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On June 11, 1947, 20th Century-Fox unveiled Miracle on 34th Street in theaters, from producer William Perlberg and director George Seaton. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review, titled “Miracle on 34th Street Delightful Surprise Hit,” is below:
This is a comedy dedicated to faith, and faith is defined in a line of dialogue as “believing in things that common sense tells you not to.” It is a neat definition, but almost everything about Miracle on 34th Street is equally neat. The William Perlberg production, delightfully written for the screen and directed by George Seaton, may well prove to be one of the sleeper hits of the year for 20th-Fox. Not many among the large group of Hollywood press who attended an invitational preview knew anything about the story of the picture, for it had been deliberately under-publicized. This group awarded Miracle a hearty round of applause at its conclusion, an unusual procedure at press showings in a town that makes more movies than it approves.
In a nutshell, Miracle is about how a fellow who called himself “Kris Kringle” went to work at Macy’s Department Store as a Santa Clause, then had to prove legally that there is a Santa Claus in order to get himself out of the nuthouse. The role of Kris is happily played with a gratifying straight and bearded face by Edmund Gwenn, who has never been better in his long and distinguished career. The same can be said of Gene Lockhart, who is a joy as the New York supreme court judge presiding at the sanity hearing. Then there are memorable moments with Porter Hall as a store employee with pretentions of being a psychiatrist, Philip Tonge as the manager of the toy department, William Frawley as a smart political steerer, Jerome Cowan as the prosecuting attorney, and Alvin Greenman as the junior Santa impersonator, Albert. These are all gorgeous characters, but the Seaton script is so overcrowded with them that, for a change, it will probably not harm the show to have audiences tipped off in advance about the plot twists. The entertainment is greater than the simple novelty of proceedings. The original was a story by Valentine Davies.
In the starring roles are Maureen O’Hara and John Payne, and theirs is the task of keeping the spark of romance in the picture. That they accomplish it charmingly is a tribute to their individual abilities. Miss O’Hara is a junior executive at Macy’s, and a complete realist who refuses to accept the idea that she had anything to do with hiring the actual Santa Claus. She is in the process of dismissing him as a harmless old nut when it suddenly turns out that his stunt of telling kids which New York store sold the best brand of wanted toys is an enormous good-will builder for Macy’s.
Payne is a young attorney living in the apartment across the hall from Miss O’Hara. He is interested in making friends with her through her child and, of course, makes the most of the arrival of Kris Kringle. His best opportunity comes when he quits his stuffy law firm to be defense attorney. At the climax, Payne fully capitalizes up on the authority of his role.
Natalie Wood impresses as a totally unactorish child in the part of Susan, Miss O’Hara’s first-grader daughter. She will bring an honest lump to audiences’ throats when she goes around muttering, “I believe. It’s silly, but I believe.” Strangely enough, you are likely to believe, too.
Seaton’s direction is able in all respects. The smart Perlberg production has some excellent technical contributions, among them the photography by Charles Clarke and Lloyd Ahem, art direction by Richard Day and Richard Irvine, and musical direction by Alfred Newman. The music is by Cyril Mockridge and unobtrusively good. — Jack D. Grant, originally published on May 2, 1947.
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