DVD Review: Miracle on 34th Street - Special Edition (1947)
Release Date: November 21, 2006
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
· George Seaton
· Maureen O'Hara
· John Payne
· Edmund Gwenn
· Natalie Wood
· IMDb: Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
by R.J. Carter
Published: December 5, 2006
When I was a child, it was a holiday tradition to go to my grandmother's house, turn down the lights, and watch the annual PBS presentation of "Miracle on 34th Street", which was always the highlight of the station's winter fundraising drive.
Now it's one of the many films that have left the airwaves due to the burgeoning home video market. Who's going to watch a show chopped up by commercials (or even longer pledge drive breaks), when they can pop in the DVD and pause it for trips to the fridge (or other facilities)?
For anyone who's seen the film in any of it's later incarnations -- including the Mara Wilson remake -- but have yet to see the original, then you really haven't seen "Miracle on 34th Street". And with the ubiquitous availability now on DVD, there's really no excuse for skipping such an iconic picture.
Natalie Wood was just getting her acting start as young Susan Walker, a little girl with a cynicism her mother, Doris (Maureen O'Hara), has instilled in her. No fairy tales, no imagination -- nothing but the straight truth all the time. Fred Gailey (John Payne) is the lawyer who lives in the apartment across the hall; he has his eyes set on Doris, and he just adores Susan. But he's got a bit of a fanciful streak in him, and is brimming with faith.
Natalie Wood gave her heart to James Dean:
But not before she gave it to Edmund Gwenn,
whom she actually grew to believe was Santa
Claus during filming until he showed up at the
wrap party with is beard shaved off. (L-R: Gwenn,
Entered into this mix is Kris (Edmund Gwenn in the role that won him an Oscar), an old bearded gentleman who gets the job of playing Santa Claus for Macy's Department Store. Doris Walker hires him for the role, but begins to have serious recriminations when she learns that Kris lists his real name as Kris Kringle, and believes himself to truly be Santa Claus. Events progress to the point where a bitter psychologist deems Kris to be insane. Fred takes on the job of defending Kris from being committed to Bellevue, at the cost of his partnership at the firm where he works. By the time it's all over, everyone finds something new to believe in.
This two-disc release from 20th Century Fox includes a number of interesting bonus features. The first disc features the colorized version of the classic film, the second, the original in all its black and white glory. Both versions have the audio commentary track by star Maureen O'Hara. The second disc also has a decent number of interesting featurettes for the fans, starting with the twenty-two minute documentary, "AMC Backstory: 'Miracle on 34th Street'", featuring interviews with the surviving cast and crew. The "Movietone News: Hollywood Spotlight" is just shy of two minutes, a newsreel that focuses on the Oscar presentations for that year, including the presentation to Edmund Gwenn for Best Supporting Actor, for which he exclaimed, "Now I know there's a Santa Claus!"
There's a five minute promotional short which was the non-traditional trailer for the film. Since it was being released in the summertime, the Fox executives were concerned that letting on that it was a Christmas-themed movie wouldn't pull people in. (They also believed that people would only go to the theaters in dollar-building droves for a film released in summer.) So none of the plot was given away in this teaser. (The film stayed in theaters, by the way, from summer all the way through Christmas! Nowadays, it would have already been on DVD by the holidays.)
The film got a television adaptation (later renamed "Meet Mr. Kringle") through "The 20th Century Fox Hour of Stars". That remake -- only 45 minutes, sans commercials -- is also included in the special features, in its entirety, starring Macdonald Carey, Teresa Wright, and Thomas Mitchell as Kris.
The final feature is a fifteen minute look at "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade: Floating in History". It provides some of the history behind the parade, but by and large is a sort of "behind the scenes" look at the making of this film, and the problems it faced in filming on location in New York during the actual parade. One couldn't very well back up the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade to get a retake! And in that year, Edmund Gwenn really was in the Santa Claus float, and no one knew it was him until the following day.
Rounding out the bonus features is a gallery of movie promotional poster, interesting only insofar as that they show how uninformative about the movie they really were. Nowadays, the movie poster conveys have the plot.
Audio options on this set include English 5.1 Dolby Surround, English Mono, Spanish Mono, or French Mono, with subtitles in English or Spanish. True fans would have probably paid an extra dollar for a version with subtitles in Dutch -- and if you don't know why, then you either haven't seen this film before, or you've forgotten the magical moment of revelation.
Give yourself a present this Christmas, and bring the tradition to your own family.