Director: Les Mayfield
Writer: George Seaton and John Hughes; Story by Valentine Davies; based on Miracle on 34th Street by George Seaton
Cinematographer: Julio Macat
Producer: John Hughes, William Ryan, and William S. Beasley
by Jon Cvack
From its release in 1994 until I graduated high a decade later, this movie was on at least three times per holiday season at my house (and that's a conservative estimate). I haven’t seen it since high school - maybe once, but not in a long while - and yet I still remember most of the dialogue, how things cut together, and every twist and turn of the story. What I didn’t remember is how pro-religious this movie is as it’s very much is about maintaining faith that a possible crazy person won’t kill anyone.
The movie opens up at Cole’s Thanksgiving Parade. They’ve been having to compete with Shopper’s Express, run by a ruthless German man who manages from a dark office with tin soldiers strewn across his desk. When Kole’s Santa Claus Tony Falaschi (Jack McGee) shows up drunk to the parade, Dorey Walker (Elizabeth Perkins), Director of Special Events, finds a strikingly realistic Santa-look alike on the street Kris Kringle (Richard Attenborough). She implores him to take on the role, charging up the end of the parade in his sleigh; even having his own suit. Kris is so popular that they offer him a full time job at Cole’s.
Back home, we meet Dorey’s daughter Susan (Mara Wilson), who’s hanging out with the neighbor, attorney Bryan Bedford (Dylan McDermott). Although only six years old, Susan tells Brian that she knows Santa isn’t real; her mother told her. Eventually meeting Kris at Cole’s, Susan’s mind begins to change, and in order to disprove any imagining that Kris is actually Santa Claus, Dorey recommends she ask Kris for something she asks from nobody else. In this case Susan offers no modest order - she wants her mom and Brian to get married, a house, and a baby brother.
One thing I hadn’t noticed before is the suggestive history between Brian and Dorey. Although never explicitly stated, it’s clear that the two likely had some type of lascivious rendezvous that Dorey now regrets. Brian is now in love and hoping to marry her, which is a perhaps a testament to Dorey’s sexual prowess. This isn’t to be crass, so much as what else could possibly cause a single man in the 90s to be so committed to marrying a woman? Nevertheless, Dorey wants nothing to do with it.
Secondly, and far more interesting, is the fact that, ultimately, we never know if Kris Kringle is actually Santa Clause. Although close ups and various reaction shots do their best to suggest such, we never receive any evidence. Watching this as an adult, I found myself empathizing with Shopper Expresses’ pair of goons who hope to expose Kris Kringle as a lunatic and do away with the competition.
In one bizarre scene, while Kris is talking to a reindeer at a New York Zoo, he’s offered a higher paid job at Shopper’s Express. Initially rejecting, they offer to take him home. Along the way, they ask him how Santa is able to deliver toys to everyone around the world, to which he says, “An interesting question! But if you can slow time down until a second is a day, a minute is a year and an hour is a millennium, then it’s not difficult at all. I remember, before the population explosion, I had time to deliver all my goods, and still have time for supper with the missus, and a round of golf with the Easter Bunny.” I think even most kids find the Easter Bunny a hard creature to believe in, and I always found the image of what the Easter Bunny must look like in order to play golf pretty terrifying. More simply, it does sound crazy. He’s then taken home to some cheap and dilapidated senior living home. I could embellish the logic in that maybe the Easter Bunny does exist, and that perhaps Santa wants to give to the seniors he once served as children, it’s just very odd, especially as, again, we never actually see Kris Kringle do anything magic. It’s all suggestive. One thing that doesn’t make sense, though, is the reindeer being in the zoo. Why wouldn’t one of Santa’s reindeer be in the North Pole? You could say that he rode the reindeer to NYC, but that would contradict what he says in the court scene.
Which brings me to the entire procedural, where after Kris is accosted by the original drunken Santa (Tony) in order to get him to strike back, Kris is thrown into a mental institution and put on trial. For obvious reasons, the judge has difficulty in reaching a verdict due to the fact that Kringle meets the very definition of a disturbed person, in that he thinks he’s someone that he’s not. With Brian defending Kris, and Dorey handling the PR, launching a brilliant campaign as to whether or not fellow New Yorkers “believe” or not, Brian comes up with the brilliant refute by looking at his money clip containing a coin that says “In God We Trust.” It is a pretty clever way of reconciling the problem, but the authors seem to forget that this motto was adopted back in 1956, outdating the original film which was released in 1947. Point being - the motto was developed in order to differentiate the United States from the atheistic Soviet Union, and to that end, with Santa Claus more or less reflecting the epitome of socialism, it seems to use this motto to his defense is a bit contradictory. Added, I’m not sure the State of New York would appreciate that any schizophrenic individual believing themselves to be someone they are not can now refer to this case for vindication.
I’m not trying to act as the Grinch here so much as highlight what I always failed to grasp as a child; namely, this movie kind of espouses an anti-fact, pro-religious sentiment. In the end, Susan gets all she asked for, including a huge fully furnished mansion, Brian and Dorey get married, and a baby brother seems to be in the works within seconds of the film’s conclusion. I still regard this as one of my favorite holiday films. It’s just always fun to notice things you never noticed before. In this case a pretty fucked up plot.
BELOW: Sets a dangerous precedent when you think about it
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