Miracle on 34th Street (initially released as The Big Heart in the United Kingdom) is a 1947 American 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 effect of a department store Santa Claus who claims to be the real Santa. The film has become a perennial Christmas favorite.
Miracle on 34th Street won three Academy Awards: Gwenn for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Valentine Davies for Best Writing, Original Story, and George Seaton for Best Writing, Screenplay. The film was 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 (Percy Helton) assigned to play Santa in the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is intoxicated. When he complains to event director Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara), she persuades Kris to take his place. He does so well he is hired to play Santa at Macy's flagship New York City store on 34th Street.
Ignoring instructions to steer parents to buy from Macy's, Kris directs one shopper (Thelma Ritter) to a competitor. Impressed, she tells Julian Shellhammer (Philip Tonge), head of the toy department, that she will become a loyal Macy's customer.
Attorney Fred Gailey (John Payne), Doris's neighbor, takes the young divorcée's daughter Susan (Natalie Wood) to see Santa. Doris has raised her to not believe in fairy tales, but Susan is shaken after seeing Kris speak Dutch with a girl who does not know English. Doris asks Kringle to tell Susan that he is not Santa, but he insists that he is.
Worried, Doris decides to fire him. However, Kris has generated so much positive publicity and goodwill for Macy's that Macy (Harry Antrim) promises Doris and Julian bonuses. To alleviate Doris's misgivings, Julian has Granville Sawyer (Porter Hall) administer a "psychological evaluation". Kris passes the examination easily, but a cynical and disdainful Sawyer recommends his dismissal to Doris.
The store expands on the concept of helping customers find the presents they want from competitors. To avoid looking greedy, competitor Gimbels implements the same policy, forcing Macy's and others to escalate. Eventually, Kris does the impossible: he reconciles bitter rivals Macy and Gimbel (Herbert Heyes).
Pierce (James Seay), the doctor at Kris' nursing home, assures Doris that Kris is harmless. Doris is still somewhat worried about someone challenging Kris' claims, and to that end, Pierce recommends Kris take up residence with someone to steer him from any conflicts. At first Julian agrees to put Kris up, but at dinner that night at Fred's place, Fred offers to have Kris stay with him instead. Later that evening, Kris makes a pact with Fred: he will work on Susan's cynicism while Fred does the same with Doris. When Susan reveals to Kris she wants a house for Christmas, Kris reluctantly promises to do his best.
Kris learns that Sawyer has convinced young employee Alfred (Alvin Greenman) that he is unstable simply because he is kind-hearted. Kris immediately confronts Sawyer and finds him unwilling to budge. Enraged, Kris hits Sawyer on the head with Sawyer's umbrella, which was on the desk. Sawyer exaggerates his pain to have Kris confined to Bellevue Hospital. Tricked into cooperating, and believing Doris to be in on the deception, Kris deliberately fails his examination and is recommended for permanent commitment. However, Fred persuades Kris not to give up.
At a hearing before 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. Fred argues that Kris is not insane, because he actually is Santa. Mara requests Harper rule that Santa 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 hearing evidence.
Doris quarrels with Fred when he quits his job at his law firm to defend Kris. Fred calls Macy as a witness. When Mara asks if he believes Kris to be Santa, Macy starts to equivocate, but when pressed, he remembers the good Kris has done and responds, "I do." Afterward, Macy fires Sawyer. Fred then calls Mara's own young son (Bobby Hyatt), who testifies that his father told him that Santa was real. 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 writes Kris a letter to cheer him up, which Doris also signs. When a New York Post Office mail sorter (Jack Albertson) sees Susan's letter, which is addressed to Kris at the New York courthouse, he suggests delivering the many letters that are taking up space in the dead letter office to "Santa" at the courthouse.
In the final day of Kris' commitment hearing, Fred at first has no evidence that Kris is Santa Claus. Kris is not worried as he has received the letter from Susan and Doris. However, a courthouse official notifies Fred of the delivery from the Post Office. The hearing begins and Fred presents Judge Harper with three of the letters (from 21 full mailbags) addressed simply to "Santa Claus" and delivered to Kris, asserting the Post Office has acknowledged that he is the Santa Claus. Harper insists on seeing all of the letters, which, after some resistance, Fred dumps onto the bench. Harper declares that since the Post Office, a branch of the United States Government, has recognized this man to be Santa Claus, his court will not dispute this conclusion and dismisses the case.
On Christmas morning, Susan is disappointed that Kris could not get her the house she wanted. Kris gives Fred and Doris a route home that avoids traffic. Along the way, Susan sees her dream house 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 proved Kris was Santa. However, when they spot a cane inside that looks just like Kris's, he is not so sure.
- Maureen O'Hara as Doris Walker
- John Payne as Fred Gailey
- Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle
- Gene Lockhart as the Hon. Henry X. Harper
- Natalie Wood as Susan Walker
- Porter Hall as Granville Sawyer
- William Frawley as Charlie Halloran
- Jerome Cowan as District Attorney Thomas Mara
- Philip Tonge as Julian Shellhammer
- Jack Albertson as "Al", the Post Office Mail Sorter
- Harry Antrim as R. H. Macy
- Lela Bliss as Mrs. Shellhammer
- Jeff Corey as Reporter
- Mary Field as Dutch Girl's Adopted Mother
- William Forrest as Dr. Rogers at Bellevue
- Alvin Greenman as Alfred
- Theresa Harris as Cleo, the Walkers' maid/housekeeper
- Percy Helton as Drunken Santa Claus
- Herbert Heyes as Mr. Gimbel
- Robert Karnes as 2nd Bellevue Intern
- Snub Pollard as Mail-Bearing Court Officer
- Thelma Ritter as Peter's Mother
- James Seay as Dr. Pierce, physician at the Brooks Memorial Home for the Aged
Although the film is set during the Christmas season, studio head Darryl F. Zanuck insisted that it be released in May, arguing that more people go to the movies in warmer weather. The studio rushed to promote it while keeping its Christmas setting a secret. Fox's promotional trailer depicted a fictional producer roaming the studio backlot and encountering such stars as Rex Harrison, Anne Baxter, Peggy Ann Garner, and Dick Haymes extolling the virtues of the film. In addition, the movie posters prominently featured O'Hara and Payne, with Gwenn's character kept in the background. The film opened in New York City at the Roxy Theatre on June 4, 1947. By contrast, modern home video packaging has Gwenn and Wood dominating the imagery, with the DVD release having Kringle in his Santa Claus costume.
O'Hara was initially reluctant to take the role, having recently moved back to Ireland. She immediately changed her mind after reading the script and came back to the United States for the film.
The Christmas window displays seen in the film were originally made by Steiff for Macy's. Macy's later sold the window displays to FAO Schwarz in New York. FAO Schwarz then sold the windows to the Marshall & Ilsley Bank of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where they are on display every December in the bank's lobby on North Water Street.
The house shown at the end of the film is a 1703 square foot single family home built in 1943 at 24 Derby Road, Port Washington, New York. The home looks practically the same as it did in 1947, except that the roof line has been altered by the addition of a window.
Rowland Hussey Macy, called R. H. Macy in the film, died 70 years prior to the film (in 1877), and the Macy family had sold its ownership of the company in 1895.
In the book Reel Justice, the authors claim that Judge Harper could have dismissed the case early without the political repercussions he feared. In their theory, once the prosecutor rested his case immediately after Kris Kringle admitted in court simply that he believed he was Santa Claus, Judge Harper could have ruled that prosecution had forfeited its opportunity to prove that Kringle was dangerous (the basic point of such hearings; Kringle's actual mental state itself being irrelevant), and ordered him immediately released. However, this high standard for involuntary commitment was not instituted until 1975 with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision O'Connor v. Donaldson.
When demonstrating that he has taken several mental examinations in the past, Kris Kringle answers his own question about who was the Vice President under John Quincy Adams as Daniel D. Tompkins. Tompkins actually served under James Monroe. John C. Calhoun is the correct answer to Kringle's question. Tompkins was the sixth vice-president and Quincy Adams was the sixth president, leading to confusion in the script.
The film was re-released in theatres on December 20 and 23, 2015, as part of the "TCM Presents" series by Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events.
Miracle on 34th Street received mostly positive reviews from critics. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times said: "For all those blasé skeptics who do not believe in Santa Claus—and likewise for all those natives who have grown cynical about New York—but most especially for all those patrons who have grown weary of the monotonies of the screen, let us heartily recommend the 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 little picture in a long time, and maybe even the best comedy of this year." Today, it is considered by many as one of the best films of 1947. The film currently holds a 96% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.
The Catholic Legion of Decency gave the movie a "B", "morally objectionable in part" rating. This was mainly due to the fact that O'Hara portrayed a divorcée in the film.
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.
It was ranked ninth by the American Film Institute on 100 Years... 100 Cheers, a list of America's most inspiring films. Miracle on 34th Street was listed as the fifth best film in the fantasy genre in the American Film Institute's "Ten top Ten" lists in 2008.
In 2005, Miracle on 34th Street was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
American Film Institute Lists
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – Nominated
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers – #9
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – Nominated
- AFI's 10 Top 10 – #5 Fantasy Film
Home media and colorization
Miracle on 34th Street was first released on VHS and LaserDisc in 1987.
In 1985, it became one of the first full-length black and white films to be colorized. The 4½-month process was carried out by Color Systems Technology, Inc. In 1993, this version was released on VHS and LaserDisc, and was followed four years later by a "50th Anniversary Edition" on both formats, remastered by THX.
The first DVD release was in October 1999, featuring the B&W version alongside the original theatrical trailer and a TV spot. In November 2006, it was re-released as a two-disc "Special Edition" DVD, with disc one containing an "all new colorized version" carried out by Legend Films. The second disc had the original black-and-white version and numerous extras, including The 20th Century Fox Hour's 1955 TV remake. Both discs also included a full-length audio commentary by Maureen O'Hara. The B&W disc has since been re-released several times, including in a pairing with the 1994 remake.
In October 2009, 20th Century Fox released the B&W version on Blu-ray with all previous extras, bar the TV remake.
In 2017, the film was restored in 4K resolution; so far this version is only available via DCP.
A 1994 feature film starred Richard Attenborough, Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott, J. T. Walsh, Timothy Shea, James Remar, Jane Leeves, Simon Jones, William Windom and Mara Wilson. It was adapted by John Hughes from the Seaton script, and directed by Les Mayfield. Due to Macy's refusal to give permission to use its name, it was replaced by the fictitious "Cole's". Gimbels no longer existed by 1994 and was replaced with the fictional "Shopper's Express". Alvin Greenman (Alfred in the original version) played a doorman. This version had a more serious tone than the original and a large portion was rewritten, although the majority of the plot and characters remained intact. The film also added a subtext concerning religious faith.
In other media
There are four remakes of the movie and a Broadway musical.
Lux Radio Theater broadcast an adaptation in 1947 which starred the original cast including Natalie Wood. In 1948 it was done again on Lux, without Natalie Wood's participation, and it was adapted as a half-hour radio play on two broadcasts of Screen Director's Playhouse, all featuring Edmund Gwenn in his screen role. In these production Kris correctly cites James Monroe as the President for whom Daniel D. Tompkins was the Vice-President.
A 1963 Broadway musical version, entitled Here's Love, was written by Meredith Willson.
The novella was adapted into a stage play by Will Severin, Patricia Di Benedetto Snyder and John Vreeke in 2000. It is a favorite in many community and regional theaters during the Christmas season. The characters' names are those used in the novella, and the stage setting is distinctly late 1940s. Production rights are held by Samuel French, Inc.
A 1955 one-hour television adaptation of the movie starred Thomas Mitchell as Kris, Macdonald Carey as Fred, Teresa Wright as Doris, and Sandy Descher as Susan. This version did not show the drunken Santa at all. Titled "The Miracle on 34th Street", it originally aired as an episode of The 20th Century Fox Hour. It was later re-run as "Meet Mr. Kringle".
Ed Wynn played Kris in a 1959 television adaptation of the movie. Also featured was Orson Bean. It was broadcast live and in color on NBC the day after Thanksgiving. NBC made a kinescope of the program, probably for broadcasting opening night on the West Coast. The copy was in a large collection of kinescopes donated by NBC to the Library of Congress and recently unearthed by Richard Finegan, who reported his experiences in the December 2005 issue of Classic Images.
A 1973 television version featured Jane Alexander, David Hartman, Roddy McDowall, Sebastian Cabot as Kris (without his natural beard; he was forced to shave and wear a false beard for the role), Suzanne Davidson, Jim Backus, David Doyle and Tom Bosley. It was adapted by Jeb Rosebrook from the George Seaton screenplay, and directed by Fielder Cook. Mrs. Walker's first name is changed to Karen in this version. This would prove to be the final version in which the department store was actually Macy's. David Doyle, who played R. H. Macy in this version, had played Mr. Sawyer in the original Broadway cast of Here's Love 10 years earlier.
The flagship Macy's Department Store at Herald Square in New York featured a 30-minute puppet version of the story within its Santaland display, featuring the voice talents of Broadway stars Brian Stokes Mitchell and Victoria Clark.