Miracle on 34th Street (1994)


USA. 1994.


Director – Les Mayfield, Screenplay – John Hughes & George Seaton, Story – Valentine Davies, Producer – John Hughes, Photography – Julio Macat, Music – Bruce Broughton, Visual Effects – VIFX (Supervisor – Gregory L. McMurry), Special Effects Supervisor – George D. Milinac, Production Design – Doug Kramer. Production Company – 20th Century Fox


Dylan McDermott (Bryan Bedford), Richard Attenborough (Kris Kringle), Elizabeth Perkins (Dorey Walker), Mara Wilson (Susan Walker), Robert Prosky (Judge Henry Harper), J.T. Walsh (Ed Collins), James Remar (Jack Duff), Simon Jones (Shellhammer), Joss Ackland (Victor Lambert), William Windom (C.F. Cole), Jack McGee (Tony Falacchi)


C.F. Cole’s Department Store’s Thanksgiving Parade is about to get under way but the parade’s Santa falls off the sleigh drunk. Parade organiser Dorey Walker quickly gets an aging man to fill in. The old man makes such a convincing Santa Claus that Dorey hires him to be Cole’s in-store Santa. However, he proves a radical Santa, advising shoppers that they should go and buy presents at other shops because they are cheaper – something that Cole’s manages to turn into a successful marketing concept. He also insists that he is the real Santa and that his name is Kris Kringle. A rival department store then frames Kris and contrives to have him tried for sanity. Dorey’s neighbour, lawyer Bryan Bedford, steps in to defend Kris and determines to win the case by arguing in court that Kris really is Santa.

This is a remake of the Miracle on 34th Street (1947). The original Miracle on 34th Street has come to be regarded as something of a classic that sits up alongside other holiday season perennials as The Wizard of Oz (1939) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Behind this remake is John Hughes who, with such maudlin, ultra-cute family favourites as Home Alone (1990) and sequels, Curly Sue (1991), as well as other remakes like 101 Dalmatians (1996) and Flubber (1997), seemed for part of the 1990s to be idling for the position of a new Walt Disney.

The remake has been nicely made. It has a fine cast, with Richard Attenborough being a natural for this type of kindly old man role and Dylan McDermott making a wonderfully handsome and inviting lead. [It is amusing to contrast the lawyer Dylan McDermott plays here with the ruthless, morally ambiguous one he later played in tv’s The Practice (1997-2003)]. But then there is the film itself. Despite a 47-year difference between the remake and the original, this version is a far more conservative film. The tone of it stops just short of sermonising in the name of the Lord. At one point, Elizabeth Perkins and Mara Wilson sit down to Thanksgiving Dinner with Dylan McDermott and he asks if they will join him in saying grace.

There is the end where the court case is won when it is shown that the US Government, by placing the phrase “In God We Trust” on the dollar bill, confirms the existence of a higher authority. This specific piece of preaching is particularly conspicuous in that it specifically changes the way that the court case was won in the original. In the original, the court case was won when the Postal Service delivered all the dead-letter mail addressed to Santa to the court thus confirming that a US Government department believed that Kris was Santa. There was no reference to a higher authority or the existence of God. There is no reason why the old ending would not have worked this time around. There seems to be only one reason behind the change – to point out that the US Government believes in the Almighty. [Ironically though, the case presented in the 1994 version would not succeed in any actual court of law, while the 1947 original presents a convincing legal argument that would get Kris acquitted. All that the dollar bill proves is that the US Government confirms the existence of God – not any other supernatural entity. It does not prove that the US Government believes in Santa Claus. In order to win the case, what would be needed would be to directly prove that the Government believes that Kris is Santa. The 1947 version, with the delivering of the mail to the courtroom, however would win – it establishes that the US Government directly believes in Santa Claus and that they directly believe that Kris is the Santa].

The Christian message being preached is certainly an odd one. What, after all, is one to make of Dylan McDermott’s rhetorical question: “We ask the court to judge what is better – a lie that brings a smile or a truth that brings a tear?” The religion being offered seems to be one that favours feelgood sentiment – believe it because it should be true, not because it is.

Director Les Mayfield debuted with the inane revived caveman drama comedy Encino Man/California Man (1992) and next directed Flubber for Hughes. He went other direct forgettable films such as Blue Streak (1999), American Outlaws (2001) and Code Name: The Cleaner (2007). Mayfield also heads Zaloom-Mayfield or ZM Productions and has also produced a series of remakes of Disney live-action films for tv in the 1990s with The Shaggy Dog (1994), The Barefoot Executive (1995), The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1995), Escape to Witch Mountain (1995), Freaky Friday (1995) and The Love Bug (1997). In genre material, John Hughes also wrote the slasher parody National Lampoon’s Class Reunion (1982) and the time travel comedy Just Visiting (2001), as well as directed and wrote the gonzo teen mad scientist film Weird Science (1985).

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