My sister and I were planning on watching the perennial television airing of Miracle on 34th Street this morning but a quick look at the TV guide revealed to us that the film is no longer being aired on Thanksgiving morning....it looks like it hasn't been for over a decade ( I knew it was a while since we've seen the movie, but not that long! ).
Anyway, since we are cheapskates and did not want to pay the meager $2.99 to rent the film on Youtube we started hunting for another version available for free. There were two television adaptations to choose from: a 1955 20th Century Fox Hour telecast, and one from 1978 featuring Sebastian Cabot, David Hartmann, Jane Alexander, Jim Backus, Tom Bosley, and Roddy MacDowall. Both have excellent casts, but before you scroll down the page to see the 1955 cast, just think about which actors you would place in the roles made so famous by Edmund Gwenn, John Payne, Maureen O'Hara, and Natalie Wood......then you'll know what a spot-on cast this one features!
Did you cast MacDonald Carey in John Payne's place? That is sheer genius. Teresa Wright takes on Mrs. Walker, the doubting mother role, and 1950s child star Sandy Descher plays little Susan. Now the part of Santa Claus would have been really tough to cast in 1955, but the producers of this show decided to use Thomas Mitchell, and he does a really good job...even though his eyebrows make Santa look a bit scary at times.
So how does this version stack up against the original? Well, you can't top a 20th Century Fox classic. Since Miracle on 34th Street had to be fit within a one hour time-slot, much of the heart of the original film was removed for the sake of condensing the story, which is a shame. Kris Kringle seems rather irate at times, probably because he is upset with how big businesses were commercializing Christmas but, since we aren't actually shown this, we are left just to assume that Kringle has an aggravation streak in him.
MacDonald Carey and Teresa Wright are wonderful, but Sandy Descher lacked the charm of Natalie Wood. Our Oma ( "grandmother" in German ) considered Natalie Wood a plain-looking girl and always wondered why she became a star. Well, compared to many other child actors, Natalie had heaps of talent....so that explains that. Sandy just didn't have that spark needed for this role.
Also cast in the movie is Hans Conreid as Shellhammer ( Mrs. Walker's co-worker at Macy's ), Ray Collins as the judge, John Abbott as Dr. Sawyer, Whit Bissell, and Maudie Prickett.
In 1959 another one-hour television adaptation of Miracle on 34th Street was made, this time with Ed Wynn, Peter Lind Hayes, Mary Healy, and Orson Bean. That casting seems rather odd. The program was thought to have been lost for many years, since it was recorded on kinescope and aired live on television, but it was recently discovered among a lot of kinescopes donated by NBC to the Library of Congress, and in 2005 was screened at the LOC with Susan Gordon ( My Three Sons ), who portrayed Susan Walker in the production, in attendance.
Ready to check out the 1955 version yourself? Simply click here to view the movie on Youtube.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers!