It's not until you are well and truly wading through the wealth of special features on the 2-disc special edition DVD of the 1947 Christmas favorite "The Miracle on 34th Street" that one realizes that the release features not just two versions of the movie, but three.
For not only does the release feature the original black & white version shown in theaters and the circa 1980s colorized version of the same feature film, but also hidden away on the second disc is the curiously titled "20th Century Fox Hour of the Stars: The Miracle on 34th Street," which turns out to be a 46 minute 1950s remake for television that is surprisingly in incredibly good quality.
The inclusion of this feature is indicative of Fox's loving tribute to this family movie gem that is this 2-disc release. Prior to its release the studio had no idea how to market what it considered to be an "unimportant program picture" and stuck it in the middle of its summer schedule with a trailer (shown here as a 5-minute promotional short) that did not feature one single clip from the movie and went at lengths to conceal it's Yuletide theme.
The story is so well known that it hardly bears relating in this review. Suffice to say that it charts the efforts of a man (played in an Academy Award winning performance by British actor Edmund Gwenn) to be legally recognized as Santa Claus, which in fact he is and to persuade a doubting young girl (played by Natalie Wood in a star-turning performance) and a practical realist (played by Maureen O'Hara) that he is indeed Father Christmas. Picked to replace a liquor induced Santa as the Macy's Parade Santa he is a smashing success and indeed Gwenn's performance is so incredible that Natalie Wood really did believe that she was acting opposite Santa Claus.
Perhaps the best special feature in this release (in what is a tough choice given its incredible company) is the feature length audio commentary by Maureen O'Hara. Recorded at her home in Ireland this past August the DVD warns us that this is merely excerpts of that interview with frequent silent sections. But I must say that this is happily not entirely accurate. O'Hara is clearly watching the movie (discussing elements on the screen as they occur), but also is more talkative than other commentaries that I have listened to that do not have a similar warning.
In the commentary O'Hara recounts being forced to remain in the United States following the outbreak of hostilities in World War II and subsequently furious when (after being allowed to return to her native Ireland) on being ordered back to the U.S. to make this film. She tells us that other considered titles were "The Big Heart" and "It's Only Human" and how once she read the script she was determined to be involved in what she saw as a warm and affectionate movie. O'Hara also talks about the parade itself and reveals that it was the actual parade with people in the crowd not being aware that Fox was shooting a movie that day.
Also included in this release is the 22-minute "AMC Backstory" that takes us behind the scenes of the production. Including are on-camera interviews with film historian Rudy Behlmer, actress Maureen O'Hara, actor Robert Hyatt (who played Thomas Mara Jr.), actor Alvin Greenman (who played Alfred), Natalie Wood biographer Suzanne Finstad and Natalie's sister Lana Wood. The documentary traces the genesis to the movie back to a fateful trip to a Los Angeles department store by screenwriter Valentine Davies. Fighting through holiday shoppers on 1944's Christmas Eve in an effort to buy a gift for his wife, Davies wondered what Santa Claus would make of the commercialism of Christmas. After working on the screenplay for over a year the project was optioned by Fox, who evidently had no idea what they had.
In what was a huge risk the filmmakers agreed when Macy's and rival store Gimble Bros. said they would withold permission for their names to be used in the film until they had seen the finished film. Thankfully they loved it for if either store had objected Fox would have had to drastically re-cut and re-shoot major portions of the movie.
So it was that at the height of the 1946 shopping season over 100 cast and crew descended on the Macy's store in New York City to shoot interiors of the movie and when it wrapped used the likes of Rex Harrison and Anne Baxter (who were on the Fox lot shooting other pictures) to rave about the production. Fox need not have worried though because it was a critical and commercial success staying in theaters for over six months and taking home three of its nominated four Oscars. In fact its popularity is such that it has not only been remade in the included 1950s TV production, but again in a 1970s TV movie and then in a 1994 big budget production (and clips from all three are featured in the AMC Backstory).
An archival MovieTone News reel (running 1:42) covers those awards presentations and includes the famous quote from a clean shaven Gwenn when receiving his statue, "Phew. Now I know there is a Santa Claus."
But that's not all this bumper release contains. Also included is a 15:30 featurette on the history of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade and in particular its pivotal role in the movie. This new documentary features on-camera interviews with Robert M. Grippo (author of a book on the parade) and John W. Straus who worked on the parade for 22 years and coordinated with the studio that the filming of the parade (with their 14 camera's positioned along the route) went off without a hitch.
The special features are rounded out with nine posters for the movie.
Audio includes English 5.1 Dolby Surround, English mono, French mono and Spanish mono. There are English and Spanish subtitles.
NOTE: Amazon in its wisdom has attached this review to a different DVD version of the movie. They have a habit of doing this unfortunately. Please consider the date of this review and the fact it was for a 2-disc release.
Miracle on 34th Street is a true classic and a must see each Christmas/Holiday Season.
With that said my review will concentrate on the technical issues related to this release rather than the film itself so you can help decide if it is is worth your hard earned cash to upgrade from your current copy, be it VHS or DVD.
Miracle on 34th Street comes to you on a BD25 disc with DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 sound (the original Mono is an option for you purists out there) and a small but pleasing amount of extra features. Mine came in an eco case with no slipcover but has nice color printing on both the cover itself and the disc.
How does the picture quality on this Blu ray disc compare to the most recent DVD release? Simply put, it is a noticeable improvement but won't win any transfer of the year awards. There are NO 'issues' with the transfer other than it being from less than an ideal source. I can not bring myself to believe this was taken from a camera negative, but rather from a previous scan done at a less than ideal resolution. Don't get me wrong, it looks GREAT and at time shows much fine detail and even depth from time to time. It just isn't reaching the heights of 'Casablanca' or 'The Maltese Falcon' to name few older B&W Blu ray titles I own. I have learned over the last few years that the sharpness of the image has very little to do with the age of the film, but rather the condition of the source used for the scan and whether or not that source was the original negative or 2nd or 3rd generation COPY of that negative. I have films from the 30's that are razor sharp but they came from a full restored original negative and it shows.
The picture is clear and free of almost any print damage. A detected a small amount of telecine wobble but only a few short times and most people probably won't notice it. Both edge enhancement and perceptible DNR has been avoided. I actually achieved the best visual rendering with a VERY small amount of DNR applied from my Qdeo processor that is built into my Oppo BDP-93 Blu Ra player. Most HDTV's have "Digital Noise Reduction" available in their menus and I respectfully suggest a very small application of it will improve this particular rendering. I am of course splitting hairs here and being way too picky for my own good! Overall, the picture is quite good and a shock to anyone who has only seen this movie on SD TV channels or VHS over the years. It is still a marked improvement over the best DVD as well.
The uptick in sound quality is where this Blu Ray truly shines! There is a nice spacious atmospheric effect created by making use of all 5 channels in this very nice DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix. This is NOT an effects movie and as such you may not even notice how all 5 channels are used, but it does add a lovely open sound, crowds are all around you in Macy's and even the elevator sound is more realistic. People coming in and going out doorways now do so in beautiful stereo. When someone walks across screen their voices pan left or right nicely. Most dialogue is firmly seated in the center channel where it belongs but it is nice to have stereo sound effects, voices and at times music with the added ambiance and depth created by the usage of the rear channels. Not much low frequency info on this title so your sub won't be getting much use, although from time to time the lower notes in the score will be reproduced very nicely through it.
The Special features are short and sweet but varied and really compliment the movie. I watched all of them after the feature and never got bored or wanted to FF to the next feature. It is hard to imagine back in 1947 that this movie would have been described as "Groovy" but it WAS and in the films actual trailer too! (I didn't even know teenagers USED the word "Groovy" in the 40's but the proof is right there in the short promo film made by 20th Century Fox back then) You get two documentaries, a studio promo film , some snippets from the Oscars where Edmund Gwenn wins Best Supporting actor and more. It is a nicely rounded set of extras. You also get a VERY cool movie commentary from Maureen O' Hara , one of the films stars. As of this writing she is still alive at 91 and has been involved with promotional fan gatherings at Macy's over the years, most recently in the early 2000's.
All in all, this is a great Blu Ray presentation that won't disappoint and will continue to provide great entertainment value year after year! HIGHLY recommended!
on November 28, 2000
Delightful Christmas fantasy of a charming old man who believes he is Santa Claus, and the wonderful change he brings to the people around him. This perennial holiday classic is on many short-lists of the all time great Christmas movies. The film just oozes with warm-hearted humor. Very young Natalie Wood sparkles as Susan, who learns to stop being so grown up, and enjoy childhood, with all its wide-eyed wonder. Edmund Gwenn plays Kris Kringle, and lives the role. He totally connects with the kiddies who visit "Santa" at Macy's department store. The brief scene with the little Dutch refugee girl is a definite emotional high point in this movie. The combined reaction of relief and wonder in the child's face as she visits Santa and finds he speaks her language is memorable. Gene Lockhart as the harried judge, and William Frawley as his street-wise political advisor provide the needed comic relief to keep the court-room segments from becoming too overwhelmed by lawyers and their tactics. Even Jack Albertson shows up as an ingenious postal clerk who helps Kringle solve his legal problem. The on-location scenes filmed on the streets of New York assist the viewer in suspending disbelief. An enthusiastic cast, crisp direction by George Seaton, a sentimental holiday message, and great humor make this movie a solid holiday treat for the entire family. Multiple viewing only enriches the rewards. Beware remakes! ;-)
on September 16, 2006
The movie itself is one of the all time classic family Christmas movies and should not be missed.
I am, however, very disappointed that Amazon has not seen fit to tell the buyer whether or not this film is restored or remastered. They continue to list these movies with minimal information, even after repeated complaints to their "help" center. Come on Amazon....provide the proper information so we can decide if this really is a "new" version or simply one that has been "repackaged".........we DESERVE more info if you expect us to spend our money.....!!!
Since "Miracle on 34th Street" begins with the Macy's parade on Thanksgiving Day, it is the obvious movie to watch on Turkey Day to begin the Christmas season (when you watch "White Christmas," "A Christmas Carol," and "It's a Wonderful Life" is up to you). I know am not alone in my belief that Edmund Gwenn IS Kris Kringle, which means he IS Santa Claus. Of course they gave Gwenn the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in 1948, but the film also won Oscars for Best Writing, Original Story (Valentine Davies) and Best Writing, Screenplay (George Seaton). Maureen O'Hara plays Doris Walker, a single mom who insists on bringing her daughter Susan, played by adorable Natalie Wood in one of the great childhood performances of all time, in a no-nonsense manner, which means no fantasy, no fairy tales and certainly no Santa Claus. Boy, is she ever wrong.
This version of this classic holiday film offers up the long trailer in which the publicity department tries to figure out how to market the film to the masses. A nice added bonus. However, the point of owning "Miracle on 34th Street" is to be able to watch it when it fits our holiday schedule and cry over our favorites scenes. The best times to cry during this movie are as follows: (1) When Susan overhears Kris talking Dutch to the little refugee girl; (2) When Mr. Macy admits under oath on the witness stand that he believes Kris to be Santa Claus; (3) When Susan writes "I believe in you too" on Susan's letter to Kris; (4) When Susan yells, "Stop, Uncle Fred! Stop!" and (5) when Fred sees the cane in the corner. Please feel free to add others to this list as you see fit. Now, excuse me, as I have to go dry my eyes and remember that some films have become holiday classics for good reasons and that remaking something in color does not mean just because it is new it is improved. Happy Turkey Day, everyone!
on May 8, 2004
1947's "Miracle On 34th Street", starring the great Maureen O'Hara and Edmund Gwenn, is a motion picture that can be watched over and over again without losing one bit of its original flavor. And its flavor is quite tasty, in my opinion!
A very spunky 8-year-old Natalie Wood helps to make this movie an even bigger treat. Natalie shows an acting talent in this film that belies her tender age. She gives one of the best performances by a child actor in a film I've ever come across. "34th Street" was Natalie's 4th screen appearance, in a successful career that would eventually span 52 films before her sudden and tragic death at the age of only 43.
Miss Wood seems well-suited for her good-sized role as "Susan Walker" in this movie. She blends perfectly with the other actors, and her scenes with Gwenn (who, of course, plays the part of "Kris Kringle" to utter perfection) are highly memorable.
Could the studio have possibly found a better choice for the part of "Kris" (Santa) in this motion picture? Well, perhaps. But ONLY if the REAL Santa Claus were to have taken a break from his duties at the North Poll and played the part himself. Oh...wait...Gwenn turns out to BE the REAL Santa, doesn't he? LOL! :)
Yes, Edmund Gwenn actually DOES become "Santa Claus" for the 97-minute running time of this movie. He's *that* believable in the role. Gwenn was so good here that he won an Oscar for his memorable performance (Best Supporting Actor).
This is a perfect movie to show your children. It must be a lot of fun watching a child's reaction to seeing Mr. Gwenn's very realistic portrayal of the portly fur-clad Christmas-time gift-giver. To a child that still does believe that Mr. Claus visits his or her house every December 24, this movie must be quite an eye-opener.
This 20th-Century Fox DVD version of "Miracle On 34th Street" brings us the film in its intended (original) screen ratio of 1.33:1 (Full Frame); and the picture looks just dandy! The film, which was shot in "glorious black-and-white", exhibits outstanding clarity on this DVD. I can't spot a bit of grain or "noise". An absolutely beautiful digital transfer. Especially considering the age of this flick.
The audio comes via an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono soundtrack. The audio comes across nice and clean, with just a small amount of background "hiss" present. There's also a foreign-language track here, too (French). This French track (which is also 2.0 DD Mono) sounds a bit on the "muffled" side. Not nearly as clear-sounding as the English track. There are subtitles in English and Spanish.
There's not a whole lot to talk about in the way of "Special Features" for this DVD release. But there is the Original Theatrical Trailer and a short "TV Spot" advertising the movie (which is a bonus *not* shown on the DVD's packaging). Plus: there's also a small text-only area on the disc, featuring "Cast Credits".
I *must* say, however, even though we don't get many bonus extras with this title, I'm very pleased that the Trailer is included. This Theatrical Trailer is one of the very best, and most innovative, I think I've ever witnessed. It's a relatively-lengthy trailer, which features a studio executive bumping into multiple actors while on the FOX movie lot. He asks several of these actors what they thought of the just-released picture, "Miracle On 34th Street". And what he receives in return (naturally) are glowing reviews for the film.
It's a very well-done trailer, and doesn't seem overly "hokey" or staged. And it's very fun to see stars the likes of Rex Harrison and Anne Baxter pop up here, promoting "34th Street". Harrison even speaks briefly in this trailer of his then-current work on "The Ghost And Mrs. Muir", which, ironically, also featured young Miss Natalie Wood as one of Rex's co-stars. This trailer is a real treat. And it's in remarkably good shape too. Very good video quality. The audio for the trailer is in DD 2.0 Mono, and sounds just fine.
Menus .... I like a good (and simple) Menu design. And this disc has just that. The Main Menu is a "static" one, with separate links to other Sub-Menus (such as Language Selection, Chapter Listing, and Supplements). When you select any of these three items, you'll be treated to a very short (but fun and well-designed) animated transition, which then dissolves into the chosen sub-menu screen. These short "transitions" are all slightly different, with each one featuring a Christmas tune playing as "background" music as the screen fades from the Main Menu to your desired selection. This themed music seems as though it's being played over a Department Store's P.A. system (which is appropriate for this DVD, since we often hear the soft playing of Christmas tunes during the "Macy's" scenes in the film). One menu transition also features a "snowflakes falling" visual effect, along with the music. Very cleverly done, IMO.
Additional Disc Information for this title ..............................
>> Enclosures? .... Yes. There is one here. A one-page Chapter List insert is included (21 chapters), with an excellent promo picture of actors Maureen O'Hara, Natalie Wood, and John Payne on one side; and on the "Chapter" side, an image of "Kris" (Mr. Gwenn). I particularly like the fact that FOX Home Entertainment used a different picture for the insert than what we see on the front cover (normally on DVDs, the two pictures are identical). I might also add, in case one or two picky people might be interested in such trivial matters, that this insert is made out of better-quality (thicker) paper than what we usually see for such paper enclosures.
>> Region? .... This is a "Region 1" (NTSC) disc. Single-sided.
"Miracle On 34th Street" is one of those films that deserves to be seen more than once, and not only in the month of December either (IMO). It holds up very well even in the summer months. And this clear-as-a-bell DVD from FOX Home Entertainment makes viewing this 1947 classic an even more enjoyable experience -- no matter if it's in December, March, or August.
When Maureen O'Hara, the top-billed star of 1947's "Miracle on 34th Street", proudly proclaims all three 'remakes' of the story were flops, it may sound a bit conceited...but she is absolutely right, the original IS the best...and THIS is the edition that is a MUST for your collection!
Based on a story by Valentine Davies (who wondered how the real Santa Claus would react to the commercialization of Christmas), with an Oscar-winning screenplay by director George Seaton, the film is a triumph of perfect casting, perfect timing, and a sentimentality and humor that post-War America desperately needed. Contrary to general opinion, 20th Century Fox did not treat it as a 'minor' film (studio head Darryl F. Zanuck loved the story), but location shooting (at the first Macy's parade since the war began, as well as inside the store, during the Christmas 'rush') would push the budget to the limit.
O'Hara (unhappily yanked from a long-awaited return to her Ireland home), and popular Fox leading man John Payne were cast in the leads, but the real 'stars' of the film are Oscar-winning 71-year-old Edmund Gwenn (who is absolutely perfect as 'Kris Kringle', and convinced everyone on the project that he really WAS Santa Claus), and 8-year-old Natalie Wood (the most gifted of the post-War child stars), who brings young Susan brilliantly to life. Their scenes together are so sweet and irresistable that the film positively glows!
While elements of the story are 'dated' (the competition between Macy's and Gimbel's, the Postal information, etc.), it simply gives the 1947 version a 'timeless' quality that the 1994 version lacked...and in not attempting to incorporate 'magic' into the story (as the Attenborough production uncomfortably does), it actually seems MORE magical!
Several supporting players should be singled out; Thelma Ritter (in her screen debut), is wonderful as a frazzled mom; Gene Lockhart (the judge) and William ("I Love Lucy") Frawley (as the judge's campaign manager) are hilarious together; and Porter Hall, as the hiss able 'psychologist', Sawyer, is a perfect foil for Gwenn. The entire cast is superb!
This edition offers both a B&W AND 'colorized' version of the film, each featuring a warm commentary by O'Hara (taped at the 86-year-old actress' home, in Ireland), two documentaries (including scenes from the Thomas Mitchell, Sebastian Cabot, and Richard Attenborough versions), the bizarre trailer for the film, the complete 1955 TV production starring Mitchell, and a sentimental history of the parade.
While the film was, indeed, originally released in the summer of 1947 (to maximize profits), it is a bona fide Christmas 'Classic', and should be an essential part of your holiday collection!
on November 6, 2001
This Original 1947 "Miracle on 34th Street" is the one Holiday Tradition starting with the "MACY's THANKSGIVING PARADE" to Christmas Day.
Natalie Wood (is unforgetable & adorable) plays, Susie Walker an 8 year old grown-up who questions everything which is not factual or real. Her holiday skeptic single mother (Maureen O'Hara - is fantastic!) Doris, is a MACY's Junior Executive and Parade Coordinator. Prior to the Parades start Santa is fired for being drunk at the last minute. Miraculously a mysterious white bearded volunteer (Edmund Gwenn - delightful (won an Oscar))appears and saves Doris and the Parade. Hired on the spot this volunteer becomes / is Santa. Is he really Santa? Some believe he is not so he is put on trial to determine his true identity and the greatest tale since "Yes Alice there is a Santa Claus" begins.
Summary: Santa wants to prove he is real and uses Susie & Doris as his challenge to bring the holiday spirit back. If they are converted he has succeeded in bringing back the Christmas Spirit.
The actors are the best and the story is a timeless classic. A true HOLIDAY TRADITON to watch every year (or when you want to be inspired).
The "Miracle" is, the entire family can enjoy the spirit of Christmas together!!
This Black & White digitally restored FULLSCREEN DVD (before Widescreen) is beautifully reproduced.
on December 17, 1999
For anyone who ever experienced the joys of Christmas anywhere, specifically in the wonderment and magic of Santa Claus, and all that he represents, this movie delivers the goods in a major way. I love the way this movie has aged -- its black and white New York, with a Macy's that you can practically smell, paint a quaint, innocent time, and populate that time with characters that still have a contemporary freshness to them -- Maureen O'Hara, who is deliciously self-aware, tells her little girl there are no such things as fairy tales -- having a bitter heart from a man who has obviously abandoned her. It is her heart, and little Natalie Wood's (who is amazingly precocious and adorable) that Edmund Gwynn must melt by the time Christmas Eve rolls around. The simplest of plots, with a lovely cornball quality, tumbles forth with warmth and amusement. And it is again the things we do not see but imagine -- as when Kris tells Maureen outside of Macy's, the 34th Street sign hovering above them -- that he must be on his way; it is Christmas Eve after all -- that give it a special layer of Christmas fantasy. I dearly love this movie, and virtually every remake pales in comparison. Gwynn will make you believe -- he justifiably won the Oscar playing Kris Kringle.
on December 12, 2000
After It's A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street is probably the most popular of all the films shown around the Christmas season, and for good reason. The story begins with the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. An exasperated Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara) is the young Macy's executive in charge of the details of organizing the parade. When the man hired to play Santa Claus on one of the parade floats turns up stone drunk, a kindly bearded gentleman (Edmund Gwenn) fills in as Santa, saving the day. Gwenn's performance in the parade is so authentic, that Macy's offers him a job as their department store Santa, to the delight of both children and adults. There's only one problem, Gwenn thinks he really is Kris Kringle, i.e., Santa Claus! This "dilemma" presents serious problems for Mrs. Walker and her associate, Mr. Shellhammer (Philip Tonge), who realize what an asset and public relations ambassador Kris is for Macy's, but fear he may act out his "latent maniacal tendencies" as predicted by quack store psychologist Mr. Sawyer (Porter Hall). The plot thickens when apartment neighbor Fred Gailey (John Payne) takes notice of Mrs. Walker and her young daughter Susan (Natalie Wood). A promising young attorney, Payne tries to win over first daughter Wood, before charming his way into O'Hara's life. Due to a seemingly bitter divorce when Wood was a baby, O'Hara has shut down emotionally. She refuses to let her daughter believe in any fantasies of any kind, including the childhood belief in Santa Claus. It is her belief that parents must always be truthful with their children so they won't grow up to believe in fairy tale happy endings only to be disappointed by reality, which is revealed to be her own life experience. Payne on the other hand thinks that it's a good thing for children to fantasize while they are young and to believe in fairy tales and the like...even to believe in Santa Claus. This major difference of opinion when it comes to raising children becomes a real conflict for the two. One thing leads to another and before you know it, Kris Kringle is on trial for lunacy with Payne defending him as the one and only Santa Claus. Even though this film was released in 1947, its theme of believing in something larger than ourselves still holds true. O'Hara's role as a working single mom is even more in tune with today's reality than in 1947. She comes off as a competent, intelligent woman who is doing the best she can to raise her young daughter. A wonderfully enchanting movie with great performances from all the players, but the real star is Edmund Gwenn in his Academy Award winning role as Kris Kringle. His kind and gentle performance could convince anyone that he really is Santa Claus. A young Natalie Wood also shines as O'Hara's daughter and her scenes with Gwenn are natural and real. Filled with many memorable scenes (including the first glimpse of the great character actress Thelma Ritter) including my favorite: Kris speaking Dutch to a young war orphan who doesn't speak English while her adoptive mother looks on in amazement. In addition to the Oscar won by Gwenn, Miracle won two additional statues for Best Original Story (Valentine Davies) and Best Screenplay (George Seaton). Miracle on 34th Street deserves its well-earned reputation as a Christmas classic.