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Monday, December 24, 2012

Miracle on 34th Street

I can't believe we're on the second last day of “The Pop Culture Addict's Advent Calendar” already. That must mean that the calendar reads December 24th, which means that it happens to be Christmas Eve!

On one hand, I am so excited to see that it is Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve is probably one of the most magical days of the whole year (well, right next to Christmas Day, that is). Christmas Eve is a day that is filled with loads of anticipation over what is to come...especially when you're a child. I mean, think about it. One more day to go before Santa Claus slides down the chimney! One more day to go before you find out what goodies and treasures Santa Claus left behind for you. One more day before you get to spend well-deserved time off with your friends and family members.

(Well, okay...those friends and family members that you can stand to be in the same room with, at least.)

At the same time, Christmas Eve is sort of a bittersweet day for me. I've had a lot of fun with this advent calendar idea. It's really the first time in the blog's history that I have ever done a feature that has lasted nearly an entire month, and from what I can tell, it has been positively received by a lot of you. So, for it to be almost over...well, it kind of makes me feel sad. I guess it's the same way that a lot of us feel after the big day is over. I guess you could call it a minor case of post-holiday depression.

But, I don't dwell on it for too long. After all, a new year is coming, and I have got some really neat ideas for 2013. I've actually got a new idea for a theme month on deck for February 2013, so definitely be on the lookout for that.

But since we're still in December 2012, I have at least two more holiday themed entries left to talk about on the last two days of the advent calendar. And, why not celebrate the last Monday Matinee of the advent calendar with a holiday movie that many deem a film classic?

The question is...which version of the movie do I talk about?

You see, today's blog subject has no less than FIVE different adaptations made of it. The earliest was made in 1947...the most recent version came out in 1994. And, depending on the version of the movie that you end up watching, you'll see quite a few famous faces appearing in each one.

For instance, in the 1955 made for television version of the film, veteran “Days of our Lives” star Macdonald Carey played the main character. In the 1959 version, Ed Wynn and Orson Bean had starring roles. The 1973 film featured Roddy McDowall, Sebastian Cabot, and Tom Bosley. And Dylan McDermott, Elizabeth Perkins, Mara Wilson, and Richard Attenborough took on roles in the 1994 version.

I have not yet seen the 1955 or 1959 versions of the film yet, so I have no commentary on them. I did not really care for the 1973 version at all, as the character names were changed, and you could clearly tell that the movie, despite being depicted as being set during the holiday season was filmed in the summer because of the greener than normal trees in the background scenes. Oops! As for the 1994 version, I'll readily admit to liking it a lot. It's not quite as good as the version that I have chosen to spotlight in this blog, but I'll sit down and watch it a couple of times at least. What can I say, that little Mara Wilson was charming back then. It's too bad she's given up acting.

(And, it really makes me feel old knowing that Mara Wilson is now 25 years old!!!)

But while all of these remakes of a classic film were good and brought the classic story by Valentine Davies to a different generation every two decades, none of them would have even been possible without the original template to base a remake on.

So, for today's blog entry, I thought we would look at the classic 1947 original motion picture, Miracle on 34th Street! The original film was released sixty-five years ago on (weirdly enough) May 2, 1947! I know it seems bizarre for a Christmas film to be released four and a half months after Christmas, but I suppose back in those days, people didn't really mind all that much. At least in the country of Australia, the release was held off until December 18, 1947, which actually made more sense.

At any rate, the odd timing for release aside, the movie has ended up winning several accolades over its 65 year history. Just listen to some of the honours that the film has to its credit.

  • Won the Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Edmund Gwenn) Academy Award
  • Won the Academy Award for Best Writing
  • Won the Academy Award for Best Original Story (Valentine Davies)
  • Won the Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay
  • Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture
  • Was named as the fifth best Fantasy Film by AFI in June 2008
  • Was selected for preservation in the United States Film Registry in 2005

That's not bad for a movie that was made on a budget of less than $700,000. Mind you, $700,000 in 1947 was worth a lot more than it is now, but's mighty impressive. It's easy to see why so many seem to feel that “Miracle on 34th Street” is one of the best, if not the best, films of 1947.

Now, let's get onto the casting for the movie, which has some very interesting nuggets of trivia included within.

For instance, did you know that Maureen O'Hara (who played the role of Doris Walker) almost didn't take the role? She had just moved to Ireland and was reluctant to come back to America just for a film role. Although she did an about face once she read the script. It's probably a good thing that she did too, because I really couldn't picture anyone else in the role.

Another casting tidbit involves Natalie Wood (cast as Susan Walker, Doris' daughter). Did you know that this film was Natalie Wood's first major role in a motion picture? It's true. What's also true is that Natalie Wood was initially considered to play a role in the 1973 remake...the same role that Maureen O'Hara played in the original film (albeit renamed Karen Walker). But when it was suggested that Natalie's daughter play her daughter in the film, Wood declined the offer, stating that her daughter was way too young to begin acting.

My guess is that the daughter in question is Natasha Gregson Wagner...but I don't have absolute confirmation on this, so just keep in mind that this is only speculation.

And, of course, Edmund Gwenn won an Academy Award playing the role of Kris Kringle...and it is his story that forms the basic plotline for “Miracle on 34th Street”.

The story begins at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, and Kringle seems to believe that the Santa Claus that has been hired for the parade is drunk as a skunk, and insists to Doris Walker (the event director) that he be replaced immediately. Doris agrees, and she gives Kringle the job. To everyone's surprise, Kringle does a fantastic job. He does such a convincing job that Macy's immediately hires him on as the store Santa Claus at their flagship New York location on the busy 34th Street.

Now, one would think that if one is hired to play a Santa within a retail space that they would act as a sort of ambassador to the space. I imagine that the Santa Claus that visits our local mall every December will likely try to coerce shoppers to visit the several stores inside the mall itself.

Kris Kringle seems to take on a different approach, actually telling people to shop at other stores instead of Macy's! One shopper (Thelma Ritter) is actually taken aback at the suggestion that Kris Kringle gives her, but eventually comes to realize that Kris was actually trying to help her make the right choice when it comes to buying gifts, and she promptly tells the toy manager at Macy's that she has now become a loyal customer.

DISCLAIMER: If you work in retail, don't try this at your job. You might not get that pleasant of a reaction!

The children all seem to love Kris as Santa, as he seems to connect with them better than most other people. There's just one notable exception.

Susan Walker.

The precocious six-year-old daughter of Doris doesn't believe in Santa...a belief that was instilled into her by Doris herself, who raised her not to believe in fairy tales. So when Fred Gailey (John Payne), a neighbour of Doris' who also happens to practice law takes her to see Santa, Susan is only pretending to go along with the charade.

Until she overhears Santa speaking Dutch to a young girl who cannot speak English, and she begins to wonder if Santa Claus really does exist after all. Doris seems to pick up on this and she tells Kris to tell Susan that he isn't the 'real' Santa. But, Doris is stunned when Kris insists that he truly is the real Santa Claus. She isn't exactly sure how to respond to that.

Her first instinct is to terminate his employment, but rethinks that option after seeing just how good he is with the children who come to visit him. Plus, his presence at Macy's has generated a lot of positive publicity for the store, which has netted Doris a nice Christmas bonus. Still, Doris has doubts about the man, and arranges for Granville Sawyer (Porter Hall) to give him a psychological evaluation. Kris passes...but by the end of the evaluation, Granville ended up being the one who may have needed it more!

Now, this is where the story takes an interesting turn. Kris continues to do very well in his job, even going as far as being the catalyst in a sort of peace treaty between the owner of Macy's and the owner of rival department store chain, Gimbel's! At the same time, while Doris is constantly reassured that Kris is safe to be around children, Kris and Fred end up making a deal with each other. Kris will work on getting rid of Susan's cynical attitude towards Christmas and Santa if Fred will do the same with helping Doris overcome the bitterness she has towards the failure of her marriage.

(Keeping in mind that divorce was considered to be a somewhat taboo subject in the late 1940s.)

Of course, Susan doesn't make Kris' job easy. What Susan wants for Christmas more than anything else in the world is a house for her and her mother to live in...a rather large request for anyone to honour...even Santa Claus. But, Kris makes a promise to her that he will do his best.

Unfortunately, Kris discovers a rather shocking truth about Mr. Sawyer. It turns out that for whatever reason, Sawyer is threatened by a young employee of Macy's, and he somehow convinced him that he was mentally ill. The only thing that the employee was guilty of was perhaps being a little too kind and generous. And, there was no way that Kris was going to stand for it.

So, he confronts Granville Sawyer and after a verbal scuffle he grabs his cane and lightly taps him on the head! This persuades Granville to fake the seriousness of the injuries that he received, and as a result, Kris gets committed into a hospital for the mentally ill!

So, what will happen to Kris? Will Fred manage to find a way to get him out? Will Doris ever get over her divorce and start to see things in a brighter light? Will Susan ever believe in Santa Claus? Will Sawyer get his comeuppance?

You expect me to tell you? Like a wrapped up Christmas present, you're going to have to unwrap the ending yourself. But take it from me, it's a beautiful way to wrap up a classic movie!

And, that wraps up our Christmas Eve entry.

Tomorrow marks the final day of the advent calendar...and all I will say is that it is a Tuesday Timeline. That's coming up on Christmas Day.

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