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Christmas Movie Review - A Miracle on 34th Street

Updated on December 16, 2016

The synopsis gives a brief but accurate statement explaining the plot; department store Santa goes on trial to prove he's the real deal. But there's so much more to this movie! It has nostalgic moments that hearken back to our own childhood memories of Christmas. It has romance! it has climatic legal scenes. But most of all, it has a ton of clues that to the characters in this movie, Kris Kringle is more than just an employee at Macy's!

In the opening scene, Kris Kringle tells the man in the department store that he's making a mistake with the reindeer and explains that Dasher should be on his right, and Donner's antler's have four points instead of three.

Kris ventures on towards the display floats, where people are preparing for the infamous Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. While demonstrating the proper way to crack a whip to the current Santa, he realizes the man is drunk and storms off to find who is in charge -- a Macy's employee named Doris Walker. After she mistakes him for the department store Santa, Kris drags her back to prove his point. She is dismayed and asks him to be Santa for the parade. He starts to refuse, but then agrees so the children won't be disappointed.

Doris heads home to find that her daughter Susan is watching the parade with Mr. Gailey, their neighbor. The scene cuts to the two of them talking about the inflatables. When Mr. Gailey compares them to giants, Susan explains that giants are only in fairy tales and dismisses him. Doris arrives just before Santa's big scene, and Susan remarks that the parade is better than the previous year's, including the Santa. When Mr. Gailey remarks that Susan must not believe in Santa, either, Doris explains that she believes in being honest and truthful with her daughter. Susan then invites Mr. Gailey to Thanksgiving dinner.

During the next scene Kris is finishing up after the parade and meets Alfred, the janitor. Then we see him seated at Macy's, with a child on his lap. When the child asks for a specific fire truck, Kris tells him he can have one -- much to the chagrin of the child's mother, who says Macy's is out of stock. She is very surprised when Kris tells her that she can find them at another store. When she questions why Macy's would send people to other stores, he said the important thing is that the children are happy.

Next, Mr. Shellhammer, another Macy's employee, overhears Kris sending a woman to Gimble's -- the main competition! On the way to his office, he runs into the woman who talked to Kris earlier. She tells him that because Macy's is putting the spirit of Christmas before the commercialism, she is going to do a lot more shopping at Macy's. In his office, women are lined up to thank him. Elsewhere in the store, Mr. Gailey and Susan wait in line to see Santa. Afterwards Doris confronts him about children who grow up depending on fairy tales instead of reality. As they're talking, Susan sneaks back to watch Kris interact with the other children. One of the little girls is Dutch and speaks no English. As the girl's mother is explaining to Kris that she told the girl Santa wouldn't be able to speak to her, to everyone's surprise Kris begins speaking Dutch to the little girl! They even sing a song together. Susan is enthralled.

Later Susan and Doris are in her office, and Doris is unsuccessfully trying to explain that Santa is not real. Kris comes in, having been invited by Doris, and she asks him to explain to Susan that Santa is not real. When asked his name, he answers Kris Kringle. As Kris and Susan carry on a conversation, Doris asks her secretary for his employment card. She sees that his name is Kris Kringle, but his address is a retirement home. She sends Susan out and attempts to fire Kris. Before she can finish, her secretary buzzes in and says that Mr. Macy would like to see her immediately.

In Mr. Macy's office, he is thrilled with the idea of his store sending parents to other stores for toys Macy's doesn't have in stock. He shows them a pile of telegrams and letters of thanks from parents, and says they should not pressure any customers to settle for another item or buy anything they don't really want. As the employees file out of the office, Mr. Macy stops Doris and Mr. Shellhammer and tells them there will be a bonus in both of their paychecks -- and for the Santa as well. Doris explains to Mr. Shellhammer that Kris is crazy and she fired him! Mr. Shellhammer suggest they have Kris examined, and if the store psychologist says Kris is okay, then he should stay on as an employee. Doris agrees and goes to find Kris. In her office, she explains to Kris that his job is safe, but that Mr. Sawyer will need to examine him. He said he can pass a mental examination -- and then to prove it, proceeds to give himself one. Doris looks crestfallen and calls the home where Kris lives, and asks to speak with the doctor in charge.

The next day, Kris passes Mr. Sawyer's test with flying colors -- despite annoying him by noticing things like he seems nervous and bites his fingernails. Finally Mr. Sawyer tells Kris he can leave and calls Doris. She informs him that Dr. Pierce from the home is there, and Mr. Sawyer goes to speak with them in person at once. Despite his complaints about the way Kris behaved during the exam (while answering all the questions correctly) Dr. Pierce reassures him that Kris is completely safe. Mr. Sawyer leaves in a huff, but Mr. Shellhammer casts his vote for Kris. Dr. Pierce makes a few last arguments and asks to see Kris before he leaves. On their way to the elevator, Dr. Pierce suggests Kris stay with one of the employees to avoid the long train commute. Mr. Shellhammer agrees to ask his wife -- after he fixes her a few stiff drinks first.

Doris invites Kris home for dinner while waiting to hear from Mr. Shellhammer. In talking with Susan, Kris learns that she doesn't believe in anything make believe, or in using her imagination. He encourages her to pretend to be a monkey, much to Mr. Gailey's delight. Mr. Shellhammer calls just after dinner with the information that his wife is all for Santa staying with them -- except Kris already has plans to stay with Mr. Gailey. That night at bedtime, Kris asks Susan what she wants for Christmas. She pulls out a picture of a house. She tells him if he's the real Santa, he will get her that real house -- with a back yard and a swing, and if not then he's just a nice old man with white whiskers like her mother says. He asks to keep the picture and bids her goodnight. Back in Mr. Gailey's apartment, Kris encourages him to date Doris, and says he'll take care of Susan, if Mr. Gailey will take care of her mother.

Macy's puts out a book of department store ads from all their competition, and displays copies through the store. It's a rousing success! We then see Mr. Gimble complaining that compared to Macy, he looks like a profiteering money-grubber. He tells his salesmen that if they don't have an item, send the customer back to Macy's -- and do the same in their other stores, not just in New York. Then we see Macy telling his salesmen to do the same in all their other stores! The competition has gone from being the most successful -- to the most helpful. The scene cuts to a photo opportunity with Kris, Macy, and Gimble, who give each other a bit of friendly ribbing between photos. That night, Kris introduces Susan to a bedtime song and she introduces him to the art of blowing bubbles -- except it gets caught in his beard!

Next we see Kris and Alfred having lunch. Alfred is explaining that he sees Mr. Sawyer every day, and that through this free therapy he's found out that he hates his father, among other things. Kris bursts into Mr. Sawyer's office and accuses him of meddling. They have a heated discussion, and Kris knocks Mr. Sawyer on the head. Mr. Sawyer pretends the injury is worse than what it is, and lies to Doris and Mr. Shellhammer, telling them that Kris hit him the moment he mentioned Santa Claus. Mr. Shellhammer goes to Kris and lies, saying he's needed for an interview with the mayor, but when Kris gets into the car he realizes they're taking him to a local asylum. Mr. Sawyer tells him that Doris not only knows, but that she was in on the discussion. In Mr. Gailey's office, we see him on the phone with Dr. Pierce, who asks if Mr. Gailey can bring over anything personal Kris left at his apartment.

The next scene shows a sullen Kris sitting in the hospital talking to Mr. Gailey, who reassures him that Doris didn't know about the treachery Mr. Sawyer carried out, and the only reason she didn't come tell him herself was because she didn't want to hurt him. They go on talking and Mr. Gailey convinces Kris to get out of the hospital and not give up, because of people like him who believe in him, and like Susan, who was just starting to believe. The scene cuts to Mr. Macy who tells Mr. Sawyer that Kris was no danger, then cuts to the judge's chambers where Mr. Gailey requested a hearing to prove Kris is just who he says he is -- Santa Claus.

On his way out of the courthouse, Mr. Gailey is cornered by Mr. Sawyer who assures him that Macy's wants to avoid publicity. Mr. Gailey thanks him for the idea of using publicity. Then we see several newspaper headlines. Back in the judge's house, a fellow politician explains to the judge that he needs to find someone else to judge the trial since he is in an election year. The judge's grandkids run in and hug their grandmother goodnight, but shun their grandfather. When he remarks about it, his wife says she wouldn't blame them since he put Santa on trial for lunacy. His friend said that just proved his point.

On the first day of trial, Macy's lawyer tells Dr. Sawyer that the trial will probably be over in a week. The judge comes in and the bailiff calls everyone to order. Kris takes the stand first and is sworn in. The judge reminds Kris that he can refuse, but Mr. Gailey says it won't be a problem and Kris helpfully agrees. When asked where he lives, Kris answers, "That's what this hearing will decide." He then goes on to say he believes he is Santa, and Kris is allowed to step down. Mr. Gailey informs the court that he will go forward with his petition that Kris is not only sane, but is also the one real Santa Claus. Reporters go crazy taking pictures and jotting notes.

Mr. Gailey arrives at Doris' apartment where she hands him a newspaper that features him on the front page. When she asks what his law firm thinks about this, he says he quit his job so he can defend Kris. Doris tries to talk him out of it, which leads to a question of faith. Mr. Gailey tells her Kris stands for more than just Santa and Doris hits him with a dose of her realistic view of the world. Mr. Gailey leaves, but first reminds her that sometimes, lovely intangibles are the only things that are worthwhile. The next scene shows the prosecutor at home. He begins talking about the case and his wife sends their son out of the room, then asks him not to discuss the case in front of the boy. He claims he's only doing his job, and he has no personal grudge against Santa.

Back at the courtroom, Mr. Macy is on the witness stand. Mr. Gailey points to Kris and asks who that man is, to which Mr. Macy answers: Kris Kringle, an employee for Macy's. When asked if he believes Kris is Santa Claus, he says yes. On his way out, he insults Mr. Sawyer's education and fires him. The prosecution objects, saying the material is irrelevant and that Mr. Gailey is making a circus of the courtroom. The prosecution requests an immediate ruling, and the judge calls a short recess. In his chambers, the judge's politician friend warns him against saying there is no Santa Claus, stating that all the people it affects -- everyone from toy companies to the Salvation Army -- won't vote him back into office the next term. The judge goes back into the courtroom and says it is largely a matter of opinion and the court will keep an open mind, hearing evidence on either side. When the prosecution asks for proof, Mr. Gailey calls the prosecutor's son to the stand. He asks the boy if he believes in Santa, he replies yes and points to Kris. When asked why he's so sure there is a Santa, the boy says his daddy told him there is a Santa and assures everyone that his daddy would never lie. On the way out he says goodbye to his father but also reminds Kris that he'd like a real, official football helmet. The prosecutor, unwilling to state there is no Santa in front of his family, says the state concedes the existence of Santa. In so doing, he asks that Mr. Gailey provide authoritative proof that there is a Santa. Then, the court takes a recess until the next day.

That night, Doris explains the trial to Susan, who says she believes Kris is the real Santa. Doris reluctantly agrees and says Kris must miss her. Susan writes Kris a letter, and Doris adds a postscript saying that she believes, too. They address the letter to the New York County Courthouse. At the post office, the employee who finds the letter has the idea to deliver every last letter addressed to Santa to the courthouse as a way to get rid of the letters.

The courtroom is bustling with activity. Kris reads Doris and Susan's letter and says it means more to him than anything. As the prosecutor is stating before the court that there is no proof that Kris is Santa, the judge asks if Mr. Gailey has any proof. Mr. Gailey replies with a bit of history about the United States Post Office, then submits a scant amount of letters addressed to Santa that the post office delivered to Kris at the courthouse. The prosecutor says three letters is not enough, and when Mr. Gailey says he has more the judge is adamant to put the letters on his desk. Court officials carry in a couple of dozen bags of mail and put it all on the judge's desk. Mr. Gailey says the post office, a branch of the federal government, recognizes Kris to be the one and only Santa Claus. The judge says the court will not dispute the United States government and dismisses the case. Kris wishes the judge a very Merry Christmas, and heads out.

The scene cuts to the retirement home where a party is in full swing. Alfred is dressed as Santa and is playing the part of assistant to Kris. Dr. Pierce tells Kris that he agrees with the court. Susan is upset that the present she really wanted isn't under the tree. Kris explains that he tried his best, and Susan interrupts to say her mother was right, that he isn't the real Santa. Doris tells Susan she was wrong, and quotes something Mr. Gailey said towards the beginning of the film, "Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to."

Later, Mr. Gailey offers to drive them home. Susan is still pouting, and Kris gives them alternate directions home. Susan is looking out the window and screams for Mr. Gailey to stop the car. She runs up the sidewalk and into a house that looks just like the one on the picture. She explains to Doris that it's her house, the one she asked Kris to get her for Christmas. She tells Mr. Gailey that her mother told her she had to believe, and she did, and her wish came true. Mr. Gailey kisses Doris and reminds her about the for sale sign in front of the house. As they're talking, they notice a cane just like the one Kris carried is leaning against the wall. They stare in bewilderment as THE END fades onto the screen.

This is one of my favorite Christmas movies. My boys watched it for the first time this year and were pleasantly surprised. They especially liked when the postal employees dumped the mail onto the judge. I personally like the part where Kris begins talking Dutch to the little girl towards the beginning of the movie. And I'm a real sucker for a story with a happy ending.

I hope you enjoyed this recap of one of my favorite movies, and if you've seen it before then what is your favorite part? Merry Christmas!

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