The Heroine’s Journey in “Miracle on 34th Street”

“Miracle on 34th Street” is an apt tile for such a magical film. It glows with goodwill that can at times seem a little thin on the ground in other so-called Christmas films.

The question posed not only to the characters of the movie, but also to the audience is, ‘do you believe in Santa Claus?’ If that sounds a little too mawkish for your tastes, then get ready to rein in your cynical reactions for this Oscar-winning movie.

Edmund Gwenn received the Best Supporting Actor award for his portrayal of Santa. He really does seem to embody everything that Father Christmas should be. And this comes in handy when the Macy’s department store need a Santa in a hurry for their annual parade. He’s a roaring success and is asked to stay on as the official Santa for their grotto.

He’s hired by Maureen O’Hara, who has raised her young daughter Susan (Natalie Wood) not to believe in such nonsense as Father Christmas. He takes this attitude in his stride and is only too happy to convince her otherwise. But before he can prove himself to Susan, he’s standing in a court of law, on charges of insanity for claiming to be who he is.

This legal case forms the crux of the movie, which touches the much larger issue of having faith in anything, let alone Santa. It’s a topic that’s rife with possibilities for a film to become enveloped in cringing sentiment. But this is a clever and deeply original story, that remains true and confident in direction, while delivering considerable charm all the while.