Earnest but hardly spirited TV update of the 1947 classic with Jane Alexander, David Hartman and Sebastian Cabot reprising the Maureen O'Hara, John Payne and Edmund Gwenn (Oscar winner) roles, and failing to warm the cockles of our old-fashioned hearts the way the original did. The '47 version had real bite amidst the holiday hokum; this one plays it safe and only nips. I say, you better have big, big ideas if you're gonna challenge a classic. Holiday sentimentalism ain't the kind of drawing power it used to be.
For starters, this 1974 effort makes a fatal mistake in trying to recapture the whimsy of its predecessor, which was a product of its times. Admirable maybe, but now it comes off stilted and dated. And then there are the performances...
Alexander and Hartman fail to register the same kind of romantic chemistry as O'Hara and Payne, the delightfully subtle games played by our original pair are just too pat here. The characters have less friction and are softer around the edges, making them more obvious and less interesting.
Hefty Sebastian Cabot has all the makings of a great Santa Claus, but compared with the twinkle-eyed magic of Edmund Gwenn, well, you find yourself having those nagging doubts all over again. I mean, Gwenn really WAS Kris Kringle; Cabot comes off like a Gimbel's store-front imitation.
Lastly, Suzanne Davidson doesn't hold a candle to darling Natalie Wood. The feisty Wood showed a hard-edged maturity and intelligence far beyond her age. Davidson captures none of the precocious cynicism necessary to pull of this difficult role.
In all, a game try, but still a lump of coal...with the 1994 remake hardly an improvement. If these two versions are all that's offered come Christmas time, may I suggest adding a little extra "nog" to your egg nog before settling in?
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