Cold Fury

Harshing your mellow since 9/01

Miracle On 34th Street

So I had intended to do my next Christmas-themed post on another wonderful old classic movie, but damned if Eskiman didn’t beat me to it in the comments to the Wonderful Life post. Did a very good job of it too, thereby saving me a lot of labor, so I’m just gonna swipe it and bring it right on out here.

Another wonderful film from that era (1947) I just re-watched last night: Miracle on 34th Street with Maureen O’Hara and John Payne, Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle and a very young Natalie Wood as Susan. Do please watch it, but –SPOILERS– do follow!

It was delightful, and better by far than the much more modern version produced in 1994, though the newer one’s Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle was excellent; in fact he was so good that the other actors’ performances appeared mediocre, which is as much as could be said. I saw this version the night before last, which is why I had to find the original; this new one left a bad taste in my mouth, which was dispelled by the beautiful Maureen O’Hara.

The original film, made in 1947, is in black & white, and reflected values of that time. Unlike It’s a Wonderful Life, it was actually bitterly cold when it was filmed; I understand that some of the cameras froze during the shoot! But the real reason it was remade wasn’t just because someone wanted to make the film in color- it was to “sanitize” it. The later version is much more PC: it has no black housekeepers and women are more than equal. For some reason I don’t know, even the department stores’ names had to be changed: the old version had Macy’s versus Gimble’s, but the new one had Coles versus Holiday Express (is there actually such a store?) The 1994 version toward the end has Fred and Doris getting married late at night in an empty church, for no particular reason. I was not impressed; the entire ending sucked in this version.

The original script was re-written, but not improved. Many changes seemed to be made just to make it different, but the changes didn’t make it better, and most made the newer film much worse. In the original, Kris Kringle’s cane was a simple wooden cane, not very heavy. Its replacement was a fancy silver-headed cane that looked like a club; someone could easily be killed with such a cane. This didn’t improve the plot, nor did other changes which made the original drunken Santa into a real bad guy and Holiday Express a viper’s den instead of honest competitors.

The original was much more light-hearted, made more sense, and the ending was much, much better: the unmarried (but very sweet on each other) couple were sent on a “short-cut” and Susan saw the house of her dreams when they arrived at a cul-de-sac; she was thrilled, and ran into the house, with Doris and Fred in hot pursuit; inside, it was just an empty house which was for sale- with a swing in the back yard! Susan knew who had arranged it all!

And Kris Kringle’s cane was propped against the fireplace.

I highly recommend the 1947 version of Miracle on 34th Street; accept no substitutes (because there really isn’t one.)

I couldn’t agree more; the original is another great movie of the Wonderful Life stripe, made to a standard that present-day Hollywood can’t even approach anymore and seems indifferent to at best anyway. More light-hearted than Wonderful Life (which is not necessarily to say frivolous), certainly; you won’t find much examination of weighty existential issues here, which is just fine, and shouldn’t really be scored against it.

One caveat, though: it aired on the teewee earlier today, and to my horror and disgust, it was *ULP* the colorized version. Gag me with a maggot. What a revoltin’ development.

Leaving his commie predilections and Jane Fonda out of our consideration, Ted Turner should have had his skinny ass kicked up between his shoulder blades twice daily in perpetuity for coming up with the wholly rotten idea of desecrating carefully-conceived and meticulously executed black and white films—which were framed, lit, and shot with black and white film in mind, remember—by painting over them with washed out, drab, sickly looking colors, supposedly to heighten their appeal to modern audiences anesthetized by color TV.

It kicked up quite the little controversy at the time, as I recollect, which Turner dismissed in his trademark high-handed, arrogantly ignorant fashion (“The last time I checked, I owned the films that we’re in the process of colorizing…I can do whatever I want with them, and if they’re going to be shown on television, they’re going to be in color“).

The filmmakers of the day did not consider black and white to be any sort of limitation or handicap. To the contrary: it was their palette, and the best among them were quite skilled at its use, thanks. To vandalize their purposeful art by the rough equivalent of scribbling over it with crayons is a perfect example of the sort of arrogant application of present-day standards to a long-gone era we see all over the place nowadays. Hey, given modern advances in the production of pigments, maybe somebody should go back and paint over all those Rembrandts too.

Thankfully, you don’t see those colorized obscenities nearly as much as you once did, which amounts to pretty righteous repudiation of Turner’s smug assertion that “once people start watching the colored version, they won’t bother with the original.” But having to endure Miracle On 34th Street sullied by the annoying, ugly travesty of colorization is reason enough to suspect there must have been a special place in Hell waiting for Turner upon his death all the same…and that the jerk had it coming, too.

Oh, and one more thing: if Donna Reed had any real competition as America’s loveliest woman, the magnificent Natalie Wood would have been it—with Maureen O’Hara making a credible bid herself.

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3 thoughts on “Miracle On 34th Street

  1. Just turn the color down in your tv settings.
    Makes watching the old movies so much more enjoyable.
    We have no broadcast or cable tv. Stream everything. And it seems all the streaming services offer the colorized versions of many classic movies.

  2. Why shucks, I’m flattered! Glad you liked my little write-up- it was just something I sorta had to say, since that PC-ized version just didn’t do it for me.

    I forgot to mention that Susan, the little girl in Miracle, was played by Natalie Wood; she did a bang-up job of it too, and you can see even at that young age she was going to be a real beauty when she got older. I had such a crush on her when she was in West Side Story, it was hard to hide my attraction! Saw that film a bunch of times too. I’m still sad about her early death, and there’s still a mystery there about how it all happened.

    So they went and colorized Miracle on 34th Street, did they? Glad I don’t have that version, but as Greg B says above, just turn down the color if you’re stuck with that one. SMH, you’d think they would know better- but they’re liberals, so they don’t.

    I never realized what a magnificent film Casablanca was for a long time, since the only way I’d seen it was on TV. It was B&W, but washed out and on a small screen. Then back in the ’80s a girlfriend took me to an outdoor screening, where everyone brought picnic stuff & wine, and the venue had a full theater sized screen; boy howdy! What a film! I forgot to eat & drink, I was just rapt watching that incredible film and saw for the first time how well-shot it was. It had such depth! TV back then just wasn’t the way to watch that film; fortunately most flatscreen TVs today are a whole lot better!

    Now we have such wonderful technology, and CGI that can’t be distinguished from reality; even stars that are long dead can be in films again- but we’ve somehow lost the ability to make any movies worth watching. I’m glad there are so many wonderful films made in the past, but it would sure be nice if someone would make some new ones that have great scripts and tell great stories!

  3. “…Now we have such wonderful technology, and CGI that can’t be distinguished from reality; even stars that are long dead can be in films again- but we’ve somehow lost the ability to make any movies worth watching.”

    You sure said a mouthful there, son. Like so much else these days, it’s all style, no substance–all flash, no soul.

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