It being the Christmas season, my household is in the midst of its annual rite of watching our most cherished seasonal productions. Everyone has their favorite Christmas movies and TV shows. As owner of this blog, it’s my right – nay, my duty – to impose my list on you, fearless reader. This is pretty much in order.
- A Charlie Brown Christmas – perfect; they don’t get any better
- A Christmas Carol – Only the 1984 George C. Scott version (with key contributions from members of the Royal Shakespeare Company) deserves mention by my standard
- The Nativity Story – a story that can’t be told too often, told well
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas – an apt allegory, though devoid of Christ (NOT the live action version, which is beyond dreadful)
- A Christmas Story – Jean Shepherd at his cynical, hysterical best
I like a lot of the others, too: Home Alone, It’s a Wonderful Life, Polar Express, and many more, but those are the biggies. I’ll add one more, not on the list because it’s the subject of this post: Miracle on 34th Street.
That movie is probably regarded by most casual viewers as a bit of Christmas fluff with all the substance of a candy cane, but it’s actually an excellent film. The performances are wonderful, especially that of Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle, a role for which he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
The movie also won the Academy award for Best Screenplay and Best Original Story and was nominated for Best Picture. Pretty impressive resume for a silly Christmas story.
Or is it?
After a recent viewing, several moments in the movies moved me in one way or another, from the silly – when Natalie Wood tugs on Kris’s (real) beard, I wondered if he’d just hit a home run for the Red Sox – to the profound. Some reflections:
You know times have changed when Kris can’t imagine that a 17-year-old boy (Alfred) could possibly be capable of feeling guilty about anything at that age. There are kids younger than him doing life terms today. Also, Alfred is continually referred to as fat, yet he would be considered slim in this era of obesity.
The scene where the head of the toy department tells Kris to push the overstocked toys is priceless. It couldn’t be more applicable than it is today, only we don’t seem to care. People willingly walk right into that trap, thoughtlessly buying junk they don’t need or want because they listened to some clever marketeer.
Alfred’s exchange with Kris at the end of that scene is terrific and timely:
KRIS: Imagine, making a child take something it doesn’t want just because he bought too many of the wrong toys. That’s what I’ve been fighting against for years, the way they commercialize Christmas.
ALFRED: A lot of bad “isms” floating around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism. Make a buck. Make a buck. Even in Brooklyn it’s the same. Don’t care what Christmas stands for. Just make a buck.
(If Alfred’s line were spelled the way he says it, it would read, “one of the woist is commoicialism.”) Sorry Alfred, but it’s still the same, in Brooklyn and everywhere else east or west of the Mississippi. The Shellhammers are still out there hammering away and winning. There’s no Kris Kringle to stop them.
One self-aware speech that rings true to this day is delivered by Mr. Macy when he says about the new altruistic tactic the store has unwittingly undertaken:
Therefore, from now on not only will our Santa Claus continue in this manner but I want every salesperson in this store to do precisely the same thing. If we haven’t got exactly what the customer wants we’ll send him where he can get it.
No high pressuring and forcing a customer to take something he doesn’t really want. We’ll be known as the helpful store the friendly store, the store with a heart the store that places public service ahead of profits. And, consequently, we’ll make more profits than ever before.
The honesty is refreshing. It beats the current methods of increasing profits: deception and brainwashing.
Finally, the best scene in the movie, and one of the most moving scenes in all of cinematic history for my money:
To complete the line by little Natalie Wood, “But when he spoke Dutch to the little girl…”, my throat tightens, my eyes well up, and I can barely breathe. This should be used to test whether someone is brain dead. If that scene plays without a tear appearing in the eye of the testee, they should be declared legally dead.
As a follower of Christ, I should be up in arms about this movie because it completely disregards the – dare I say it? – true meaning of Christmas, right? Yet it stands on its own as an allegory of faith and as an indictment of today’s (and I suppose yesterday’s) culture of conspicuous over-consumption.
(By the way, if I could work my will, every idiot who dredges up that most heinous of remakes, the unwatchable 1994 version of this story, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. Apologies to Mr. Dickens, but I’m sure he’d agree.)