Film: Miracle on 34th Street aka: Miracle On34th Street
"Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to."
That other famous heartwarming Christmas movie, after It's a Wonderful Life.It's December in New York, and Macy's hires a quiet but charming old man (Kris Kringle) to be their Mall Santa. Thing is, Kris clearly sees himself as far more than some seasonal employee: telling customers where to find a better price on a toy (even if it means sending them to competing stores), talking to the children in their own languages, and even claiming to be the real Santa! R. H. Macy is incensed — until he sees how much goodwill Macy's is building with its customer base. Everyone becomes content to let Kris have his harmless fantasies; everyone, that is, except the company's psychologist, who attempts to get him committed to a mental asylum on a grudge. Things come to a head in a big showy trial, where the defense decides to argue that Kris is not insane even though he claims to be Santa Claus — because he is Santa Claus.An important subplot revolves around Doris, the Macy's PR manager who hired Kris, and her little daughter Susan. Susan has never believed in Santa Claus (due to her bitter divorced mother being against believing in fantasy) but meeting Kris causes her to start wondering. There's also a romantic subplot involving Doris and Fred, Kris' defense lawyer.The original film version was released in 1947, and starred Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle, Maureen O'Hara as Doris Walker, Natalie Wood as her daughter Susan, and John Payne as lawyer Fred Galley. It was a box office success, won three Oscars (one for Gwenn, two for the writers), and is shown on television every year.Due to the success of the 1947 original, the story has been adapted three times for television and once as a Broadway musical (Here's Love). There was a theatrically-released remake in 1994 written by John Hughes. Richard Attenborough was cast as Kris Kringle, Elizabeth Perkins as Dorey Walker, and Mara Wilson as Susan.
The 1947 original provides examples of:
Alcohol Hic: The Santa that was originally supposed to be in the parade. He got this way under the excuse that he was using it to "keep warm".
Amoral Attorney: Averted with the prosecutor on Kris's case, who doesn't exactly want to lock up a sweet old man, but it happens to be his job. He concedes the existence of Santa Claus (knowingly giving the defense a huge step toward winning) just because he didn't want to declare otherwise when his son was watching. There's even a scene where he complains about how newspapers covering the case are making him out to be a heartless monster.
Artistic License - History: R.H. Macy died in 1877 and the Macy family sold the stores to a different ownership in 1895. This film depicts an alive R.H. Macy, likely for audience recognition.
Beware the Nice Ones: Kris is normally a very nice man... but Mr. Sawyer manages to provoke him into attacking him with his cane.
Bilingual Bonus: Kris's unsubtitled conversation with the Dutch orphan, for Dutch speakers. Included in full on the Heartwarming Moments page.
Broken Bird: Doris raises Susan without fairy tales or fantasies of any kind due to her own heartbreak of her failed marriage.
Courtroom Antic: Fred Gailey's work in the hearing such as arguing Kris is sane because he is the one and only Santa Claus (as legitimized by the post office sending him what would otherwise be dead letter mail; also Fred entering this evidence at the eleventh hour in a very disruptive fashion), putting the prosecutor's son on the stand to make him concede a legal point and of course the bags of mail at the end. Justified in that the Judge was worried about the political fallout from this hearing if he was forced to rule against Kris and was more than willing to give Gailey as much chance to legitimately win as he can.
Covers Always Lie: Early pressings of the Blu-Ray version had covers promising a new, colorized version inside. The disc actually contains only the original black-and-white version, as well as some extra features. (20th Century Fox had previously sold colorized versions on VHS and DVD.)
Ethnic Menial Labor: The beginning of the film briefly shows a black housekeeper named Cleo preparing the Thanksgiving dinner when Dorothy returns from the parade. Cleo was played by an uncredited Theresa Harris, who had a long career that included many roles as maids.
Fantasy-Forbidding Father: A female version with Doris. But rather than refusing to tell her fairy tales or play make-believe out of sternness or toughness, she just wants Susan to be intelligent and level-headed, so she can avoid the foolish mistakes Doris made when she was younger.
Hollywood Law: Since Fred was out of the room when the postal workers were talking to him, no judge would have let the prosecuting attorney present final arguments with the defense absent.
Honest Corporate Executive: While Mr. Macy definitely wants to make money, he's clearly considered a good, if self-interested man. He winds up enthusiastically supporting the "goodwill campaign" Kris starts due to the commercial success it receives. He is later asked point blank in court whether he believes in Santa. After considering the negative press he'd get from declaring his own Santa a fraud and recalling the smiling faces of the children who loved Santa Claus, he sticks up for Kris and fires the psychiatrist who started the whole mess.
Similarly, the executive of their chief rival, Gimbels, decides to up the ante when he learns of Macy's "goodwill" campaign and decides to try and outdo him by conducting the same campaign nationwide. This leads to essentially Macy and Gimbel spreading an entire Christmas legitimately putting the needs of their customers ahead of their own profits (though they obviously profit more since this makes the customers more likely to shop.) This leads to them doing publicity together to show that their goodwill had ended their feud...then they humorously trying to outdo each other on helping Kris purchase a new x-ray machine for the doctor at his nursing home.
In Mysterious Ways: Santa's ways prove to be less mysterious than you'd think, if Kris is any indication.
Just in Time: Played with - the Postal Service contacts Fred Gailey literally during the final arguments.
Last-Second Word Swap: Mr. Shellhammer comes up with the idea of getting his wife drunk to make her more receptive at taking in Kris as a boarder, and tells Doris he'll call when his wife is "plaster - er, feeling better."
Mall Santa: Played with, since Kris clearly believes himself to be Santa.
Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The film never does conclusively tell us if Kris is really Santa. But the scene at the end of the film where Kris' cane appears in the house Susan asked him to get for her certainly makes Fred a believer.
No Antagonist: Sawyer is probably the closest thing to a bad guy in the movie. The Judge and the District Attorney come across more as beleaguered public servants doing something they really don't want to do: Kris Kringle, as far as the general public of New York City is concerned, is Santa Claus, and no one wants to be the Scrooge who ruins everyone's Christmas by exposing him as just a crazy old man.
Novelization: Written by screenwriter Valentine Davies and published in conjunction with the original film.
Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: When Doris is angrily berating them for having Kris taken away, Maureen O'Hara's natural Irish accent can be heard.
Psycho Psychologist: Mr. Sawyer is a rather mild case compared to others in this category. He's simply employed by Macy's to give employment tests, but envisions himself as a great psychiatrist and enjoys using that status to bully others. He quickly comes to hate Kris due to his passing the psychiatric exam and then turning it around on him, and later tries to have Kris committed both as revenge on him and also to prevent him from telling Mr. Macy about Sawyer's practicing psychiatry without a license on the premises. He gets his come-uppance when Macy just fires him anyway during the trial.
Romancing the Widow: Or the divorcee, in Doris' case. Fred Gailey admits part of his reason for taking such an interest in Susan was to help him get closer to her mother.
The Runt at the End: At the climactic moment of the film, a parade of burly bailiffs stream into the courtroom each toting two large bags of mail; the parade ends with a smaller bailiff carrying a single bag.
Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: Though Fred genuinely believes Kris is the real deal and attempts to put up a legitimate case, he has nothing against using unprofessional guilt trips and manipulation of the sentimentality of Christmas to hinder prosecution (perhaps most blatantly his Courtroom Antic of using the opposing lawyer's own son to prevent him stating his claim). He ends up Hoist by His Own Petard by the ending, where he and Doris are left buying Susan's dream house thanks to Kris.
The Scrounger: Kris knows where to find ANYTHING. And not just toys - he delivers a rather expensive piece of medical equipment to a doctor who wanted it. Considering that both Mr. Macy and Mr. Gimbel had offered earlier to help Kris procure the medical equipment through their respective stores "at cost", this is not hard to believe.
Signature Item Clue: At the end of the movie, Kris's cane is seen inside the house that Susan insists is her Christmas present, convincing Fred that Kris really is Santa Claus.
Slave to PR: Complicates matters for several people at the public hearing over Kris' identity, since no one wants to claim Santa Claus doesn't exist, especially not in front of children.
Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: With a holiday twist. Besides Fred and Kris himself, most of the characters in the film are simply looking out for themselves. What's actually pretty brilliant is the fact that lots of cynical players and actors end up accidentally helping Kris out - the judge's desire to be re-elected, the postal workers' desire to get rid of the Santa letters, and the NYC newspapers' desire for a juicy story. Without all those people's utterly self-serving actions, Fred would have lost the case.
Smoking Gun: Susan's mailed letter to Kris (as Santa Claus) draws the attention of the postal workers who sort it and come up with the scheme to save Kris.
Take a Third Option: Twist on this: Fred's Courtroom Antic has put the prosecutor in the position of admitting before an open court and his son that there is no Santa Claus. The prosecutor responds by basically saying, "Okay, maybe there is a Santa Claus, but that's not the point. The point is this man claims to be Santa Claus. So, prove to this court that he is." In so doing, he actually manages to steer the case back on point and put Fred on the defensive. And he almost wins.
The trailer doesn't spoil much because the movie came out during the summer box office season, in hopes of making more money. The advertisers had to make sure not to include any out-of-season Christmas imagery.
The Unreveal: Surprisingly, the movie does not definitively answer whether or not Kris is really Santa Claus.
Yes Virginia: Susan's plot arc revolves around whether she can believe in Santa (as well as using her imagination).
The 1973 remake provides examples of:
Adaptation Induced Plothole: This remake was close enough to the original to have to credit the original film's screenwriter, but sometimes it introduces plot points from the original version without explaining them at all.
Susan makes Kris promise to get her a house without him even asking her to get him an unusual present. She also never explains why she wants it, though she eventually asks Kris if he can hook up Bill with her mother so they can share the house together.
The little girl that doesn't speak English and is reached out to by Kris is now a child of Spanish-speaking parents. However, as even the film points out, a man who speaks Spanish in New York City (especially when the Spanish-speaking residents were sky-rocketing) isn't that unusual, whereas a man speaking Dutch in 1947's New York was.
Susan's practical attitude and lack of imagination are never explained. Karen talks about the "Santa Syndrome" once, but the idea that she was deliberately shielding her daughter from fairy tales or fantasies for her own good is dropped.
Dr. Granville Sawyer is now Henry Sawyer (but he's still largely just called "Sawyer")
Julian Shellhammer is now Horace Shellhammer (but again still referred to most of the time as "Mr. Shellhammer")
Anachronism Stew: Several elements of this remake are taken completely from the original film but with no explanation for why they exist in the 1970s. Most notable is Dr. Sawyer, who is still in this version and is the "store shrink" decades after this position ceased to exist. The rivalry between Macy's and Gimbels had also died down by this time, as Gimbels was in severe financial straits by the 1970s and was sold off the year this movie aired.
Honest Corporate Executive: While Mr. Macy comes off as much more profit obsessed, he still behaves in the same way - once its pointed out to him that he can actually increase his profits through customer goodwill, he is enthusiastically behind it. He also supports Kris in much the same way.
Large Ham: David Doyle is cartoonishly over the top as Mr. Macy in this version.
Psycho Psychologist: Sawyer's back, but in this version, he is initially elated to have an interesting case study in Kris. However, when Kris keeps turning his analysis around on him, Saywer vows to force him to be examined again and deliberately antagonizes him to force an outburst that will lead to Sawyer being allowed to examine him again. In this version, however, Kris fails the tests not out of anger at Sawyer, but to force a public trial that will allow himself and his ideals to be proven to all the world. Bill is not pleased at this.
Theme Tune: Being a TV movie, there's a theme tune over the credits now, simply entitled "Miracles."
What Happened to the Mouse?: Early in the movie, when Karen meets Bill for the first time, she and Susan quickly leave when they meet Celeste, a friend of his that's clearly interested in him romantically and gives them the cold shoulder. Celeste is never seen or mentioned again and Kris later states to Susan that he doesn't believe Bill has any other women in his life.
When You Coming Home, Mom?: In this version, Karen Walker is constantly berated for the amount of overtime she works and the lack of time she spends with her daughter. Quite a feat in a film created in the 1970s when working moms were increasingly common, especially compared to the 1940s.
R.H. Macy is now C.F. Cole (because the department store is now fictional)
The nameless drunken Santa is now Tony Falacchi
Prosecutor Thomas Mara is now Ed Collins. His wife is now Rebecca Collins to match.
Mr. Gimbel is now Victor Landbergh due to Gimbels not being in this film
Amoral Attorney: Unlike the original, the prosecutor in this film is blatantly evil and in the pocket of Victor Landberg. Thus he spends all of his time openly belittling Kris, to the point where he causes Susan to have an outburst in the middle of the courtroom over his over the top nastiness.
Ascended Extra: While in the other versions, the drunk Santa the Kris replaces is a nameless comic relief that only appears in one scene, in this version he is promoted to the role of being a minor antagonist hired by Landbergh to stop Kris.
Brand X: The department store is changed to the fictional "Cole's" in this version of the film as Macy's, which was already having financial troubles at the time of production, refused to have their name used in the film when they discovered that the store's financial problems were an important plot point. Likewise, because Gimbels closed their store in 1987, the rival department store was also fictional.
Corrupt Corporate Executive: Unlike the original film and its remakes, in which Kris was really up against the cynicism of modern society, this movie drops that entirely and provides this type of character as a straight-forward villain. Here, the Lex Luthor-esque chief executive of Shopper's Express, Victor Landberg, wants nothing more than to buy out his rival Cole's and close them down and will stop at nothing to crush all who oppose him. This includes such evil acts as...giving children toys for free! Oh, and staging a ridiculously elaborate plan to have Kris framed for assault and committed. He even tries to buy the court off by bribing the (now completely evil) prosecutor and implying that he tries to buy off the judge.
Darker and Edgier: In this version, rather than the psychiatrist with a grudge taking Kris down, the rival store hired the old Santa - the one Kris replaced after he was fired for public drunkenness - to goad him into attacking him. One of the tactics the man uses is accusing Kris of pedophilia.
On the other hand, the trial plot is played more idealistically than the original, with a more blatant Black and White Morality. The ending is also less comedically bittersweet than the original, with Fred and Doris being given the house as a gift from Kris rather than being exasperated into buying it themselves out of guilt.
Expospeak Gag: A lot of the prosecution's case involves translating the Santa mythos into pompous-sounding legalese to attempt to discredit it.
Hollywood Law: In reality, Bryan wouldn't need to prove that Kris isn't crazy to keep him from being committed. The Supreme Court ruled in 1975 that you can't involuntarily commit someone unless he's a danger to himself and others. That's what the case should have turned on, not whether Santa Claus is real.
The judge rules that no hard evidence is necessary to prove Kris himself is Santa, instead deciding that faith alone is enough because all money in the United States has "In God We Trust" stamped on it. This doesn't fly, because the government's endorsement of God does not endorse a specific person as being God, which the judge was being asked to do in the case of whether Santa was real and whether Kris was Santa. The film acknowledges that the case's logic is very weak and easily challenged, but nobody will stand up to it because of the terrible press they'd get.
Middle Management Mook: Landberg has a pair of flunkies to do his evil bidding of framing Kris. However, at the end of the film, its shown that they quietly had a change of heart when they both flash "I Believe" buttons at each other.
Not His Sled: The "proof" of Santa isn't hard proof at all, but instead a point that because the US Government endorses God on its money simply through faith in his existence, the judge is able to proclaim Kris is Santa through faith alone as well.
Remake Cameo: Alvin Greenman, who played the character of Alfred in the original film, appears in a scene as a hotel doorman. His character doesn't actually appear in this remake.
Saving the Orphanage: This version has saving Cole's as a subplot, whereas in the other versions Mr. Macy certainly wants a successful Christmas shopping season, but the store isn't actually in any kind of trouble.
What Happened to the Mouse?: The film never really addresses if Cole's financial situation was resolved or not. One good Christmas would hardly be enough to save it, and Kris not going to Bellevue wouldn't save the store. It would, at best, delay a hostile takeover from Shopper's Express.