At the Macy's Department Store Thanksgiving Day parade, the actor playing Santa is discovered to be drunk by a whiskered old man. Doris Walker, the no nonsense special events director, persuades the old man to take his place. The old man proves to be a sensation and is quickly recruited to be the store Santa at the main Macy's outlet. While he is successful, Ms. Walker learns that he calls himself Kris Kringle and he claims to be the actual Santa Claus. Despite reassurances by Kringle's doctor that he is harmless, Doris still has misgivings, especially when she has cynically trained herself, and especially her daughter, Susan, to reject all notions of belief and fantasy. And yet, people, especially Susan, begin to notice there is something special about Kris and his determination to advance the true spirit of Christmas amidst the rampant commercialism around him and succeeding in improbable ways. When a raucous conflict with the store's cruelly incompetent psychologist erupts, Kris ...Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This is certainly a lovely warmhearted movie, but since other reviewers have described the plot in detail, I'll move on to other topics.
I love movies like this for the insight they provide into the customs of a lost era. Watch the clothing - everybody is so dressed up! - women in dresses, gloves, and hats, men in hats and suits. Notice that when O'Hara enters a room filled with Macy's executives, even though they are the bosses and she is lower management, they all stand up instantly.
The social satire, most on display in the courtroom scenes, also is very 1940s. Apparently audiences of that era took a kind of genial corruption in the judicial system in stride. Business leaders, like "Mr. Macy" were expected to be sharp and profit-oriented, but also decent people like the rest of us. It's a much more nuanced view than the "businessman as criminal villain" so common in today's movies.
The character played by Maureen O'Hara probably needs explanation for modern viewers. Late 1940s audiences knew that the social and economic situation of a divorced working woman with a child was much more precarious than it is now. Divorce was still somewhat shocking - this is brought out neatly in the movie when her would-be lover does a double take when he learns from her daughter about the divorce - he probably had assumed she was a war widow. Divorced moms were still rare in the middle classes. Society universally agreed that women should stay home to raise their children. Economically, women in management positions were still very rare, couldn't expect promotion, and were last hired, first fired. I think O'Hara's performance brings out these qualities in a way that the audience of the 1940s would have understood easily. The character's stiffness, fear of losing control, and anxiety about her job make a great deal of sense. It would have been nice to see a few scenes showing her loosening up, perhaps at dinner with her boyfriend; no doubt those got left on the cutting room floor.
I really like the scene where Santa talks to the little Dutch orphan. First, this scene also must have resonated with the audience; in 1947 the western European countries had only started to recover from World War II, and probably many Americans were familiar with the idea of adopting a war orphan, just as many sent CARE packages. Second, by making Santa fluent in Dutch, the writer cleverly left the viewer thinking that hey, he might really be Santa Claus (isn't Santa Claus fluent in all languages)?
Some reviewers don't like the acting and think that modern actors are "better". I think the older actors aren't better or worse, just different. The audiences of the 1940s expected a certain style of acting, and the directors and actors gave that to them. Then as now, Hollywood paid top dollar and got very talented people, but like all of us they were shaped by their own time and place, more particularly the requirement to make movies that audiences would like. Move Maureen O'Hara to 2004, or Tom Cruise to 1947, and you'd see them acting in the style of that decade.
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