Miracle On 34th Street

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Details At A Glance

Category Family Theatrical Trailer
Year Released 1947
Running Time 92:24 minutes
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director George Seaton
20th Century Fox
Fox Home Entertainment
Starring Maureen O'Hara
John Payne
Edmund Gwenn
Gene Lockhart
Natalie Wood
Porter Hall
William Frawley
Jerome Cowan
Philip Tonge 
Case Transparent Amaray
RPI $36.95 Music Cyril Mockridge

Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 192 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio No
16x9 Enhancement No
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.37:1
Macrovision ?Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles Czech
Annoying Product Placement Not really, but plenty of it
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    When this particular film came up for allocation a while ago as part of the rather large list of titles for release by Fox Home Entertainment prior to Christmas, all we had was the title. Accordingly, I sort of presumed that it was going to be the rather tepid remake of the film made in 1994 (one of three remakes - the other two are best left completely unmentioned). When I discovered that it was actually the far superior original 1947 film that we were going to be getting, I was overjoyed. To my mind the original Miracle On 34th Street is one of the true classic Christmas films, like It's A Wonderful Life, of which there are regrettably very few. Why is it a classic film? I don't really know but I am guessing that part of the answer lies in the story itself. Here is a film that unlike so many Christmas films does not push the materialistic aspect of the holiday (Jingle All The Way anyone?) but rather the spirit of the holiday. I can pretty much guarantee what film I will be pulling out to watch on Christmas Day!

    For those who may not have seen the film, the story here is centred around one Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn). Kris is something of an expert on Santa Claus for one simple reason - he is Santa Claus. He takes his job very seriously, so when he discovers that the hired Santa for the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade is slightly inebriated, he gets roped in as a short notice replacement by the parade organizer, Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara). So believable is he that everyone is enthralled by him and he gets hired to be the Santa at Macy's for the rest of the season. Unfortunately, Doris is a non-believer, and has brought her daughter Susan (Natalie Wood) up to be a non-believer too, and so Kris sets out on a mission to convert them. Aiding Kris is rising legal star Frederick Gailey (John Payne) who loves Susan and also wants to get to know Doris better. Everything starts well enough at Macy's, but the store psychologist believes Kris to be insane, to the extent of misrepresenting his mental health to the store after Kris and he had a disagreement over his methods, and so Fred ends up with the unenviable task of proving in court to a politically minded Judge Henry Harper (Gene Lockhart) that Kris is indeed who he says he is. Along the way of course, everyone has their beliefs reaffirmed or rekindled by this man who does nothing more than bring the true spirit of Christmas to everyone he meets.

    There is so much here to cherish here that it is a film that can be returned to often. One of the great plusses about the film is the performance of Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle. This is his finest moment on film and he thoroughly deserved his best supporting Oscar in 1947 - although why it was a supporting Oscar is a good question since he was, after all, the central character in this movie. He is so inside the character that not just is Kris Kringle Santa Claus but Edmund Gwenn is Santa Claus. Superb stuff indeed, and done in a very non-flashy way that is utterly beguiling. His was but one of three Oscars the film garnered in 1947, the others being for Best Original Story and Best Screenplay: the film received a nomination for Best Picture, too. Whilst the rest of the cast were not quite up to his standard, there is little in the way of weak links here. The wonderful Maureen O'Hara is very believable as the single mother and the young Natalie Wood gives glimpses of her future screen performances as the disbelieving young girl who comes to believe. John Payne handles the role of the suitor/lawyer with ease and there are some nice little characterizations amongst the supporting cast. Apart from Edmund Gwenn nothing is really terrific but his performance lifts the film into that category.

    This is classic film-making with a nicely written story brought utterly to life by one magical performance. A film that is to be treasured for generations to come, as it has been treasured by many generations so far. Whilst many have a soft spot for the 1994 remake, this to me is a vastly superior film because of the simplicity and the performance. Certainly this is a film to be recommended highly for inclusion in any collection, and a terrific film to pull out time and time again to remind you of exactly what the spirit of Christmas is all about. I applaud Fox Home Entertainment for giving us this DVD.

Transfer Quality


    It is important to remember that this film is fifty three years old, and so we have to make certain allowances that perhaps we would not have to make with the 1994 remake. However, my initial fears were soon dispelled by a transfer that indicates that this film has had some partial restoration done to it, and it shows in the generally clean image presented here.

    The transfer is presented in a Full Frame format, and obviously it is not 16x9 enhanced.

    When I consider some of the recent black and white films through my DVD player, I was quite stunned by what was on offer here. Whilst it is by no means a competitor for more recent films, this is actually a decently sharp and quite well detailed transfer that displays far more than it hides. There are the odd lapses here and there into slightly diffuse images, but these were really nothing too much to worry about. Shadow detail is a reflection of the age of the film and whilst quite decent overall, certainly there were times when I just wished for something just a little more detailed. The overall transfer seems to be remarkably clear, and there does not seem to be any problem with grain here at all. There does not appear to be any significant low level noise problems with the transfer. There was just the odd hint a couple of times, but it was difficult to determine whether this was noise or merely shimmer in the image.

    Whilst it is not quite the epitome of what black and white should look like, and it has to be admitted that there were a few sections that were more grey and grey, in general this was a much more distinctively black and white transfer than those I have seen recently. At times there is a quite decent depth to the black and white tones, such that there is some fine detail in the grey scales. Overall, however, the result is a better than average looking black and white transfer, slightly marred by one or two slight dips that I am willing to accept as par for the course in a film of this age.

    There are no significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer, although the slight loss of resolution in the pan shot at 45:45 is a little off-putting. There are also no significant film-to-video artefacts in the transfer, with aliasing being noticeably absent. There were just a couple of minor issues with what might be shimmer in the image that created a slightly distracting effect in the image: one of these instances occurred at 13:05, but overall there were no serious problems for a film of this vintage. Where I was especially staggered was in the noticeable lack of film artefacts in the transfer. Sort of expecting a feast of dirt marks at the very least, what we actually get here is remarkably free of even major dirt marks, let alone scratches. Sure there are some dirt marks here, but not as much as should be expected in a film of this vintage and certainly nothing that was the remotest like being distracting or ugly. This is the reason why I suspect that the film has undergone some partial restoration.

    The packaging omits to mention a Spanish subtitle option that is available on the DVD.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-to-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    I was certainly not expecting much from the audio transfer, and we certainly do not get much. There is only the one soundtrack on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono effort. It is a distinctly mono sounding effort that takes just a little getting used to initially, but once you adjust to it there is not much wrong with it.

    Overall, there is not much of a problem with the dialogue, which comes up fairly well and reasonably easy to understand throughout. The transfer is presented at a slightly lower level here than perhaps was wise, so you may need to turn the volume up just a tad when you throw this one into the DVD player. There did not seem to be much of a problem with audio sync problems in the transfer.

    The original music score comes from Cyril Mockridge, and this is perhaps the one slightly disappointing aspect of the whole film. Still, this is a predominantly dialogue-driven film with limited scope for musical enhancement and therefore there is limited scope for the composer to excel. I guess it is best described as acceptably supportive.

    No surround channel use, no bass channel use and a fairly flat frontal soundscape. Whilst it may not actually sound too exciting, and I suppose it is not if you want audio demonstration, the sound is a pretty accurate record of the sort of sound from that era and it is remarkably free from any distortion or static. It does the job in a staid mono way, and for that I suppose we should be grateful. I am at least very grateful that no one seemed to want to remaster this into something that it could never be.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Whilst the initial contents may not seem much, I guess there would not be too much scope for things to include here. Most of the cast I suspect are long since past casting calls, and there are the limitations of space on a single layer DVD. Whilst I regret that more could not be found, I balance that off with the fact that we do get the film.


    Not an especially well presented effort that I found just a little difficult to read. Still, it has limited work to do and does that efficiently enough.

Theatrical Trailer

    Now this is an utterly fascinating piece of work. Whilst it is regretted that there is no time coding for the trailer, my guess is that it runs over five minutes and is not so much a theatrical trailer as a prototype of sorts of the extended promotional trailer that we see so often nowadays. Film buffs will love this and the style of the trailer is absolutely priceless. You really have to see this trailer. It is a pity that it is blessed with a serious dose of film artefacts, but that I suppose is to be expected, and has a minor issue with cross colouration but this is completely watchable. It is presented in a Full Frame format, not 16x9 enhanced of course and comes with a very similar Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound to the main feature. One of the best examples of trailers that I have seen even if the technical aspects are not the best.

R4 vs R1

    From the information I could find online, there appears to be no substantial difference between the Region 1 release and the Region 4 release. That being the case, I would suggest that the PAL format gives the Region 4 version the edge.


    This incarnation of Miracle On 34th Street is another example of the original film being far superior to the subsequent remakes, in every respect, and this time we have a timeless classic in a transfer that almost befits its stature. I was more than surprised by how good this looks (perhaps my expectations were too low based upon recent experiences though) and was by no means disappointed by the quality of the audio. Whilst I am tempted to suggest that this will get lost amongst all the big name films being released in the Christmas rush, I am certain in saying that this will be a film that will be returned to often. I doubt that too many better Christmas films will ever be made and this one is definitely a strong recommendation.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (have a laugh, check out the bio)
16th November 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 80cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL