Greg Tyler

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Christmas 2014: Miracle on 34th Street

Part of the series Christmas 2014

A lunatic scams his way into working with children, living in with a perfectly nice family, and eventually escapes the mental hospital.

Miracle on 34th Street poster

That's how you do a poster, people.

Christmas spirit

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Miracle on 34th Street is one of the many (many!) films that I've just never gotten around to watching, despite massive public interest. So when the DVD case said it was "synonymous with Christmas", I was a little sceptical. Consider me silenced.

Miracle (or, Wikipedia informs me, "The Big Heart" in the UK) follows the story of a man who is convinced he is the real Santa Claus. First spotted for his leading role in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Kris Kringle (which sounds more like a rapper's name than St Nick's) is quickly promoted to the flagship store's lead Santa. He performs the job admirably, and is noted for giving shoppers advice about items in stores other than Macy's.

Almost seventy years later, and boy do we need Kris Kringle back. The whole goodwill story of trying to work around the harsh consumer reality of Christmas is fascinating, and as sought to day as it undoubtedly was when the film debuted. Sure, this is a glaring advert for Macy's, but it tells a genuinely nice story, as the rest of the cast are slowly whisked up in Kringle's romantic ideas of how the festive season should be.

Ho-ho-who's in it?

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ Well, Edmund Gwenn plays our potentially-real Santa. And, after much deliberation, I think indeed might be the big man himself. The strength of character and sheer charm in Gwenn's performance is captivating and, despite the ludicrousy of what's going on, you can totally imagine being caught up in his spell. Indeed, Gwenn won the 20th Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the part.

Aside from Father Christmas, the cast is full of amazing New York accents (and probably New Jersey, I haven't got the ear for it). Broad twangs all, they draw out the hurriedness of the big city, compared to Santa's slower charms. Despite having a main cast, too, there are lots of minor characters in Miracle, who all help add to the larger world it sits in.

Family fun

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ The film is adorable, which isn't a word I use much. It's full of lovely chuckles and giggles and, even during The Fall, remains big-hearted and upbeat. Despite focussing on children and children's beliefs of Santa, there's good humour and entertainment for adults too. And, since we see a family become atomic in the form of neighbour Fred Galley, there have to be bonus points awarded there.

Miracle tackles the question of whether Santa exists in a way we've seen before: adults presuming he doesn't exist, only to be dumbfounded when they confront him! It's a bit of a cliché but we can forgive that since, in 1947, it may well not have been.

Jingle bells

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ Miracle does, a few times, feature Jingle Bells itself. This is tantamount to cheating in this category. There are other carols too, all put in perfectly nicely. As befitting the era, there isn't too much else of a soundtrack to speak of. I don't know much about the history of this aspect of cinema but, in my eyes, soundtracks really became a thing much more recently. As someone who's a big fan of the modern soundtrack, I do really respect the older way of doing things; in Miracle it comes across excellently: you're not distracted by additional noise and you're never left wanting some.

Other films, even decades later, sometimes feel like they're just missing something.

Overall

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
What a fantastic start to this year's film collection! What a lovely film. Why, it makes you want to go out and buy a turkey dinner for everyone!

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