"MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET"
by Kevin Carr
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|| MOVIE: ***** (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5 stars)
Maureen O’Hara as DORIS WALKER
John Payne as FRED GAILEY
Edmund Gwenn as KRIS KRINGLE
Gene Lockhart as JUDGE HENRY X. HARPER
Natalie Wood as SUSAN WALKER
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Directed by: George Seaton
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Few films get me in the holiday spirit as much as “Miracle on 34th Street.” In fact, with all the Christmas films released over the years, only this film and “It’s a Wonderful Life” leave me with that same warm feeling no matter how many times I see it.
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If you don’t know the story, you’ll have to see the movie. It’s a sweet fable of an apparently loony old man who actually believes he’s Santa Claus. When he gets a job as the department store Santa for Macy’s, he bonds with the daughter of his boss. The daughter, played by a very young Natalie Wood, doesn’t believe in Santa, and Kris Kringle makes it his mission to change her mind.
This movie is the quintessential feel-good movie. It’s very lighthearted, and there really isn’t a dull moment throughout the film. The performances are genuine, or at least as genuine as you can get with a movie from the 40s.
Back when the studio was marketing the film, it was released in the summer without any Christmas connection – something that never happens today. However, nowadays, it’s rarely seen outside of the winter months. This is because the film has had such an impact in our popular culture that Christmas wouldn’t be complete without it.
“Miracle on 34th Street” was just a low-budget secondary movie for the studio back in the day and lost the Oscar for Best Picture to “Gentleman’s Agreement” (what?). It is what a classic should be – something that has lived on not by star power, commercialization or the will of some whack-job publicist, but by the sheer love of the people who want to believe in Santa Claus.
While “Miracle on 34th Street” has been available on DVD for several years (and broadcast endlessly during the holiday season), it’s been a pared down version – and in color no less. Now, 20th Century Fox has released the classic film on DVD once again and covered all of their bases.
The re-release of “Miracle on 34th Street” on DVD includes both the black-and-white version of the film as well as a newly colorized one. Of course, there are people out there (me included) who must ask why it’s necessary to colorize the film at all. But considering it performed well on television when it was originally colorized, I can understand why it was done. (Ironically, it was colorized for it to be better commercialized, yet the film preaches so strongly against commercialism.)
The new colorized version isn’t as awful as the first time it was run through the process. A lot probably has to do with the fact that the new computer processes are far superior to when it was painted in the 80s. However, it still has that antiseptic, crayon-colored pastel look you get with any colorized feature.
Fortunately, you can put the second disc in and watch it free from the computer’s digital ink. Both versions of the film include a commentary by Maureen O’Hara. Well, it’s not so much a commentary as an interview done in her home in 2006 that was laid over the film. Still, it serves its purpose.
Other special features include an episode of “AMC Backstory” that talks about the original production, a spotlight on the 1948 Oscars in which Edmund Gwenn won Best Supporting Actor, a feature on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and a retrospective of the film itself.
For those who wish to cringe and have their memories soiled, they can watch the television version of the film from 1959. This retelling of the classic was done at half the running time and about ten percent of the budget. The actors race through their lines like monkeys on crack, barely letting us catch our breath. The worst part about this version is the guy they have playing Kris Kringle (who went on to play Uncle Albert in “Mary Poppins”). Where Edmund Gwenn played the part as a sweet old man, this 1959 version has a wild look in his eyes that have you rooting for the judge to lock him away before he eats your kids.
Specifications: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. Fullscreen (1.33:1). French and Spanish language tracks. Spanish subtitles. English language subtitles for the hearing impaired.