Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Miracle on 34Th Street

There have been two movies called Miracle on 34th Street, 2 being based on 1.

1. (vt The Big Heart) US movie (1947). 20th Century-Fox. Pr William Perlberg. Dir George Seaton. Spfx Fred Sersen. Screenplay Valentine Davies, Seaton. Novelization Miracle on 34th Street * (1947) by Davies. Starring Edmund Gwenn (Kris Kringle/Santa Claus), Porter Hall (Granville M Sawyer), Natalie Wood (Susan Walker), Maureen O'Hara (Doris Walker), John Payne (Fred Gailey). 96 mins. B/w.

In emergency, Doris Walker, Macy's Assistant Toys Manager, hires Kringle, resident of Brooks Memorial Home for the Aged, as this year's Santa Claus. An ultra-rationalist because of her messy divorce, she is horrified when Kringle claims to be the real Santa; Macy's management is likewise horrified when Kringle starts directing parents to other stores for Christmas toys Macy's does not stock, until this is proved a brilliant commercial strategy. Kringle earns the enmity of store psychologist Sawyer, who has him committed to Bellevue. Gailey, an entrepreneurial lawyer in love with Walker (and her 9-year-old daughter Susan), takes the case to court: Kringle is "proved" to be Santa when – to get rid of them – the US Mail delivers all this year's "Santa Claus" letters from children to Kringle at the court. Kringle afterwards delivers a final proof: Susan identifies a house as the one she drew when asking Santa for it as a Christmas present, and Walker and Gailey determine to marry and live there; then they see Kringle's cane propped against the fireplace. But this is not the movie's most important Miracle: Walker – whose arch-rationalism had almost driven the imagination out of Susan and turned her into an offensive little prig – has become a believer.

This is the US Christmas movie, and Gwenn (1875-1959) is the movie image of Santa: by one of 1940s Hollywood's wilder lunacies, he was billed as support to O'Hara and Payne; his deserved Oscar thus came as Best Supporting Actor. The screenplay won an Oscar for Davies and Seaton. A musical tvm remake, broadcast in 1973, has been shown on several further occasions; its cast includes Sebastian Cabot, Roddy McDowall, Jim Backus, and David Hartman. An homage to the movie is the rare vt of *batteries not included (1987): Miracle on 8th Street. [JG]

2. US movie (1994). 20th Century-Fox. Pr John Hughes. Exec pr William S Beasley, William Ryan. Dir Les Mayfield. Screenplay Hughes. Based on 1. Starring Richard Attenborough (Kriss Kringle), Dylan McDermott (Bryan Bedford), Elizabeth Perkins (Dorey Walker), Mara Wilson (Susan Walker). 111 mins. Colour.

In mood, this is a faithful remake of 1, although the plot has been tweaked in order further to twist our heartstrings, and all has been relocated into what can probably best be described as a Land-of-Fable 1990s New York. There are plotting flaws – it is not at all clear why New York State should be seeking to put Kringle behind bars – but the overall effect is delightful. Kringle gains his freedom because the judge is persuaded that, if the USA can believe so much in God that it states its trust on the dollar bill, then the court has no right to disbelieve in Santa Claus. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.