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Miracle on 34th Street(1947)
Kris Kringle--unbeknownst to cynical, market-minded adults, the real Santa Claus--is hired to play himself at Macy's Department Store, New York City. His gentle, joyous spirit and magical powers soon transform those around him, including a little girl and her world-weary mother.
For more about Miracle on 34th Street and the Miracle on 34th Street Blu-ray release, see the Miracle on 34th Street Blu-ray Review
Starring: Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood, Harry Antrim, Jerome Cowan
Director: George Seaton
» See full cast & crew
Miracle on 34th Street Blu-ray Review
“I believe…I believe…It’s silly, but I believe.”
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, October 9, 2009
Before getting into the meat of this review, I've got a bit of admin that needs attending. There's been some confusion regarding this Blu-ray release of Miracle on 34th Street, specifically concerning whether or not it's the original black and white version of the 1947 classic. Despite the color cover and the text on the back of the case, which claims that this is an "all-new, colorized Blu- ray version," I can assure you that only the black and white version of the film is contained on this disc. It seems that someone in Fox's graphic design department made a major slip-up, and I can only assume that the studio will rectify the mistake shortly with new box art. Purists will be happy that the film is presented in its unaltered form, but I imagine some consumers will be quick to return the disc when they discover that the colorized version is not included. All clear?
Like most people who grew up with parents that indulged the Santa Claus myth, I remember the exact moment when the bolt of perceptive lightning struck me, filling me with doubts about the jolly old elf. I was eight years old, and on the bus home from school a fifth grade kid sat beside me. At the time, I was mentally mulling over the possibility of Santa being able to actually deliver toys to all the children in the world in one night, and I asked the older kid if he believed it could happen. "No," he said, "I don't believe in Santa Claus." Sensing my apprehension, he followed that up—maturely, I might add—with, "But, I do believe in the spirit of Santa Claus." That night, I asked my dad what he thought of Santa's around- the-world-in-12-hours escapades, and he gave it to me straight—there is no Santa, no Easter Bunny, no Tooth Fairy. It was quite a blow, initially, but I never forgot what that discerning fifth grader said about the spirit of Santa. Even if Kris Kringle doesn't exist, all the intangible things that he stands for—goodness, generosity, love—certainly do.
At its heart—and this movie is all heart—Miracle on 34th Street champions faith over reason, sheer belief over the burden of proof. The story—for the two of you out there who have never seen the film—is a bundle of pure Hollywood hope, wrapped in an anti-commercialism message, and fastened with a festive holiday bow. When Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara), organizer for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, discovers that the Santa she hired is a raging drunk, a mysterious old man, who goes by Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), offers to fill the red suit at the last minute. What she doesn't expect is for Mr. Kringle to claim to be the one, the only, the actual Santa Claus. Doris is a diehard rationalist—"I think we should be realistic and completely truthful with our children, and not having them grow up believing in a lot of legends and myths," she says—and both she and her precocious daughter Susan (Natalie Wood) are skeptical about Kris Kringle's claims (klaims?). Nonplussed, Kringle sees Doris and Susan as the ultimate test case for whether childlike faith is still relevant in a thoroughly modern world, saying, "If I can win you over, there's still hope." Even more disbelieving is Macy's in-house psychologist, Granville Sawyer (Porter Hall), a twitching wreck of a man who claims Kringle has "latent maniacal tendencies" and has him committed at the Bellevue mental asylum. Doris' love interest and lawyer neighbor Frederick Gailey (John Payne) comes to the rescue, however, making headlines when he attempts to prove the existence of Santa Claus in court. The miracle is that, through a clever legal loophole, it works and Kris Kringle is released on Christmas Eve, just in time. But is Kringle really Santa? That's up to you to decide.
There's are many reasons why Miracle on 34th Street is a perennial holiday classic, enjoying yearly television broadcasts, and the late veteran stage actor Edmund Gwenn is far from the least of them. Thoroughly jolly, Gwenn gives an avuncular, twinkle-eyed performance as Kris Kringle, creating the singular and most iconic cinematic representation of St. Nick. Yes, he even beats out Tim "The Tool Man Taylor" Allen in The Santa Clause. Gwenn won an Academy Award for his portrayal, and for his acceptance speech, he famously stood up and said, "Now I know there's a Santa Claus." Likewise, the rest of the cast is a perfect fit. Most importantly, child actress Natalie Wood is spunky and adorable as Susan. Though her relationship with Kringle may seem a little implausible today—who leaves their young daughter with a mentally dubious old man?—Wood and Gwenn share some wonderful scenes together. The romance between Doris and Mr. Gailey does seem too quick—one minute they're simply interested in one another, the next they're officially together—but Maureen O'Hara and John Payne also deliver fine performances that, while somewhat stagy by today's standards, are representative of the heightened theatricality of mid-century Hollywood cinema. But it's the film's little moments that lodge in the heart and send lumps to the throat. It's hard to suppress a grin when Kris Kringle begins singing with an orphaned Dutch girl in her native tongue, and the climax of the courtroom portion of the film is as triumphant as they come.
As much as the movie is cheery and good-willed, showing sentiment without being overly sentimental, it's hard, as a rational adult, to see the film's central tenet—that blind belief should always trump reason—as anything but naďve. "Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to," says the newly converted Doris, summing up the film's message, which could apply just as easily to that other Christmas personality as it does to Santa. One wonders, then, what someone like The God Delusion-author Richard Dawkins would think of the film, especially considering how young Susan's initially intelligent and logical attitude is made out to be something that should be remedied with faith and a more open imagination. I don't mean to start any arguments—I'm just playing devil's advocate, so to speak—but the film does very clearly choose a side in the reason vs. faith dialectic, something I think is worth bringing up here. Still, whether or not you believe, the spirit of Christmas is alive and well, especially in Miracle on 34th Street, a classic that, for over half a century, has heralded the start of the holiday season.
Miracle on 34th Street Blu-ray, Video Quality
Once again, just to make sure we're all on the same page, this release does not contain the colorized version of the film, which is just as well, I say. Rather, we get Miracle on 34th Street's original black and white cinematography by way of a good but not quite great 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer. It's hard to tell how much is attributable to the source material, but the monochromatic gradation of the film seems just a little dim to me, as most true whites are represented with lighter grays. Black levels, on the other hand, are adequately deep and only occasionally crush detail in the shadows. In terms of clarity, there's a noticeable bump from prior DVD releases, but on the whole, the film is more dull than sharp, and lacking in fine detail. Considering the age of the film, though, I'm not sure it could look any better. From the varying grain fields, it's clear that no DNR has been applied, and the print itself is in great condition, showing few specks and no damage. You will notice the fluttering flicker of contrast wavering on occasion, and there are a few moments of very minor telecine wobble, but I didn't spot any technical, compression-related issues.
Miracle on 34th Street Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Miracle on 34th Street's original monaural presentation has been expanded successfully here into a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. What, you may be wondering, could this film possibly do with the surround channels? Well, truthfully, not much, but when compared to the also- included 2.0 Dolby Digital track, the effect is readily apparent. Besides bleeding score, ample ambience has been added to the rear channels. You'll hear department store chatter, machinery in a mail sorting plant, and the occasional sound effect, like the buzzing of a doorbell. It's slight, and obviously lacks the fidelity of more modern films, but the mix is genuinely more involving. Dialogue also shows a significant boost in clarity from the slightly muffled and compressed sound of the 2.0 mix, and I had no trouble making out any of the vocals. My complaints are few. During some scenes there seems to be a slight hiss running through the audio, and the high end horns and strings of the opening theme seem a little brash to my ears, but that's about it. I really can't imagine Miracle on 34th Street sounding much better than this.
Miracle on 34th Street Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Commentary by Maureen O'Hara
O'Hara has some interesting stories about working for 20th Century Fox in the post-war days, and she has a few words for nearly every actor that pops up on screen, but this track is simply too spotty and silence filled to be worth your time.
AMC Backstory: Miracle on 34th Street (SD, 22:06)
"It was the movie that no one thought would be a hit; it was the sleeper that the studio had no idea how to sell, and its success was even more miraculous because this Christmas present was opened in June." So starts this AMC documentary, which gives the low-down on the film's conception, production, and distribution. The craziest story is that, in order to use the real-life store names, both Macy's and Gimble's would withhold permission until after they had seen the finished film. Talk about a gamble. Fortunately, it paid off.
Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade: Floating in History (SD, 15:32)
This featurette covers much of the same material as the AMC documentary, but with some added emphasis on the parade portion of the film, which was shot—hurriedly—at the actual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Fox Movietone News: Hollywood Spotlight (SD, 1:46)
This archive industry news brief gives highlights from the major acceptance speeches at the 1947 Academy Awards, including Edmund Gwenn saying, "Now I know there's a Santa Claus!"
Poster Gallery (1080p, 00:39)
This self-playing gallery includes nine posters for the film. Notice how none of them make any mention of the fact that Miracle on 34th Street is a Christmas movie!
Promotional Short (SD, 5:08)
Faced with the unenviable challenge of marketing a Christmas movie in summertime, Fox execs thought up this clever trailer, which doesn't show hardly any footage from the film, but instead starts a dialogue about how varied the film is—tender, funny, charming, exciting—without once mentioning Christmas.
Miracle on 34th Street Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Okay, one last time—this Blu-ray release only contains the original black and white version of the film. Which, to be frank, is the one you'll want anyway. Miracle on 34th Street is a bonafide holiday classic, and though you'll likely see the film on TV once a week after Halloween ends, now you can own the film on Blu-ray, where it looks better, and more noticeably, sounds better than ever. Recommended.
Blu-ray bundles with Miracle on 34th Street (1 bundle)
Miracle on 34th Street Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Today on Blu-ray - October 6th - October 6, 2009
For Disney, the animated classic 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' represents many firsts. It was not only the company's first animated feature, but also the first commercially successful animated feature ever released. Today, it achieves another first as the first ...
• Miracle on 34th Street Blu-rays Detailed - August 14, 2009
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has announced the technical specs and special features for the upcoming Blu-ray release of the 1947 Christmas classic 'Miracle on 34th Street', which is scheduled to hit store shelves on October 6th. Also released that same day ...
• Fox Brings Trio of Christmas Movies to Blu-ray - July 10, 2009
In an early announcement to retailers, it has been revealed that 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment will release three holiday-themed movies on Blu-ray on October 6: the original 'Miracle on 34th Street', the 'Miracle on 34th Street' 1994 remake, and 'Home Alone ...
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