Friday, February 19, 2010

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

USA, 96 minutes 
Director/writer: George Seaton 
Photography: Lloyd Ahern, Charles G. Clarke 
Cast: Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Gene Lockhart, Natalie Wood, Porter Hall, William Frawley, Jerome Cowan, Philip Tonge 

I saw this last fall shortly after a visit to New York—hence, I suppose, in the mythical New York state of mind, thankyouverymuch Billy Joel—and what impressed and surprised me first was how genuine to the city it felt, with its Thanksgiving Day Parade and casual references to the geography, even the title, and indeed the whole Macy/Gimbels rivalry plot point, all of which makes sense given that it was shot on location. I also recall this one, growing up in the '60s, as among the older, generally second-tier Christmas fare that aired every December (each one a must-see classic according to one person or another, though the ardor, not to mention the opportunities, always passed as quickly as the season). I always meant to see it, as so many of them prove perfectly worthwhile (though not all of them—this Christmas entertainment is a tricky business), but I never did through all these years. It was actually better than I expected, nicely low-key and almost somber as it goes about the usual business of attempting to reclaim the "real" "spirit" of Christmas. Natalie Wood is suitably adorable as a precocious 6-year-old, Edmund Gwenn is a better Santa than Burl Ives himself, and John Payne reminded me weirdly of John Cusack. Always nice to see William Frawley in anything. Merry Christmas all!

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