Reviewed by: Brett Willis
Starring: Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Gene Lockhart, Natalie Wood | Director: George Seaton | Producer: William Perlberg | Writer: Valentine Davies
This, the original version of the classic Holiday story, is carefully written so that it neither confirms nor denies the existence of Santa Claus, making it watchable for families no matter what they tell their children about Santa. It’s available in B&W or colorized.
Doris, a busy and unhappy divorcee (Maureen O'Hara), works very hard to get the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade just perfect, but has neither the time nor the heart to watch and enjoy it herself after her work is done. Her daughter (Natalie Wood) has been raised not only to disbelieve in Santa Claus and other childhood myths but to approach life from such an adult standpoint that she can’t even loosen up and engage in fantasy for fantasy’s sake. A Santa (Edmund Gwenn), whom Doris uses as an emergency substitute in the parade and later employs in Macy’s store, actually believes himself to be Santa and sets about to change Doris and her daughter as well as to combat commercialism in general. His program of helping people find what they really want (even if it’s at another store) almost gets him fired; but the public is so grateful that instead, his “approach” becomes the official policy of Macy’s and its competitors. When a hack psychiatrist tries to get Santa committed, his lawyer decides to defend him on the grounds that he really is Santa and therefore is not delusional. This puts everyone involved with the case in a difficult Public Relations position. In case there’s anyone in the world who hasn’t already seen this film, I won’t give away any more.
Warnings: For parents such as myself who do not raise our children to believe in myths but who do let them be kids and engage in fantasy play, Doris' character is an overblown stereotype; denying Santa does not make you a mean parent. There are two instances of drunkenness in the film, and some minor conflict. Other than that, it’s pretty much good clean fun; but a child below a certain age who watches this might tend to think that maybe Santa actually does exist.
Side note on remakes: I have not seen the 1973 remake starring Sebastian Cabot as Santa. I have seen the 1994 remake starring Sir Richard Attenborough of “Jurassic Park”, and I do not recommend it. It follows the same general plot as the original, but there are some changes. One of the Bad Guys accuses Santa not only of being insane but of “having a thing for the kiddies.” And in place of the famous mail delivery scene, the defense uses a strategy that puts God and Santa on the same level. If you’re going to watch some version of this story, my opinion is that the original was too good to warrant being remade.