Miracle on 34th Street

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.

The other famous heartwarming Christmas movie, after It's a Wonderful Life.

Revolves around an old man calling himself Kris Kringle who may or may not really be Santa Claus.

The original film version was released in 1947, and starred Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle, Maureen O'Hara as Doris Walker, Natalie Wood as her daughter Susan, and John Payne as lawyer Fred Galley. It was a box office success, won three Oscars (one for Gwenn, two for the writers), and is shown on television every year.

The story has been adapted several times for television and once for Broadway. There was a theatrically-released remake in 1994 written by John Hughes. Richard Attenborough was cast as Kris Kringle, Elizabeth Perkins as Dorey Walker, and Mara Wilson as Susan. The remake was a modest box office hit, earning $46,264,384 in the worldwide market. With $17,320,136 from the United States market alone, it was the 80th most successful film of its year.

The story involves an old man who gets hired to be the Mall Santa for a big New York City store. Thing is, he claims to be the actual Santa, and when customers ask, he tells them where to find the cheapest toys -- even if it means sending them to competing stores! However, this move endears the store to the customers (who think it was the management's idea) and actually boosts the store's sales. However the company's psychologist develops a grudge at "Kris Kringle" and tries to get him committed to an asylum, which leads to a big showy trial over whether he really is Santa Claus.

An important subplot revolves around Susan's lifelong disbelief in Santa Claus (due to her bitter divorced mother being against believing in fantasy) but meeting Kris causes her to start wondering. There's also a romantic subplot involving her mother, Doris, and Fred, who defends Kris in court.

While there is no apparent proof that Santa Claus is actually real in the movie, the ending leaves the audience wondering...

The original version of Miracle on 34th Street was added to the National Film Registry in 2004.

Tropes used in Miracle on 34th Street include:

The 1947 original provides examples of:

  • Alcohol Hic: The Santa that was originally supposed to be in the parade. He got this way under the excuse that he was using it to "keep warm".
  • Amoral Attorney: Averted with the prosecutor on Kris's case, who doesn't exactly want to lock up a sweet old man, but it happens to be his job. He concedes the existence of Santa Claus (knowingly giving the defense a huge step toward winning) just because he didn't want to declare otherwise when his son was watching. There's even a scene where he complains about how newspapers covering the case are making him out to be a heartless monster.
  • Bags of Letters: Used to help Kris win his trial.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Kris's unsubtitled conversation with the Dutch orphan, for Dutch speakers. Included in full on the Heartwarming Moments page.
  • Broken Bird: Doris raises Susan without fairy tales or fantasies of any kind due to her own heartbreak of her failed marriage.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Played with in the character of Mr. Macy. He can be easily led to do the right thing...so long as there's a payoff. He winds up enthusiastically supporting the "goodwill campaign" Kris starts due to the commercial success it receives. He is later asked point blank in court whether he believes in Santa -- and after considering the negative press he'd get from saying "no", sticks up for Kris and fires the psychiatrist who started the whole mess.
  • Courtroom Antic: Fred Gailey's work in the hearing such as arguing Kris is sane because he is the one and only Santa Claus, putting the prosecutor's son on the stand to make him concede a legal point and of course the bags of mail at the end. Justified in that the Judge was worried about the political fallout from this hearing if he was forced to rule against Kris and was more than willing to give Gailey as much chance to legitimately win as he can.
  • Covers Always Lie: Early pressings of the Blu-Ray version had covers promising a new, colorized version inside. The disc actually contains only the original black-and-white version, as well as some extra features (20th Century Fox had previously sold colorized versions on VHS and DVD).
  • Ethnic Menial Labor: The beginning of the film briefly shows a black housekeeper named Cleo preparing the Thanksgiving dinner when Dorothy returns from the parade. Cleo was played by an uncredited Theresa Harris, who had a long career that included many roles as maids.
  • Hollywood Law: Since Fred was out of the room when the postal workers were talking to him, no judge would have let the prosecuting attorney present final arguments with the defense absent.
  • In Mysterious Ways: Santa's ways prove to be less mysterious than you'd think, if Kris is any indication.
  • Jerkass: Mr. Sawyer, the supposed psychologist.
  • Just in Time: Played with -- the Postal Service contacts Fred Gailey literally during the final arguments.
  • Mall Santa: Played with, since Kris clearly believes himself to be Santa.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The film never does conclusively tell us if Kris is really Santa. But the scene at the end of the film where Kris' cane is found in the house Susan asked him to get for her certainly makes Fred a believer.
  • Minor Injury Overreaction: The psychiatrist that works for Macy's pretends to be unconscious from being rapped on the head with an umbrella.
  • Napoleon Delusion: Kris is assumed by the other characters to be suffering this.
  • Pretty in Mink: Doris has a fur coat.
  • Psycho Psychologist: Mr. Sawyer is a rather mild case compared to others in this category. He's simply employed by Macy's to give employment tests, but envisions himself as a great psychiatrist and enjoys using that status to bully others. He quickly comes to hate Kris due to his passing the psychiatric exam and then turning it around on him, and later tries to have Kris committed both as revenge on him and also to prevent him from telling Mr. Macy about Sawyer's practicing psychiatry without a license on the premises. He gets his comeuppance when Macy just fires him anyway during the trial.
  • Romancing the Widow: The divorcee in Doris' case. Fred Gailey admits part of his reason for taking such an interest in Susan was to help him get closer to her mother.
  • The Runt At the End: At the climactic moment of the film, a parade of burly bailiffs stream into the courtroom each toting two large bags of mail; the parade ends with a smaller bailiff carrying a single bag.
  • The Scrounger: Kris knows where to find anything. And not just toys - he delivers a rather expensive piece of medical equipment to a doctor who wanted it.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: With a holiday twist. Besides Fred and Kris himself, all the characters in the film are simply looking out for themselves, which is especially clear with the postal workers who help exonerate him completely by accident. What's actually pretty brilliant is the fact that lots of cynical players and actors end up accidentally helping Kris out - the judge's desire to be reelected, the postal workers' desire to get rid of the Santa letters and the NYC newspapers' desire for a juicy story. Without all those people's cynical actions, Fred would have lost the case.
  • Smoking Gun: Susan's mailed letter to Kris (as Santa Claus) draws the attention of the postal workers who sort it and come up with the scheme to clear out the dead letter office -- just in time to save Kris.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Very cleverly averted. Watch it here.
    • The trailer doesn't spoil much because the movie came out during the summer box office season, in hopes of making more money. The advertisers had to make sure not to include any out-of-season Christmas imagery.
  • Yes, Virginia: Susan's plot arc revolves around whether she can believe in Santa (as well as using her imagination).

The 1994 remake provides examples of:

  • Brand X: The department store is changed to the fictional "Cole's" in this version of the film as Macy's, which was already having financial troubles at the time of production, refused to have their name used in the film when they discovered that the store's financial problems were an important plot point. Likewise, because Gimbels closed their store in 1987, the rival department store was also fictional.
  • Darker and Edgier: In this version, rather than the psychiatrist with a grudge taking Kris down, the rival store hired the old Santa - the one Kris replaced after he was fired for public drunkenness - to goad him into attacking him. One of the tactics the man uses is accusing Kris of pedophilia.
  • Expospeak Gag: A lot of the prosecution's case involves translating the Santa mythos into pompous-sounding legalese to attempt to discredit it.
  • Hollywood Law: In reality, Bryan wouldn't need to prove that Kris isn't crazy to keep him from being committed. The Supreme Court ruled in 1975 that you can't involuntarily commit someone unless he's a danger to himself and others. That's what the case should have turned on, not whether Santa Claus is real.
  • Not His Sled: The proof of Santa is by the US Mint this time.
  • Remake Cameo: Alvin Greenman, who played the character of Alfred in the original film, appears in a scene as a hotel doorman. His character doesn't actually appear in this remake.