Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Miracle on 34th Street

One of my favourite Christmas films. Here's a selection of snippets gleaned from other sites about the movie.

Miracle on 34th Street
"For the past 50 years or so I've been getting more and more worried about Christmas. It seems we're all so busy trying to beat the other fellow in making things go faster and look shinier and cost less that Christmas and I are sort of getting lost in the shuffle."

"I don't think so. Christmas is still Christmas."

"Oh, Christmas isn't just a day. It's a frame of mind."

--Kris Kringle / Doris

Valentine Davies got the idea for the script while struggling through the Christmas shopping crowds, trying to find a present for his wife. The commercialism he saw made him wonder what the real Santa Claus would make of it all.

Despite the fact that both Macy’s and Gimbels figure prominently in the story, the studio took a gamble by not getting the companies to sign off before using their names. According to TCM, the studio made the companies aware they were going into production, but refused to share footage until filming was completed. Luckily, both department stores were satisfied with the final product.

The rivalry between department stores Macy's and Gimbels depicted in the film was very real. The two stores were just blocks from each other in New York and major competitors for the same business. The rhetorical question "Does Macy's tell Gimbels?" was a popular phrase used throughout the 1930s-1960s which meant that business competitors are not supposed to share trade secrets with one another.

Despite being a Christmas movie, Fox’s studio head pushed for the film to be released in the summer. “[Darryl] Zanuck wasn’t sure it would be a success, so he had it released in June, when movie attendance is highest, rather than wait for Christmas,” wrote O’Hara in her autobiography ‘Tis Herself. “In fact, the publicity campaign barely talked about Christmas at all.

It received a 'B' rating (morally objectionable in part) from the highly influential Catholic Legion of Decency because Maureen O'Hara played a divorcée.

Macy’s closed early so its 12,000 workers could see the film. This was reported in Hedda Hopper’s May 3, 1947 “Looking at Hollywood” column.

The parade scene was entirely real, and Maureen O’Hara’s autobiography proves it. “Those sequences, like the one with Edmund riding in the sleigh and waving to the cheering crowd, were real-life moments in the 1946 Macy’s parade,” she wrote. “It was a mad scramble to get all the shots we needed, and we got to do each scene only once. It was bitterly cold that day, and Edmund and I envied Natalie and John Payne, who were watching the parade from a window.”

Percy Helton, who played the drunk Santa, was also in White Christmas (1954), where he played the train conductor

Natalie Wood was eight years old while filming Miracle on 34th Street. “I still vaguely believed in Santa Claus,” said Wood, as recorded in her biography written by Suzanne Finstad. “I guess I had an inkling that maybe it wasn’t so, but I really did think that Edmund Gwenn was Santa. I had never seen him without his beard because he used to come in early in the morning and spend several hours putting on this wonderful beard and moustache. And at the end of the shoot, when we had a set party, I saw this strange man, without the beard, and I just couldn’t get it together.”

Edmund Gwenn improvised his reaction to the beard-pull so that Natalie Wood would be surprised.

Natalie Wood shot two movies simultaneously. The production schedules of Miracle on 34th Street and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir had some crossover, which meant mornings had the young actress playing Susan Walker and the afternoons playing little Anna Muir.

One of the memorable moments in the film is when Kris Kringle fills out his employment card. In addition to listing the North Pole as his birthplace and all of his reindeer as his next of kin, Kringle gets clever with his DOB. He writes: “I’m as old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth.” The saying famously comes from Irish satirist Jonathan Swift.

On Kris Kringle's employment card, he's listed the names of Santa's Reindeer as his next of kin. While Donner is used frequently, the correct name as it appears in a hand written manuscript by Clement Clarke Moore is actually Donder, and that's how it appears on Kris Kringle's employment card.

The song that the little Dutch girl sings is "Sinterklaas Kapoentje, Leg wat in mijn schoentje, Leg wat in mijn laarsje, Dank je Sinterklaasje!" One translation is "Saint Nicolas Little Rascal, Put something in my little shoe, Put something in my little boot, Thank you little Saint Nicolas!" The Dutch girl spoke true Dutch, but with a heavy American accent.

The little Dutch girl’s Christmas wish was already granted. When she sits on Santa’s lap, no subtitles clue viewers into their conversation. But when Santa asks the child what she wants for Christmas, she says she wants nothing now that she’s gotten her adoptive mother.

When Dr. Pierce explains Kris' belief that he is Santa Claus, he offers for comparative purposes a Hollywood restaurant owner who believes himself to be a Russian prince despite evidence to the contrary, but rather conveniently fails to recall the man's name. This was a reference to Michael Romanoff, owner of Romanoff's in Hollywood, a popular hangout for movie stars at the time.

Unusually, there were two Christmas films nominated for Best Film at the 1947 Academy Awards--this and Henry Koster's The Bishop's Wife (1947). They join It's a Wonderful Life (1946) the year before as only three Christmas movies to be nominated for this coveted prize.
Miracle on 34th Street won three Academy Awards. One was for Best Screenplay, one for Best Original Story, and the last for Best Supporting Actor Edmund Gwenn in the role of Kris Kringle. In his acceptance speech, Gwenn cheered, “Now I know there’s a Santa Claus.”

In her autobiography, Maureen O'Hara nicely summed up what the film had come to mean to her over the years. "Everyone felt the magic on the set and we all knew we were creating something special," she said. "I am very proud to have been part of a film that has been continually shown and loved all over the world for nearly sixty years. Miracle on 34th Street (1947) has endured all this time because of the special relationship of the cast and crew, the uplifting story and its message of hope and love, which steals hearts all over the world every year. I don't think I will ever tire of children asking me, 'Are you the lady who knows Santa Claus?' I always answer, 'Yes, I am. What would you like me to tell him?'"

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