Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Miracle on 34th Street (1947), written and directed by George Seaton.

This is a clever counterattack on secular modernity, disguised as harmless family holiday entertainment.

Like many Christmas pictures (Christmas in Connecticut (1945), say) it is not overtly religious. People shopping, going to parades, much ado about Santa Claus, nothing about Jesus.

And yet: bit by bit, everyone is forced to confess belief in something that cannot be proved. Even the legal system bends! The judge actually calls himself the "Pontius Pilate" of the story. Kris Kringle is subbing for other figures who cannot be named.

The divorced mother is a hard case, disappointed in marriage, who has raised her daughter to be skeptical and without fantasy, well adapted to the modern world. If the little girl can be pried away from doubt then the older forces still have a chance. In the end she says "I believe. It's silly, but I believe". ("I do believe; help my unbelief!" -- Mark 9:24. "I believe because it is absurd" -- Tertullian or someone like him).

We even have a nice bit of psychiatry-bashing, that mid-century replacement religion for many Hollywood devotees.

The cast:

Other known faces: William Frawley, Thelma Ritter (debut!), Jeff Corey and Jack Albertson.

Available on Blu-ray. Image quality is good in a few spots, but mostly just fair. The black levels are not very deep.

Maureen O'Hara provides an intermittent commentary track. Lots of stories about her career and the other people involved in this production. She'd finally gotten home to Ireland after the War and didn't want to come back so soon for a movie, but she knew it was a winner when she read the script. It sounds like a happy production, but she had no idea it would become a Christmas classic.