DVD Movie Guide @ dvdmg.com
.
Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main
FOX

MOVIE INFO

Director:
George Seaton
Cast:
Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Gene Lockhart, Natalie Wood, Porter Hall, William Frawley, Jerome Cowan, Philip Tonge
Writing Credits:
Valentine Davies (story), George Seaton

Tagline:
Capture the spirit of Christmas with this timeless classic!

Synopsis:
Kris Kringle - unbeknownst to cynical, market-minded adults, the real Santa Claus - is hired to play himself at Macy's Department Store, New York City. His gentle, joyous spirit and magical powers soon transform those around him, including a little girl and her world-weary mother.

Box Office:
Domestic Gross
$2.650 million.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Monaural
Spanish Monaural
French Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 11/21/2006

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Actor Maureen O’Hara
• Colorized Version of the Film
• “AMC Backstory”
• Movietone News Footage
• “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: Floating In History” Featurette
• Promotional Short
• Poster Gallery


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Miracle On 34th Street: Special Edition (1947)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 9, 2006)

One of a handful of true Christmas classics, 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street embraces the basic notion of belief in the unbelievable. On Thanksgiving Day, the man hired to play Santa in the Macy’s parade turns up drunk. Happily for organizer Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara), a dead ringer comes along to fill in – and he claims to be named Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn)! Macy’s hires Kris to be their in-store Santa and he proves to be a hit.

We also get to know Doris’s personal life. The divorced mother of young Susan (Natalie Wood), her neighbor Fred Gailey (John Payne) takes a romantic shine to Doris. He finds out that Doris allows Susan no illusions in life. The youngster doesn’t believe in Santa and knows no fairy tales.

This starts to change as Susan gets to know Kris. She sees him in action and views behavior that can’t be explained by Doris’s relentless focus on facts and realism. The film follows Kris’s interactions with the Walker family as well as controversies that come with his insistence that he really is Santa Claus.

Christmas flicks walk a fine line between goopy sentiment and heartwarming emotion. Happily, Miracle stays on the right side of that line. Indeed, it often indulges a harsher view of matters. A lot of the credit for the film’s success comes from its underlying cynicism. Via Doris and Susan, the movie embraces the harsh, cold realism of normal life. That contrast sets the flick in the real world and allows for a good contrast.

Actually, almost every character in the movie acts out of self-interest. Kris is the only genuinely altruistic character here, as even good-natured Fred’s actions initially are motivated by his desire to put the moves on Doris. He later works more toward what he sees as the greater good, but without his lasciviousness, he never would have become involved in the story.

With the possible exception of Susan – whose super-emphasis on realism is simply a reflection of her mother’s bitterness – everyone behaves in ways to promote their own agendas. Macy, Gimbel, the prosecutor, the judge… all down the line, we find self-interested parties who endorse the reality of Santa because of their own bottom lines. Even the post office employees who forward the letters to Santa to the courthouse do so out of a desire to shift responsibility to someone else.

This underlying cynicism really works well for the movie because it bolsters the warmth the film eventually embraces. In the face of all these doubts, we see how Kris wins over Doris and Susan. Without such a crass view of humanity the rest of the time, the movie’s resolution would prove less bracing.

Some excellent performances help Miracle as well. Gwenn makes Kris warm and lovable but never sappy or cloying. He’s got enough of an edge to himself to ensure that he’s not just some goofy old elf. Payne’s Fred avoids the character’s pitfalls so he never becomes patronizing or judgmental, and O’Hara shows Doris’s bitterness without turning into a cold shrew.

Best of the bunch, Wood offers one of the all-time great performances from a child actor. She makes Susan practical and doubting but never loses that little girl spark. When Susan starts to believe in Kris, Wood transforms in a fully believable manner and smoothly moves from tiny cynic to cheerful little kid. It’s a wonderful piece of work. Miracle captures a nice spirit of magic without ever becoming cutesy or sugary. The cynicism from the outset ensures that the sweetness feels more natural. This is a nice way to have its cake and eat it too; it shows the selfish reasons people go along with Santa’s existence but still manages a sense of joy and wonder. Miracle fully deserves its status as a Christmas classic.


The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio C/ Bonus B

Miracle on 34th Street appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I’ve seen worse transfers for older flicks, but I’ve also seen many better ones.

Some of the problems stemmed from the film’s definition. Although the movie never came across as terribly soft, it showed a generally lackluster sense of sharpness much of the time. Light edge enhancement contributed to this, as the film was reasonably concise but not particularly crisp. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, though.

Source flaws were another moderate issue. The film seemed somewhat flickery and wobbly at times, and it also showed a smattering of other defects. I saw minor specks and marks frequently throughout the presentation. Contrast was iffy. Some scenes were too bright, while others seemed too dark. Blacks were acceptably dense, but interiors tended to be a little muddy. I felt the transfer was good enough for a “C”, but it could use some clean-up work.

Miracle came with a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. Taken from the original monaural audio – which also appeared on the DVD – this track opened up the spectrum in a minor manner. Music showed decent spread across the front, and some environmental elements also cropped up from the sides. Some of these proved useful -–such as when a buzzer came from the correct spot on the left – but most were too general to create much of an impact. Surround usage was minor and added little to the set.

Audio quality was acceptable but no better. Speech remained intelligible but could be a little brittle. Music accentuated high-end a bit too much, though the score seemed reasonably clear and concise. Effects stayed in the same realm, as they were clear and nothing more. Some background noise created a little interference, and I also noticed a little more hiss than I’d like. This was a perfectly acceptable track, though I don’t think the 5.1 remix brought anything extra to the release.

A mix of extras fill out the set. DVD One presents a colorized version of the film. Actually, I think the disc’s producers consider it to be the primary attraction here and the black and white one is the supplement, but I don’t agree with that. I have no interest in colorized films, but if you want it, you’ll find it here.

Along with either the black and white or colorized versions of Miracle, you’ll find the same audio commentary with actor Maureen O’Hara. She offers a running, screen-specific discussion. O’Hara covers aspects of her career and her casting in the movie, working at Fox and with the other actors, shooting in New York and various production specifics, thoughts about the film’s legacy, and reflections on Christmas back home in Ireland.

At the start, we get a warning that plenty of gaps will occur in this track, and that proves true. Warning or not, this creates plenty of dull spots. In addition, O’Hara often just narrates the movie. She throws out a smattering of interesting notes, but there’s not enough here to sustain us over more than 90 minutes. We’d be better off with a simple interview featurette instead of a tedious commentary.

All of the other extras appear on DVD Two. AMC Backstory lasts 22 minutes, five seconds and offers the usual array of movie clips, archival materials, and interviews. We hear from O’Hara, film historian Rudy Behlmer, biographer Suzanne Finstad, Natalie Wood’s sister Lana, and actors Robert Hyatt and Alvin Greenman. The show traces the project’s genesis and development, casting, location shooting and getting clearance to use the real Macy’s and Gimbel’s, sets, notes from the shoot, releasing the flick in the summer, and its reception and success. This offers a somewhat glossy look at the production, but it throws out a reasonable amount of information.

More archival material comes from the Movietone News clip found here. Called “Hollywood Spotlight”, this one-minute and 46-second snippet spotlights the 1948 Oscars. Edmund Gwenn won Best Supporting Actor, which is why this clip appears here. Unfortunately, it truncates his acceptance speech.

A Promotional Short runs five minutes and five seconds. This offers a quirky form of trailer. It starts with some typical advertising hyperbole before it stops due to the insistence of a executive Ed Shaffer. He then wanders the Fox lot and gets the opinions of Rex Harrison, Anne Baxter and others. It’s a clever piece and a lot of fun.

The 20th Century Fox Hour of Stars: Miracle on 34th Street goes for 46 minutes and two seconds. This 1955 TV adaptation of the story stars Macdonald Carey as Fred, Teresa Wright as Doris, and Thomas Mitchell as Kris. It acts as a pretty literal remake of the movie, though it obviously has to truncate a lot of material and also make things move more quickly. The characters speak so quickly that the flick often sounds like the fine print on a radio ad!

A couple of changes do pop up, though, such as a cutesy one when Kris declines to eat venison for dinner. This version also alters Kris’s confrontation with Mr. Sawyer, but not in a positive way. Idiotically, it has him try to destroy the concept of Santa at an elementary school functioning. That’s insane – what school is going to embrace such negativity? Kris’s assault on Sawyer is also radically more violent; instead of the original’s minor tap on the noggin, Kris whomps Sawyer like a character out of a Scorsese movie! I see no reason the filmmakers needed to change the original battle between the two characters. The TV version also makes Doris the reason the letters end up in court, not the decision of the postal workers. I prefer the film’s choice since it underlines the cynical side of things better.

In no way does “Hour” live up to the original movie. None of the actors compare with the folks from the 1947 version, and the direction comes across as utilitarian at best. “Hour” is a fun addition to the set for historical reasons, but I doubt anyone will watch it more than once.

For info on the big holiday event, we go to a 15-minute and 33-second featurette called Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade: Floating in History. It presents notes from author Robert M. Grippo and former Macy’s VP John W. Straus. “History” offers a quick history of the movie and its production before we learn about the parade and its depiction in the film. Though reasonably informative, I’d have liked more info about the parade over the years.

Finally, we get a Poster Gallery. This includes nine images and offers a nice little look at advertising that came with the film’s initial release.

Delightful and bright, Miracle on 34th Street succeeds because it embraces sentiment but never becomes soft or gooey. Instead, its relentless streak of cynicism means that the fantasy comes across as more effective. The DVD presents average picture and audio along with some pretty good extras. Though this isn’t a stellar release, it’s good enough to merit my recommendation; this is too special a movie to miss.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4736 Stars Number of Votes: 19
95:
104:
0 3:
02:
01:
View Averages for all rated titles.

.
Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main