Thursday, November 27, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

One of my favorite things to do on Thanksgiving is watch MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET. Since the movie begins on Thanksgiving Day and ends on Christmas, it's the perfect way to begin the holiday season.

Most people are already familiar with the movie, but it must be said that it only gets better with time and repeated viewings. The film is perfection itself, starting with the lead actors -- Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood and Oscar-winning Edmund Gwenn -- and the fine supporting cast which includes Gene Lockhart, Jerome Cowan, and William Frawley.

As with WHITE CHRISTMAS and other holiday classics, memories of watching the film over past holidays add to the nostalgic glow and magic each time the movie is visited anew.

The movie was directed by George Seaton, who also wrote the screenplay, based on Valentine Davies' story. Seaton and Davies both won Oscars. The movie was also nominated for Best Picture, losing to GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT; among the other nominees was another holiday perennial, THE BISHOP'S WIFE. The movie was filmed in black and white and runs 96 minutes.

Fans of the film might be interested in two related books. MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET: A HOLLYWOOD CLASSIC by Sarah Parker Danielson is a beautiful oversized coffee table book.

The book is 112 pages and contains numerous beautifully reproduced full-page film stills and publicity photos. It's a real treasure which I highly recommend.

The Valentine Davies book has been republished in many editions. I have a red and white paperback illustrated with pictures from the film.

One of the loveliest copies of the book is a facsimile of the 1947 edition (pictured here). It's so beautiful that I chose it as a Christmas gift for a couple of good friends the year it was republished.

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET can be seen on a Special Edition DVD. The DVD includes a commentary by Maureen O'Hara, which is interesting, though fairly short; there are some big gaps of silence in between her comments. Her commentary on THE BLACK SWAN (1942), with Rudy Behlmer triggering her memories with questions, was more extensive and detailed. O'Hara has a phenomenal recall for names and people.

The DVD also includes a documentary and the 1955 TV version which reunited Teresa Wright and Macdonald Carey, the sweethearts of Alfred Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943). In the TV version Thomas Mitchell plays Kris and Sandy Descher is Susan, with Dick Foran as the DA and Ray Collins as the Judge.

My advice is to ignore the colorized disc of the 1947 film which is included in the box and watch the film in its original beautiful black and white.

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET has also been released on VHS.

The trailer can be seen at IMDb. You may notice that the trailer makes no mention of Christmas or Santa Claus whatsoever -- the movie was released in May!

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