Miracle on 34th Street George Seaton

Edmund Gwenn is the number three Christmas movie icon; he’s well behind Jimmy Stewart but neck-and-neck with Alistair Sim. As Santa Claus, it’s his job to renew faith in a world running wild with commercialism and cynicism, thus he reappears in 1947 New York City to let the world know he’s still here and that he still stands for something. Would that Miracle on 34th Street could have the same unshakable faith in the power of myth. Though the film goes through the torturous motions of finding excuses — for his creative interpretation of store Santa duties, for his ways to convince Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara) and her daughter (Natalie Wood) of his existence, for getting around legal precedent when he’s carted off to Bellevue — it never quite manages to lift off as a fantasy, thanks to crusty direction courtesy of George Seaton. Funny how a film devoted to bringing magic back to the world can look positively agnostic in its doling out of aesthetics; it’s neither the ethereal uplift machine it wants to be nor the Eloise-style New Yorker glorifier that it keeps suggesting. There are certain creative elements to the script but Seaton’s follow through is so wooden that it squelches what pleasure there is to be had. Nevertheless, generations of children and their parents disagree, and I must humbly defer to their judgment. The two-disc edition, with original and colourised versions, includes a feature commentary with O’Hara, a pretty solid episode of AMC Backstory that details the orphan nature of the production, a newsreel of Gwenn and others winning their Oscars, an hour-long ’50s TV version that’s somehow less genuine, a clumsy featurette on the Macy’s Christmas parade, a genuinely weird promo short that shows the studio had no idea how to sell the film, and a poster gallery. (Fox)