Written by Marisa Caprico
If you’ve never seen it, the original 1947 version of Miracle on 34th St has one of the greatest trailers in movie history. At a little over five minutes in length, it’s like a short film. The conceit is that the studio head (really Daryl F. Zanuck and Spyros Skouras at the time but played by an actor here) is watching the trailers for upcoming releases and grows angry when the title cards apply a list of seemingly contradictory traits to Miracle. Surely the film couldn’t be all those things, he argues, and demands the publicity team redo it. He then storms out onto the 20th Century-Fox lot and a veritable parade of the studio’s stars have such varying reactions to the film that he decides he must see it for himself. We watch him go through a range of emotions during the screening and it all ends with him praising the film and cheekily suggesting he has an idea for the trailer.
It’s a treat to watch and the type of trailer they’d never make today. Especially because those title cards set some pretty high expectations. How about we take a look at each one and see how the film measures up?
Hilarious: While the movie is certainly funny, your laughter level really depends on how amusing you find advertising and consumer culture satire. When Kris takes up that beloved/weird tradition of listening to kids’ Christmas wishes while they sit on his lap, he starts to direct their parents to other stores to find these coveted items. Rather than getting him fired, it makes him a celebrity when his helpfulness turns out to be a genius publicity move for Macy’s. Soon, even Gimbal’s takes up the practice and Kris succeeds in forcing both stores to show the Christmas spirit he complained was missing from the holiday—even if they are motivated by money rather than kindness. I, for one, loved it, so I’m calling this one TRUE.
Romantic: I don’t know about you, but watching Fred harangue Doris for being a realist and deliberately undermining her parenting style isn’t quite my idea of romance. The whole relationship is made even creepier by the fact that their eventual coupling comes about because Santa tricked them into buying a house together just to fulfill her Christmas wish. FALSE.
Delightful: No question on this, absolutely TRUE. What better word is there to describe a movie with a climax that hinges on whether the characters can legally prove the existence of Santa Claus in New York Federal Court?
Charming: TRUE, though probably not in the way the film originally meant it. Sixty-seven years after its release, Miracle is wonderfully quaint. Doris must have a man to balance her out, Susan and Fred’s desperation to leave bustling Manhattan for the quiet of the suburbs, and Santa’s hatred of the marketing culture around Christmas when the whole movie is a giant advertisement for Macy’s. It’s all done so earnestly that it’s hard not to be swept up in the film’s optimism — even if it’s a tad ridiculous by today’s standards.
Tender: This is just an outright lie. Nothing about this movie is done with a light touch, but that’s sort of the joy of it. It’s a madcap comedy with a gooey center and that sort of silly, heightened tone is exactly what works about it. So, while this may be FALSE, it’s a good lie.
Exciting: The only way this thing could be called “exciting” is if you truly believe there is any possibility that it ends with Santa losing his case and ending up in a mental institution. If that’s you, congrats on your upcoming 7th birthday, hope you’re enjoying the 1st grade. FALSE.
Groovey: That is not a typo. Apparently, Miracle. came out in a time before humanity decided on the correct spelling of “groovy.” Having been born long after the word became outré, I had to look up the exact definition, which is “fashionable and exciting.” Huh. Since we’ve already got “exciting” covered, let’s look at “fashionable.” While Maureen O’Hara certainly doesn’t look like a hag and John Payne wears some well-tailored suits, the only memorable piece of clothing in the whole movie is Kris Kringle’s Santa Claus costume. It’s about what you’d expect, red velvet with white trim. Gwenn’s beard really makes it though, so I’m going to deem this one a TRUE.
So, all told, the trailer is about half true. But don’t let that deter you, this is wonderful film. If you don’t believe me, take the word of the one other title card I neglected to mention above, the one that says, “you’ll love Miracle on 34h St.” I promise that one is 100% true.