Film: Miracle on 34th Street
aka: Miracle On34th Street
"Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to."
famous heartwarming Christmas movie from The Forties
, 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: he tells customers where to find a better price on a toy (even if it means sending them to competing stores), talks to the children in their own languages, and even claims 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 resentful psychologist, who attempts to get him committed to a mental asylum. 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
An important subplot revolves around Doris, the PR manager who hired Kris, and her young daughter Susan. Susan has never believed in Santa Claus because her bitter divorced mother
doesn't want her to indulge in fantasies, but meeting Kris causes both of them to start wondering. There's also a romance subplot between Doris and Fred, Kris' defense attorney.
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
). The most notable television version was released in 1973 and starred Sebastian Cabot as Kris, David Hartman as the lawyer boyfriend, and a lot of smaller roles being filled by 1970s TV mainstays such as Tom Bosley playing the judge. 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
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Tropes common to multiple versions:
- Adaptation Name Change: Multiple characters have different names across the remakes.
- Doris Walker is Karen Walker in 1973 and Dorey Walker in 1994.
- Fred Gailey is Bill Schaffner in 1973 and Bryan Bedford in 1994.
- Dr. Granville Sawyer is Henry Sawyer in 1973 (but he's still largely just called "Sawyer" in both)
- Julian Shellhammer is Horace Shellhammer in 1973 and Donald Shellhammer in 1994 (but again still referred to most of the time as "Mr. Shellhammer")
- Because the 1994 version couldn't use Macy's or Gimbels, it used fictional department stores and thus the executives were now C.F. Cole and Victor Landbergh.
- The nameless drunken Santa from the parade is now Tony Falacchi in 1994 (since he got a character arc.)
- Prosecutor Thomas Mara from 1947 and 1973 is Ed Collins in 1994. His wife changed to Rebecca Collins to match the new name.
- 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".
- Artistic License – History: R.H. Macy died in 1877 and the Macy family sold the stores to a different ownership in 1895. The films that kept the Macy's license all depicted a fictionalized R.H. Macy alive in the present day.
- Bags of Letters: Used to help Kris win his trial, and also used in every adaptation save the 1994 version due to the fame of the original sequence. The 1947 version of the scene is also a frequent target of parody.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Kris is normally a very nice man... but Mr. Sawyer manages to provoke him into attacking him with his cane in the original. In 1973, this was diminished to a pie to the face.
- Hollywood Law: Shows up in some form in each adaptation.
- In 1947, 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.
- In 1994, 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. The debate over the existence of Santa Claus would have been immediately ruled irrelevant as even if Santa was real, it didn't mean Kris wasn't a violent person that needed to be locked up. Notably, this fact blew up in Fred Gailey's face in the 1947 version, as Fred initially claimed that Kris couldn't be crazy because if he was Santa Claus, it made sense that he'd keep getting violent or confrontational when people kept insisting that he wasn't. The prosecutor finally calls his bluff by conceding the existence of Santa Claus but pointing out that it wasn't relevant if they couldn't prove Kris was Santa Claus. In reality, the only real legal basis for arguing to commit Kris in the 1994 version was his attack against the rival CEO's henchmen, but that would have been blown because of a line in the movie indicating that the pair had admitted to intentionally provoking a physical confrontation.
- The judge in 1994 version takes it a step further when he 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. He then declares on his own that he believes Kris is Santa Claus. 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 and even whether Kris being Santa meant he wasn't a danger to himself or others. 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.
- Honest Corporate Executive: There's a few floating around.
- The store executive is always portrayed as money-hungry, but good at heart. While the 1994 movie's C.F. Cole barely appears, he's portrayed as good person going up against the evil Victor Landbergh. The R.H. Macy characters of the 1947 and 1973 versions are always motivated to go along with goodwill campaigns when they realize they're making money hand over fist, and they both stick up for Kris in court.
- In the 1947 and 1973 versions, the executive of their chief rival, Gimbels, decides to up the ante when he learns of Macy's "goodwill" campaign and tries to outdo him by conducting the same campaign nationwide. This leads to essentially Macy and Gimbel spending 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.) In 1947, this went a step further as it leads to an appearance together to prove the power of goodwill had led them to burying the hatchet...which then leads into an exchange where both men try to outdo each other at being generous when Kris reveals he'd like to buy a new x-ray machine for his nursing home.
- Mall Santa: Played with, since Kris clearly believes himself to be Santa. The 1994 version also included a scene at a bar late in the Christmas season filled with drunk mall Santas off-shift.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: None of the adaptations ever explicitly declare Kris to be Santa, though the 1947 and 1973 version only indicate some truth to it via The Stinger when Kris' cane appears in the new house that he shouldn't have ever been able to visit. The 1973 happy couple just laughs it off, but in 1947, Fred about has a heart attack. The 1994 version is much more leaning towards the "magic" than the "mundane", and also delivers a line from Kris to the prosecutor at the end of the trial that is basically an admission of it ( he asks if the prosecutor did anything about his TV antenna since the previous year Kris tore his pants on it last Christmas.
- The 1973 version also watches Kris go into some detail about some obviously obscure details about a certain character's childhood.
- Minor Injury Overreaction: All three films have a scene where Kris finally snaps and strikes out at the person who antagonized him. The antagonist then pretends to be far more seriously hurt than they really are to get Kris arrested and committed. All that really changes is the antagonist and the method of striking out:
- In 1947, Kris thumps Sawyer in the head with a cane.
- In 1973, Kris shoves a pie into Sawyer's face. And for some strange reason, despite there being witnesses that saw Sawyer needlessly provoke Kris and nobody in their right mind would suspect serious injury from a cream pie...they still believe Sawyer's crocodile tears.
- Napoleon Delusion: Kris is assumed by the other characters to be suffering this.
- Psycho Psychologist: The Mr. Sawyer character of the 1947 and 1973 versions is a rather mild case compared to others in this category.
- In 1947, 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.
- In this version he's counterbalanced by the much-nicer and more level-headed Dr. Pierce, who, while an MD and not a Psychologist, specializes in Geriatrics and is an expert on senility and dementia.
- In 1973, Sawyer just thinks Kris is a fascinating case study and when his first exam doesn't go well, he plots to have Kris committed so he can have another chance to perform a psychiatric examination on him. Kris turns this around on him by deliberately failing the exam to force him into a public trial where he can prove his ideals to the world. Sawyer gets fired again.
- Romancing the Widow: Or the divorcee at least. In the 1947 version, Fred Gailey admits he was spending so much time with Susan because he hoped being friendly to her would help him to meet her mother. Bill Schafner in 1973 doesn't have any ulterior motives in befriending Susan, but does start to romance her mother once they meet up. In 1994, Dorey's husband was an alcoholic who left her when she was pregnant; Bryan is not Susan's father. Though he and Dorey are already dating before the movie begins, we do get evidence that this trope is still in effect - especially given Dorey's sudden cold shoulder when Bryan proposes marriage. All three films portray the romance as necessary for the divorcee to learn to love and believe in others again.
- The Unreveal: Surprisingly, the movies do not definitively answer whether or not Kris is really Santa Claus.
The 1947 original provides examples of:
- 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.
- 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 the heartbreak of her own 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 parade of mailbags 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.)
- Escalating War: Appropriately for a Christmas icon, Kris manipulates Gimbel's and Macy's into an Escalating War of goodwill. Kris's campaign of putting customer needs before profits (even sending parents to buy toys at competing stores as long as it's what they want) gets Macy's such good PR that Gimbel's decides to put it into practice in all their stores across the country. Macy's responds in kind. Flash forward and soon the two bitter rivals are shaking hands under Kris's guidance, and handing him large amounts of money to help him buy much-needed medical equipment for a home for the elderly. All so they can prove they're each more generous and benevolent than the other.
- 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: Mother, in Doris's case. But her motivation is sympathetic: she wants Susan to be intelligent and level-headed so she can avoid the foolish mistakes Doris made when she was younger. Notably, while many adults criticize Doris' methods of shutting Susan off from fantasies and fairy tales, they do applaud her for raising such a smart child.
- Hate Sink: Mr. Sawyer.
- In Mysterious Ways: Santa's ways prove to be less mysterious than you'd think, if Kris is any indication.
- Jerkass: Mr. Sawyer, the supposed psychologist.
- 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."
- Never Trust a Trailer: Famously, the film's original trailer reveals nothing about the actual film — not even that Santa Claus is a major character! 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. Promotional posters from the time also barely show Kris at all, appearing to portray the film as a simple romantic comedy. One can only wonder what 1947 audiences thought when they actually saw the final movie, but it famously paid off because the film was such a smashing success it actually ran through Christmas.
- 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.
- Pretty in Mink: Doris has a fur coat.
- Punch Clock Villain: Both the prosecutor and the judge are reluctant to convict Kris and potentially disprove there is a Santa Claus.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Right before smacking Sawyer, Kris delivers one to him after learning he intentionally forced a Guilt Complex on Alfred just for trying to be a Nice Guy.
- 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.
- Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: The story was musicalized in 1963 (by Meredith Willson, of The Music Man fame) as Here's Love.
- 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.
- On his first day, Kris is given a list of overstocked toys that the store wants him to "push" on indecisive children. His biggest concern with this request is where to throw the scraps of paper away after tearing it up, and once on the job he immediately starts directing parents to buy the toys their children want (and only to buy them at Macy's if they genuinely have the best offer).
- 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.
- Undisclosed Funds: When Macy gives Kris a bonus, the amount is not mentioned, but Kris does a double-take and says, "Ooh, that's quite a lot of money!" Gimbel looks at the check and remarks, "I didn't think you were that generous."
- Yes Virginia: Susan's plot arc revolves around whether she can believe in Santa (as well as using her imagination).
- Winning Over The Kids: Fred befriends Susan to help him get into Doris's good graces.
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.
- 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.
- Artistic License – History: This movie, like the 1947 version, depicts a fictional R.H. Macy in the present.
- 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.
- 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.
The 1994 remake provides examples of:
- Adaptation Name Change: Once again, the names changed up.
- 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.
- Chekovs Gunman: The elderly man with his grandson Kris meets crossing the street in the first five minutes of the movie would end up being the judge of Kris' trial.
- Comically Small Bribe: Averted. To avoid any allegations he was bribed by the one dollar Susan had put into her Christmas card for him, he announces to the court the dollar will be returned.
- 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 satire of using the innocence of Christmas for guilt trips or to serve more cynical or selfish ends is underplayed greatly in favour of the court and public genuinely believing in Kris. 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.
- Eureka Moment: When Bryan privately berates the Judge over how the case against Kris is going, and the likelihood Kris is going to be put into the asylum, Bryan holds up money declaring greed has destroyed the idea of Santa Claus. The judge coolly states his hands are bound by the law and would take an out if presented, but he cannot. When he walks away, Bryan notices the phrase "In God We Trust" placed upon the money and sees the legal out he can give the judge.
- Expospeak Gag: A lot of the prosecution's case involves translating the Santa mythos into pompous-sounding legalese to attempt to discredit it.
- 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.