Miracle on 34th Street (1947): Christmas Movie, Starring Edmund Gwenn in Oscar-Winning Performance

Decades after it was made, critics and viewers continue to hold this enchanting tale as a quintessential Hollywood movie about the holiday’s spirit.

Vet actor Edmund Gwenn won the Supporting Actor Oscar for this charming Christmas fable, directed by George Seaton, in which he plays Santa Claus at Macy’s department store.

He is hired by the place’s public relations executive (played by Maureen O’Hara), a divorcee raising her young daughter (wonderfully played by the very very young Natalie Wood).

Shockingly, Kris not only introduces himself as Kris Kringle, but also causes trouble by diverting customers to do their holiday shopping at other, competitive stores, when Macy’s lacks the goods that they need.

Soon, Kris clashes with the store’s psychologist (Porter Hall), who puts him on trial in an effort to determine his sanity or insanity.

John Payne plays the lawyer who’s hired to defend Kris, but even he has doubts about the validity of his client’s identity and stories.  Jerome Cowan is the district attorney prosecuting Santa.

“Miracle on 47th Street” is one of the few to win two writing Oscars, Screenplay for George Seaton, who also directed the picture, and Original Story for Valentine Davies, who later on directed the biopic, “The Benny Goodman Story.

Sharply written, the tale makes smart, even edgy observations about corrupt politics and cheap psychology, which became very popular in Hollywood of the late 1940s, as evident in Hitchcock’s “Spellbound,” made two years earlier.

In this movie, the judge (Gene Lockhart) is concerned that his reelection might be in danger if he puts Santa/Kris on trial.  To that extent, he gets advice from his campaign manager (William Frawley), who seems to be always cigar-puffing.

You can spot Thelma Ritter, who would become one of Hollywood’s most reliable character actresses, in a cameo as one of Macy’s customer.

Oscar Nominations: 4

Picture, produced by William Perlberg

Screenplay: George Seaton

Original Story: Valentine Davies

Supporting Actor: Edmund Gwenn

Oscar Awards: 3

Screenplay

Original Story

Supporting Actor

 

Oscar Context

In 1947, the two frontrunners in the Bets Picture category were: Kazan’s anti-Semitism drama “Gentleman’s Agreement” (which won) and Edward Dmytryk’s “Crossfire,” which lost in each of its five nominated categories.  The other contenders were David Lean’s “Great Expectations” and “The Bishop’s Wife.”