Top 10 Christmas Movies #9: Miracle on 34th Street

Note:  Here’s the latest offering from You Know What I Mean? for our Top 10 Christmas Movies.

What do you do when the same Christmas movie has been made twice and both are excellent? One option would be to include both in our list. Another option would be to have them face off in a head to head, winner take all death match to determine dominance and therefore inclusion. Based on what I have observed in shopping malls, this seems to be in keeping with the holiday spirit so let’s go with option two.

This first MO34S (as it shall be referred to henceforth) was released in 1947 and stars Maureen O’Hara, Edmund Gwenn, and Natalie Wood in the essential roles. The second came out in 1994 and correspondingly stars Elizabeth Perkins, Richard Attenborogh, and Mara Wilson. Both follow the same basic plot line. Little Susan Walker has been raised by a single mom (an executive at a New York City department store) to be a realist and therefore does not believe in Santa Claus. Enter the store’s new Santa for the Christmas season
who not only looks and acts the part to degree never seen before but actually believes that he is Santa Claus (he even enters Kris Kringle as his name on his employee information). Kris sets out to convince Susan that he really is Santa Claus culminating in a court battle to determine his true identity.

I like both of these movies but I can only include one. I am going to compare 4 important elements side by side and let that determine which Miracle rises to the top. (Warning, this will contain spoilers)

1. The Santas:
If you want to make a movie about whether or not there really is a Santa Claus you had better have an actor that brings the goods when it comes to that role. As it happens, both versions possess that. In the 1947 MO34S Edmund Gwenn actually won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal. (Apparently Natalie Wood was convinced that he really was Santa Claus until the wrap party.) Richard Attenborogh for his part exudes warmth and charm and hits all the right notes in his performance. He also looks the part. It’s hard to imagine other actors from their respective eras doing a better job than either of these two.
(Edge: Even)

2. The Susans:
MO34S 1947 was Natalie Wood’s first major film role and to be honest it shows. She would grow up to become a big star and respected actress. She gives a fine performance but it’s pretty much one note. Mara Wilson’s acting though, is nuanced. She displays a wide range of emotions, often with just her facial expressions and instantly makes the audience care about what happens to her. Plus she is completely adorable.
(Clear Edge: 1994)

3. The Moms:
In both movies the mother has been hurt by her past and has had to make it on her own. She is obviously strong and resourceful but she is guarded and even cynical. The difference in the performances is that in MO34S 1947 Maureen O’Hara is able to show a spark of warmth behind the layers. Her change of heart for Kris is more subtle and seems organic. Elizabeth Perkins comes across as an Ice Queen. She is prickly and almost mean. I honestly don’t see what her kindhearted love interest sees in her other than that she is pretty. When she finally comes around it seems to come out of left field.

4. The Climax
As mentioned before, both movies wind up in a courtroom for a competency hearing to determine whether or not Kris should be committed. The only way for him to be declared sane is to somehow prove that Santa Clause does in fact exist and the Kris is Santa Claus. In both movies this appears to be a lost cause until a last minute maneuver tips the scales of justice in Kris’ favor. In MO34S 1994 the judge uses “In God We Trust” being printed on U.S. currency as the basis for an argument that Santa Claus is real. It’s confusing and anticlimactic. The 1947 version does a more satisfying job of proving Kris’ case.

This has become on of the most iconic scenes in movie history and is one of the main reasons this movie has been a Christmas mainstay for almost 70 years.
(Overwhelming Edge: 1947)
Winner: 1947
While I had to declare a winner, I recommend you make time for both of these movies this Christmas season. You will find plenty to love with both.

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