Starring: Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood, Gene Lockhart, Porter Hall
Director: George Seaton
Summary: A department store Santa claims to be the real thing
Other Nominations: Supporting Actor (Gwenn)*, Adapted Screenplay*, Story*
-Gwenn is basically the ideal choice to play Kris Kringle-he looks the part, he has a tremendous natural warmth to him, and he feels genuine. If you didn’t believe his performance, the movie would fall flat on its face because everything hinges on you thinking that there’s at least the possibility that in the universe of this film, he really could be Santa. What’s interesting is that
-The screenplay is original in concept, sincere, and fleshes out all the characters really well. The four main characters all have good arcs where their starting and end points make sense, nothing feels forced, and it straddles the difficult line of being sentimental (in a good way) without being too corny well. Probably my favorite scene that typifies this is when Gwenn talks to an adopted Dutch girl which is just a lovely scene, especially in the context of the time period (right after WWIII). Originally, I was going to complain that this is a movie against the commercialization of Christmas, yet Macy’s is a central part of the movie, until I looked it up afterwards and as far as I can tell was not a paid endorsement. Instead, they asked for permission to set it at Macy’s for authenticity: they sponsor the Thanksgiving Day parade and Macy’s is well-known for having Santa appear during the holiday season.
-John Payne’s performance is mediocre and easily the worst among the main actors, which is a shame given that his character is perfectly good by itself.
-Gwenn won for Best Supporting Actor, despite obviously being the lead; this is because Payne got top-billing as actor as the studio was, amazingly enough, not promoting this as a Christmas movie at all (as evidenced by the poster I linked to). They wanted to release it in May because that’s when people saw more movies, but thought that people didn’t want to see a Christmas movie in the summer, so they tried to dupe the public through its advertising into thinking it wasn’t. In addition to the poster, look at the trailer which tells you absolutely nothing about the movie itself, but does have Rex Harrison and Anne Baxter in it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUwyGo6PQzY
It’s strange that in the last two years, we got three Christmas movies (It’s a Wonderful Life, The Bishop’s Wife and this) as Best Picture nominees, but never had any others before or after to my recollection. I wouldn’t put it on the same level as It’s a Wonderful Life because it lacks the emotional impact that comes from Stewart and his character George Bailey, but this is still very charming movie that most anyone can enjoy and is very much recommended if you’re in the mood for a very well-done Christmas movie.