George Seaton’s 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street is a Christmas comedy-drama film based on the story written by Valentine Davies. It will always be remembered as one of the greatest holiday films of all-time.
The story takes place between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. It stars Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn. Natalie Wood portrayed Susan Walker and Maureen O’Hara portrayed her mother. She has raised her daughter not to believe in Santa Claus. However, when Kris Kringle, portrayed by Edmund Gwenn, who is hired to play Santa at New York City’s famous Macy’s department store shows up in their lives Susan begins to suspect he may be the real Santa.
Unusually for a Christmas themed movie, it was released on May 2nd, 1947, though it didn’t get its NYC premiere (at the Roxy Theatre) until June 4th. Darryl F. Zanuck, the studio head at 20th Century Fox at the time, considered the potential spring and summer audience to be more numerous as, according to him, more people went to the movies in warmer weather.
They didn’t reveal that Miracle on 34th Street was a holiday movie and that is why Fox’s promotional trailer featured such stars as Rex Harrison, Anne Baxter, Peggy Ann Garner, and Dick Haymes raving about the film, but no plot was ever revealed. None of the actors involved in the trailer were actually in the film.
Film historian Robert Osborne explained to The Huffington Post: “In those days, we didn’t have the Internet. We didn’t have television to promote a movie. We didn’t have anything.” Osborne continued, “So usually during the summer, if someone had a big picture, like a Christmas movie, it would open in New York in the non-holiday season. By the time Christmas came around, five months later, it already had been screened in the big cities. In addition, it was screened in all the small towns across America [becoming] a Christmas release.”
The film was well received by the critics. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times said: “For all those blasé skeptics who do not believe in Santa Claus, likewise all those natives who have grown cynical about New York, but especially those patrons who have grown weary of the monotonies of the screen, let us heartily recommend Roxy’s new picture, Miracle on 34th Street. As a matter of fact, let’s go further: let’s catch its spirit and heartily proclaim that it is the freshest picture in a long time, and maybe even the best comedy this year.”
The film won the 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.
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In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.