Directed by George Seaton
Produced by William Perlberg
Screenplay by George Seaton
Story by Valentine Davies
Starring Maureen O’Hara
Music by Cyril J. Mockridge
Cinematography Lloyd Ahern
Charles G. Clarke
Edited by Robert L. Simpson
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
May 2, 1947
Country United States
Box office $2,650,000 (US rentals)
<em>Miracle on 34th Street (initially released in the United Kingdom as The Big Heart) is a 1947 Christmas comedy-drama film written and directed by George Seaton and based on a story by Valentine Davies. It stars Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn. The story takes place between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day in New York City, and focuses on the impact of a department store Santa Claus who claims to be the real Santa. The film has become a perennial Christmas favorite.
The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Edmund Gwenn), Best Writing, Original Story (Valentine Davies) and Best Writing, Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Picture, losing to Gentleman’s Agreement. In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”. The Academy Film Archive preserved Miracle on 34th Street in 2009.
Davies also penned a short novelization of the tale, which was published by Harcourt Brace simultaneously with the film’s release.
Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) is indignant to find that the man assigned to play Santa in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (Percy Helton) is intoxicated. When he complains to event director Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara), she persuades Kringle to take his place. He does such a fine job that he is hired as the Santa for Macy’s flagship New York City store in Herald Square/34th Street.
Ignoring instructions to steer parents to buy from Macy’s, Kringle directs one shopper (Thelma Ritter) to another store. Impressed, she tells Julian Shellhammer (Philip Tonge), head of the toy department, that she will become a loyal customer. Kris later informs another mother that archrival Gimbels has better ice skates.
Fred Gailey (John Payne), Doris’s attorney neighbor, takes the young divorcée’s second-grade daughter Susan (Natalie Wood) to see Santa at Macy’s. Doris has raised her to not believe in fairy tales, but Susan’s lack of faith is shaken when she sees Kringle conversing in Dutch with an adopted girl who does not speak English. Doris asks Kringle to tell Susan that he is not really Santa Claus, but he insists that he is.
Doris decides to fire him, worried that he is delusional and might harm someone. However, Kringle has generated so much positive publicity and goodwill for Macy’s that a delighted R. H. Macy (Harry Antrim) promises Doris and Julian generous bonuses. To alleviate Doris’s misgivings, Julian has Granville Sawyer (Porter Hall) give Kringle a “psychological evaluation”. He easily passes, but antagonizes Sawyer by questioning Sawyer’s own mental health.
The store expands on the marketing concept. Anxious to avoid looking greedy by comparison, Gimbels implements the same referral policy throughout its entire chain, forcing Macy’s and other stores to escalate in kind. Eventually, Kringle accomplishes the impossible: he reconciles bitter rivals Mr. Macy and Mr. Gimbel (Herbert Heyes).
Pierce (James Seay), the doctor at Kris’s nursing home, assures Doris and Julian that Kris is harmless. Kris makes a deal with Fred – he will work on Susan’s cynicism while Fred does the same with Doris, disillusioned by her failed marriage. When Susan reveals her wish for a house, Kris reluctantly promises to do his best.
Kris learns that Sawyer has convinced impressionable young employee Alfred that he is mentally ill simply because he is generous and kind-hearted. When Kris confronts Sawyer and finds him to be intractable, Kris assaults Sawyer by hitting him on the head with an umbrella. Sawyer exaggerates his pain in order to have Kris confined to Bellevue Hospital. Tricked into cooperating, and believing Doris to be part of the deception, a discouraged Kris deliberately fails his mental examination and is recommended for permanent commitment. However, Fred persuades Kris not to give up.
At a hearing before New York Supreme Court Judge Henry X. Harper (Gene Lockhart), District Attorney Thomas Mara (Jerome Cowan) gets Kris to assert that he is Santa Claus and rests his case, believing he has proven his point. Fred argues that Kris is not insane because he actually is Santa Claus. Mara requests the judge rule that Santa Claus does not exist. In private, Harper’s political adviser, Charlie Halloran (William Frawley), warns him that doing so would be disastrous for his upcoming reelection bid. The judge buys time by deciding to hear evidence before ruling.
Doris quarrels with Fred when he quits his job at a prestigious law firm to defend Kris. Fred calls Mr. Macy as a witness. When Mara asks if he really believes Kris to be Santa Claus, Macy starts to equivocate, but when pressed, he considers the possible negative news articles that would result from him calling his Santa Claus a fraud and recalls the good will Kris has spread and states, “I do!” Upon leaving the stand, Macy fires Sawyer. Fred then calls Mara’s own young son (Bobby Hyatt), who testifies that his father told him that Santa was real. Outmaneuvered, Mara concedes the point.
Mara then demands that Fred prove that Kris is “the one and only” Santa Claus on the basis of some competent authority. While Fred searches frantically, Susan, by now a firm believer in Kris, writes him a letter to cheer him up, addressed to the courthouse, which Doris also signs. When a mail sorter (Jack Albertson) sees Susan’s letter and the courthouse address, he suggests clearing out the many letters to Santa taking up space in the dead letter office by delivering them to the courthouse.
Fred presents Judge Harper with three of those letters addressed simply to “Santa Claus” and delivered to Kris, asserting the U.S. Post Office (and therefore by extension the federal government) has thus acknowledged that he is the Santa Claus. When Harper demands “further exhibits”, mailmen dump the entire contents of 21 full mailbags onto the bench in front of Harper, whereupon he dismisses the case.
On Christmas morning, Susan is disappointed that Kris could not get her what she wanted. Kris gives Fred and Doris a route home that avoids traffic. Along the way, Susan sees the house of her dreams with a “For Sale” sign in the front yard. Fred learns that Doris had encouraged Susan to have faith and suggests they get married and purchase the house. He then boasts that he must be a great lawyer since he did the impossible by proving Kris was Santa Claus. However, when they spot a red cane inside the house that looks just like Kris’s (and which Kris had been without on Christmas morning), he is not so sure that he did such an impressive thing after all.</em>