Christmas time also means sentimental movie watching time, and even if there are lots of forgettable examples of comedy, family or drama flicks, some are still worth revisiting, as these two classics show.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
(USA 1947, director: George Seaton)
The new Santa of Macy’s Department Store’s Thanksgiving Day Parade seems to be the real deal, although he still has to convince a little girl who doesn’t believe in the bearded man, and the court when he’s put on trial.
The problem with black and white so-called classics is that they’re usually slow-paced and don’t age very well with fantasy elements. Fortunately, this one is a pleasant surprise, especially if one expects a very sentimental kitsch flick. Sure, the whole idea is to again make people believe in Santa Claus, and therefore the whole spirit of Christmas is put forward. But what the movie succeeds in is to show a Santa Claus who is believable. It’s also refreshing to see that the little-girl-doesn’t-believe plot is handled with care and doesn’t carry the whole movie.
In addition to some funny dialogues and a lack of overacting (which is seldom for these old movies), the court scene is also interesting to watch. To be honest, the idea of having Santa treated as a lunatic is a brave direction for a Christmas movie to take. It’s a perfect example of how these sorts of seasonal movies can both entertain and move, something German filmmaking can only dream of. The original also shows that witty dialogue and innovative ideas convey the spirit of Christmas better than slapstick or special effects.
Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
(USA 1994, director: Les Mayfield)
Remakes have a hard life in the eyes of critics and lovers of the original, as they often deviate too much or are so similar that they’re pretty pointless. I’m not as biased and condemn every remake, as some are often more enjoyable than the outdated original. But in this case, the new Santa doesn’t quite hit the high marks.
This is not really the fault of Richard Attenborough playing the old man who is actually quite believable, but has more to do with the chemistry between characters and some additional plot elements which don’t really work that well. The relationship between the mother of the daughter who doesn’t believe in Santa and the lawyer who stands up for the old man certainly belongs to the overall feeling of Christmas connectivity but is drawn out in scenes which are simply too boring. There is also an emphasis on some rather forced sentimental scenes, and dialogues don’t gel as well as the original. The court scene offers some surprises and is actually more interesting and suspenseful to follow due some more creative ideas to turn the tide of things, but it still doesn’t help the movie to feel a bit soulless.
It’s certainly not the worst remake some lists and people make it out to be, and it can be revisited once a year, but there are definitely better Christmas movies with more feeling and a shorter runtime.
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