishness that surrounds Christmas these days. It starts earlier every year because every store wants more money. And far too many people hate Christmas because of the stress it causes. This movie says to sit back and relax, to believe in something more than the hustle and bustle.

That was back in 1947. Sixty-nine years later, it’s only gotten truer.

It’s amazing to see that the Macy’s Day Parade going on way back then is still going on nowadays. This marks the first time I’ve seen something in one of these old movies that I still recognize today, and that’s saying something!

It’s also amazing what passed for a psychological examination back then. You had to know basic multiplication, how many fingers you saw, how to extend your arms and then touch your nose, and know who the first president was. Those things somehow had a bearing on your mental well-being.

The sad part? I wonder how many people today can do basic multiplication or tell who the first president was.

Fun fact: according to IMDB, the film “received a ‘B’ rating from the highly influential Legion of Decency.” Why? Because Maureen O’Hara’s character was a divorced woman. MAN, how times change. (source)

Speaking of changing times, people wore a lot of hats in 1947. That’s not a metaphor; everybody seems to have a hat on in outdoor scenes. I suppose it was the fashion back then. Nowadays, if you look outside, you might see one or two people with a ball cap on and that’s it. I wonder why.

I suppose that’s all I can say for 1947, based on this movie at least. Christmas was in danger then and it’s still in danger now. I suppose after sixty-nine years of having this movie as a beloved, critically-acclaimed classic, we’ve still learned nothing.

MAJOR EVENTS IN 1947 (source):
Jan 4–Element 43, Technetium, unveiled.
Feb 10–WWII peace treaties signed.
Feb 20–Chemical mixing error causes explosion that destroys 42 blocks in Los Angels (Geez, that’s like the plot of a Batman episode).
Apr 15–Jackie Robinson becomes the first black man to play major league baseball.
Jul 18–King George VI signs the Indian Independence Act (Actual independence went into effect Aug 15).
Dec 27–First episode of “Howdy Doody.”

Kind of a slow year…

Out of the Past
Gentleman’s Agreement
The Lady from Shanghai
Disney’s Fun and Fancy Free
The Bishop’s Wife

PREVIOUS: 1946–Gilda

NEXT: 1948–Oliver Twist

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