November 22, 2017

Miracle on 34th Street

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Happy Thanksgiving!

As the cold wind blows, and there days get shorter, we find ourselves moving inexorably toward that most important port of the year, the annual Here Be Spoilers #HolidayMoviepalooza event! And guess what, lucky reader; that time is now!

Yes, Derek and Larry sat down this week to record a commentary to the 1947 classic, Miracle on 34th Street, Starring Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood, about a hundred well-known character actors, and the entire city of New York (1947 Edition)!

Including this overflowing fountain of raw sexuality right here!
An elderly man (Gwenn) wandering the streets of New York City on Thanksgiving happens across some sort of parade or something (we've never heard of something like that), thrown by Macy's, one of the mom-and-pop department stores that inhabit that small, bustling burg. (We know literally nothing about New York, except that David Letterman haunts part of it.) The first thing he discovers, however, is that the parade's Santa Claus (Percy Helton) is completely hammered! So the mysterious old fellow goes looking for someone to lecture about it, as old people are wont to do.

He finds Doris Walker (O'Hara), the parade's coordinator and immediately lays the blame at her feet, and she reacts to his blind verbal assault in the only reasonable way possible: she hires him on the spot to be the new Santa, because his unquenchable rage makes it clear he would be delightful with children.

He answered with a string of profanities that made her burst into flames.
Having handled one potentially career-destroying incident, Doris heads home to see her daughter, Susan (Wood), who is watching the parade with their neighbor, Fred Gailey (Payne). For his part, Fred tries to inject some fantasy and fun into the parade for little nine-year-old Susan, but she is having no part of it, having been told the dark, soul-crushing truths of adulthood way too early in her life by her mother.

Susan is not so jaded, however, to keep from letting Fred bribe her to convince her mother that she should invite Fred to Thanksgiving dinner.

The next day (possibly--the timeline is kind of sloppy), Fred brings Susan to the store so she can see Santa Claus. She, being the nihilist that she is, goes along to humor him, but she makes it clear that she thinks the whole premise is ridiculous. When she finally meets him, she tries to rip off his beard and, when it doesn't come off in her hand, she immediately switches sides. Doris spots this and lectures Fred about confusing poor, stupid Susan. (She doesn't actually call Susan stupid, but the way she talks about her implies that she considers her daughter to be a window licker.)

Why, you rotten little monster!
The new Santa appears to be working swimmingly, and Susan's boss, Mr. Shellhammer (Philip Tonge), and his boss, Mr. Macy (Harry Antrim), are super-thrilled. Everything is just dandy, until Shellhammer overhears Santa suggesting to a child's mother that the toy the kid wants is available at another store. He goes to Susan and tells her that this Santa has to go, so she fires him.

Later that day(?), during a meeting, Mr. Macy is thrilled that Santa is offering people alternatives when they cannot find what they want at his store. He even gives them a bonus and suggest giving one to Santa, as well. (Sad trombone sound as Doris and Shellhammer realize that their money just walked out the door.)

Santa, meanwhile, has assembled an army to invade Macy's!
They find him and give him a bunch of money, and then ask him to have a psychological evaluation from the in-house therapist, the extremely twitchy Dr. Sawyer (Porter Hall), after he reveals that he believes he is actually the Santa Claus, or Kris Kringle, as he prefers.

Dr. Sawyer is a chinless bully who clearly despises Kris and does not believe he is the least bit sane, and he shares this opinion with anyone who will listen. It falls on mostly deaf ears, although Shellhammer is on the fence.

In the meantime, Kris has befriended not only Doris and Susan, but also Fred, who offers him a place to stay while he's working at the store. Kris also tries to teach Susan how to use her imagination, undoing the years of mental torture her own mother has subjected the poor child to, and probably saving her a fortune on decades of therapy later in life. It starts out slow because Susan is not too keen on pretending to be something she is not.

Young Susan, the John Merrick of holiday movies.
After a bit of work, the two of them bond over bubblegum and pretending to be monkeys.

Later, while speaking to a young man named Alfred (Alvin Greenman), Kris discovers that Dr. Sawyer has told the kid to stop playing Santa at the local YMCA, because he feels that Alfred will develop the same delusions that he believes Kris suffers from.

Duly enraged again, Kris goes to Dr. Sawyer and assaults him, hitting him over the head with an umbrella. Sawyer plays it to the hilt, using the opportunity to convince Shellhammer that Kris is an unstable loony that could go off at any moment, and they decide to have him committed.

An overly complicated plot is enacted, and they get Kris into a car and headed to Bellevue. It isn't until later that evening, when Fred is about to go to bed, that anyone realizes that Kris is missing. He speaks to Susan, who finds out what happened. When she tells Fred, he goes to visit Kris, who intentionally failed the psychological examination because he felt that the people he had trusted and believed were his friends had betrayed him.

Fred convinces Kris that they can fight the commitment in court, and even offers to represent him. All they have to do is prove that Santa exists, and that this elderly man who came out of nowhere is that very person. No problem, right?

But will Kris be able to prove that he is both sane and Santa? Will Sawyer still have eyebrows by the end of the hearing? Will the bitter and unbelieving Susan change her mind yet again when Kris gives her the ridiculously extravagant gift that she demands as proof that he is who he says he is? You'll have to tune in to find out!

Derek loves this film, going back to when his mother used to make him watch it every year. (It was her favorite, too.) He does feel that Susan is way too cynical for her age, which brings up all kinds of questions about Doris' parenting skills. He also wonders what happened between Fred and Doris, because there isn't a lot of detail.

Larry, having never seen this film, was pleasantly surprised. He also worries about Susan's mental health later in life, but assumes all is well by the end of the film. His only real concern is for Shellhammer, Sawyer, and the others at the store who play the parts way over the top. There is also a disturbing question about the chins (or lack thereof) these men possess.

So fire up your Miracle on 34th Street DVD, load up on turkey, and check out this week's episode!