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.