Who’s The Better Franchise? #33: Miracle On 34th Street (1947) vs. Miracle On 34th Street (1994)

whosthebetterfranchise

With Christmas just a few days away, let’s take a look at one of the few Christmas movies that got remade in the modern day era, Miracle On 34th Street:

Miracle on 34th Street (initially released in the United Kingdom as The Big Heart) is a 1947 Christmas comedy-drama film written and directed by George Seaton and based on a story by Valentine Davies. It stars Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn. The story takes place between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day in New York City, and focuses on the impact of a department store Santa Claus who claims to be the real Santa. The film has become a perennial Christmas favorite.

The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Edmund Gwenn), Best Writing, Original Story (Valentine Davies) and Best Writing, Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Picture, losing to Gentleman’s Agreement. In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”. The Academy Film Archive preserved Miracle on 34th Street in 2009.

Davies also penned a short novelization of the tale, which was published by Harcourt Brace simultaneously with the film’s release.

Nearly 50 years later, Fox decided to modernize the holiday classic with a 1994 remake starring Richard Attenborough as Santa and Mara Wilson and it was written by John Hughes:

Miracle on 34th Street is a 1994 American Christmas fantasy film written and produced by John Hughes, and directed by Les Mayfield (the two would reunite for 1997’s Flubber). It stars Richard Attenborough, Mara Wilson, Elizabeth Perkins, and Dylan McDermott, and is the fourth remake (and the second theatrical version) of the original film. Like the original, this film was released by 20th Century Fox, to mixed to positive reception.

The New York City based Macy’s department store declined any involvement with this remake, so the fictitious “Cole’s” was used as its replacement. Gimbels had gone out of business in 1987; hence it was replaced by the fictional “Shopper’s Express”.

Surprisingly, the remake held on its’ own merits and has often been called just as good or as enjoyable as the original Miracle On 34th Street was.

So, all-in-all, which one is the better movie, the 1947 movie or the 1994 remake? Well, let’s go ahead and take a look at the big battle between both films, which one is better, the 1947 movie or its’ remake?:

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947) VS. MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1994)

Image result for miracle on 34th street 1947 and 1994

Let’s begin with the centerpiece of our films, Santa Claus….I know we’re starting off big here but he’s the biggest part about the movie, this is the best Santa Claus:

BEST SANTA CLAUS

In the original 1947 movie, Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) is indignant to find that the man assigned to play Santa in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (Percy Helton) is intoxicated.

The remake opens with an elderly man (Richard Attenborough) sporting a fedora, glasses, and a brown coat with a cane, walking on the street as his morning routine. As he stops at a pedestrian crossing, a young boy named Ryan pleads to his grandfather, judge Henry Harper, to “ask him”. Harper, knowing that the elderly man overheard Ryan, clears up the misunderstanding by saying that his grandchild thinks he is Santa Claus. After an exchange of laughs, the elderly man surprises the boy by saying “I am”.

Both performances are really, really good, both Edmund Gwenn and Richard Attenborough give excellent Santa performances in these movies, you can easily believe that both of these guys would be Santa Claus in real life and they both give such a terrific turn as the big man of the holidays.

So, who’s the best of the two? A really tough call, of course, so I went with my personal choice, to me, I think Attenborough gives the slightly better performance of the two, not to take Gwenn away from anything but to me, Attenborough came off much better as Santa and gives this really fun jolly performance to him that just puts a lot of the heart into the remake.

Point goes to the remake.

BEST SANTA CLAUS WINNER: Richard Attenborough, Miracle On 34th Street 1994

But what about the other lead? The young female protagonist, Susan Walker, who did it best, Natalie Wood or Mara Wilson? Let’s take a look:

BEST SUSAN WALKER

Susan Walker has been raised by her mother to not believe in fairy tales, but Susan’s lack of faith is shaken when she sees Kringle conversing in Dutch with an adopted girl who does not speak English. Doris asks Kringle to tell Susan that he is not really Santa Claus, but he insists that he is.

At first glance, the answer seems pretty obvious, clearly Natalie Wood gives a much better performance than Mara Wilson, right?

Well….yes….but honestly, it’s more closer than you would think. Mara Wilson’s turn as Susan is perfectly fine and she works really well with Attenborough but she’s a little too cute kid-ish in this, she tries a little bit too hard to be extremely cute for the audiences but her heart is in the right place in this.

But yeah, it’s hard not to give Natalie Wood the win here because she really does give this terrific performance as Susan Walker, smart but also not afraid to be just a kid and not just resorting to cute kid in movies stereotypes.

Point goes to the original.

BEST SUSAN WALKER WINNER: Natalie Wood, Miracle On 34th Street 1947

And then you have her mother, Dorey Walker…or Doris in the original film…same idea, this is the best Dorey Walker:

BEST DOREY WALKER

Maureen O’Hara plays Susan’s mother in the original film while in the remake, it’s Elizabeth Perkins and both are pretty much the same character, they both work as event directors for their stores and get together with the lawyer at the end.

The movies do a good job not making them the typical single mother we see in most movies like this, god there are so many Lifetime and Hallmark Channel Christmas movies that do just that with nearly every single movie they put out, and they make Dorey a likeable character with her reason to not be too likeable but not a complete monster either.

Picking the best one of the two is, again, pretty tough, both actress do play their roles well enough. If I have to choose between the two, I would say Maureen O’Hara definitely gives the best of the two. Perkins does fine trying to keep up with the original role but O’Hara still manages to have the best performance overall as Susan’s mother.

Point goes again to the original.

BEST DOREY WALKER WINNER: Maureen O’Hara, Miracle On 34th Street 1947

And going back to the boyfriend in his, let’s talk about him next, this is the best lawyer:

BEST LAWYER

In the original film, the lawyer is named Fred Gailey, played by John Payne and in the remake, he’s named Brian Bedford and played by Dylan McDermott, I know, a man who would later play a lawyer for seven seasons on The Practice just three years later playing a lawyer here, what a shock.

There’s nothing really all that different about either turn, they are kind of just there to be the boyfriend to the mother and try to be the father to her daughter. If I have to choose a winner, I think I have to give the edge over to Dylan McDermott because he comes off as more of an interesting character to me than Payne does plus those lawyer techniques he brings to the role that he would later bring to The Practice does pay off for him a few years later.

Point goes to the remake.

BEST LAWYER WINNER: Dylan McDermott, Miracle On 34th Street 1994

That all brings us down to which one was the overall better film, the original 1947 film or its’ 1994 remake? This is the best overall movie:

BEST OVERALL MOVIE

Now again, it’s hard to talk negative about the original movie, it’s a movie that holds up with time and has a story that will never really age with time. It’s a story that many kids and adults can relate to and the acting holds up really well along with the overall script…with one exception but we’ll get to that.

Remaking this movie is a tough act to do but John Hughes’ script does a really solid job of keeping the spirit of the original film in tact while also modernizing it where it doesn’t feel like a cashgrab, it feels like Hughes and director Les Mayfield really tried their hardest to make a contemporary version of this film without insulting the spirit of the original.

So, a tough call on which is the better film here. But what gets me to an answer to the question is the endings for both movies, very different but one surprisingly works a lot better than the other.

Everybody remembers the original film’s ending, Judge Mara then demands that Fred prove that Kris is “the one and only” Santa Claus on the basis of some competent authority. While Fred searches frantically, Susan, by now a firm believer in Kris, writes him a letter to cheer him up, addressed to the courthouse, which Doris also signs. When a mail sorter (Jack Albertson) sees Susan’s letter and the courthouse address, he suggests clearing out the many letters to Santa taking up space in the dead letter office by delivering them to the courthouse.

Fred presents Judge Harper with three of those letters addressed simply to “Santa Claus” and delivered to Kris, asserting the U.S. Post Office (and therefore by extension the federal government) has thus acknowledged that he is the Santa Claus. When Harper demands “further exhibits”, mailmen dump the entire contents of 21 full mailbags onto the bench in front of Harper, whereupon he dismisses the case.

On Christmas morning, Susan is disappointed that Kris could not get her what she wanted. Kris gives Fred and Doris a route home that avoids traffic. Along the way, Susan sees the house of her dreams with a “For Sale” sign in the front yard. Fred learns that Doris had encouraged Susan to have faith and suggests they get married and purchase the house. He then boasts that he must be a great lawyer since he did the impossible by proving Kris was Santa Claus. However, when they spot a red cane inside the house that looks just like Kris’s (and which Kris had been without on Christmas morning), he is not so sure that he did such an impressive thing after all.

Yeah, it’s a memorable ending and one that many remember but let’s be honest, folks, the way they prove that he’s the real Santa Claus is cute but it doesn’t really explain much, just because there’s a billion letters with Santa’s name on it….he gets off the hook? I mean, there’s not a whole lot to that ending that works.

This is where the remake comes into play and I think the remake does a better job of ending the film better. Just as Judge Harper is about to make his decision, Susan walks up to the judge with a Christmas card containing a $1 bill. On the back, the words In God We Trust are circled. The judge realizes that, since the U.S. Department of Treasury can put its official faith in God with no hard evidence, then the people of New York can believe in Santa Claus in the same way. Left with no choice, an elated Harper dismisses the case and declares that Santa is real, existing in the person of Kris Kringle.

Following the court case, Dorey and Bryan are maneuvered by Kris into realizing their true feelings for each other, and are married in a very small ceremony right after the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass. On Christmas morning, Susan wakes to the news of the marriage and is elated to see that she has part one of her Christmas wish, Bryan as her new dad. Together, Susan, Dorey and Bryan drive out to the catalogue house and upon arrival, find that Kris has arranged for them to purchase the house, which they can now afford due to the size of the Christmas bonus Dorey has received as a result of Kris’ work at Cole’s. Susan, now having got two out of three of her wishes, excitedly runs upstairs in the house to look at her bedroom. Dorey and Bryan are about to kiss when Dorey asks her what the last part of her Christmas wish was, and she triumphantly announces that it was a baby brother. Dorey and Bryan both look at each other, shocked, before glancing down at Dorey’s stomach and sharing a kiss. The film ends with the belief that Susan has now received all she asked for in her wish. It is then mentioned that Kris has gone overseas.

To me, the ending here works a lot better because they have a legitimate reasoning for why the Judge declares Santa real and it makes more sense and has more of a deeper message to it than the original and to me that’s what put this remake…just slightly…over the original movie.

Both movies are really good but to me, the ending for the remake was much better and put the remake over the original movie…again, just barely. So, by the smallest of margins, the 1994 Miracle On 34th Street movie is the superior movie. Merry Christmas everybody!

BEST OVERALL MOVIE WINNER: Miracle On 34th Street 1994

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