A Miracle on 34th Street, Through My Cynical Eyes

A Miracle on 34th Street was originally released in 1947, then remade in 1994 starring Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle (Santa), Elizabeth Perkins as Dorey, Dylan McDermott as Bryan, and Mara Wilson as Susan Walker. Despite it being now 25 years old—which is the reason I’m writing about it—this is the first time I have seen either of the movies.

So let’s get in the Christmas spirit (read: drunk) and rip this film to shreds!

The movie starts with Macy’s Cole’s Thanksgiving Parade’s Santa (Jack McGee) taking a few glugs of bourbon. I feel you Bad Santa—the thought of having to entertain an avalanche of kids would totally drive me to that too—but you know, drunk in public with the eyes of the world (okay, New York) on you is not a good look. Enter Richard Attenborough, who is, of course, playing the REAL Santa.

Now, I do not deny that Richard Attenborough is a jewel in the crown of British actors, but I am sorry, he’s not my Santa Claus. For a start, his beard is cut too close to the chin. Yes, these things matter. And whoa now, he’s broken into the staging area and is pretending to ride some fake reindeer. This would never happen nowadays, post 9/11. Then he spots bad Santa drinking and really goes to town on him. That’s not very Christmassy, is it? And not the kind of behaviour I’ve come to expect from Santa. He should be jolly, laid-back and empathetic.

drunk santa and the real santa get into a fight in Miracle on 34th street
When the cop is on the side of Drunk Santa, it makes you wonder

This really begs the question: Did Cole’s Department Store not vet this Santa for such a high-profile event?  After bad Santa is crushed by a sleigh, Dorey Walker, Cole’s employee and organiser of the parade, chases down the real Santa, who gives his name as Kris Kringle and asks him to be the official Cole’s Santa. Now, I’m British, so I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but I know it’s in November, and you’d think that Santa would be gearing up for Christmas and doing actual Santa duties, not playing around. Can’t imagine the elves or Mrs Claus will be too impressed with him going AWOL at this time of the year.

Dorey goes home to her apartment, which happens to overlook the parade (man, that’s living really close to work—it’s all fun and games until you have to pull a sickie), and her six-year-old daughter is not there. Instead, there’s a video cued up for her to push play. Wait—is this like Taken? Suddenly this film got far more interesting. You don’t even see the Bryan guy, just him picking her up and taking her out of the frame. Very sinister indeed.

Dorey watches the tape, and aww, her precocious kid doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. Probably because this kid is clearly an old woman trapped in a child’s body, probably Dorothy from The Golden Girls. It turns out that she’s only across the hall in Bryan’s apartment, watching the parade go by. So, sadly, it’s not a kidnap-at-Christmas film, but I am intrigued as to what made little Susan Walker so worldly-wise at such a young age. It’s probably that Dorey is a single mother and has a good career, so of course, Susan must be neglected, starved of love, and spoilt with material things. Susan probably had to drag herself up in this affluent area of New York. Poor Susan. You terrible mother, Dorey! I am being sarcastic, of course, but I am also not. She really doesn’t seem to be a particularly great mom. I mean, who is this Bryan guy? He clearly has the hots for Dorey, but she doesn’t seem interested in him at all—spurning his fairly creepy advances.

Susan Walker looks out of the window at a passing Thanksgiving parade
The giant dog is the real Miracle on 34th Street

Ooh, now we meet our bad guy—Victor Landberg, the boss of the competitor department store. He’s literally sitting in an all-black room with a chessboard, looking a bit like Winston Churchill. Oh, and he has two minions, Dexter’s dad (James Remar) from Dexter, and Daphne (Jane Leeves) from Frasier. Landberg sends them to lure Cole’s excellent Santa over to the dark side.

So I’m not entirely sure of the set-up here. Dorey barely seems to know Bryan—other than being the creepy neighbour that she allows to take care of her only child—but she still invites him over for Thanksgiving dinner. Bryan wears an entirely beige outfit, which is a red flag if ever there was one. And he’s a lawyer, apparently. Real ’90s New York Bryan would be spending Thanksgiving buried under cocaine and prostitutes. Instead, he’s spending it squarely in the friend zone.

Thanksgiving dinner in A Miracle on 34th St, Susan, Bryan and Dorey sit around a table with a lot of food
Beige Bryan makes Dorey so happy, look!

As my mind wanders from Beige Bryan, I question how Santa manages to live in Manhattan. Like, how does he pay rent and stuff? Why was he ever there in the first place and not in the North Pole?

The next day, Kris starts his first day playing himself at Cole’s Department store. Oh, the horror of all those rich children lined up waiting to list off all the things they want. This is literally my worst nightmare. But not Santa’s of course, as he is nice. Susan lines up with Bryan to meet the big man, and once again Dorey shows up surprised that he’s looking after her kid. I mean, this is weird, right? With whom did she leave Susan otherwise? There seem to be no other adults in the picture. It’s a good job Beige Bryan never goes to work, or God knows what malnourished state Susan would be in.

The baddie store is called Shopper’s Express, which is the most boring and corporate name ever. Cold. Unfeeling. Selling gum guns. Two great evils in one there, gum and guns. No, wait, they’re giving them away to sad children. The staff look like stormtroopers. They are basically the toy-store version of the NRA.

Damn, Shopper’s Express is selling some blow-up swimming action-figure thing for half the price of Cole’s. No wonder Cole’s needed a two-bank bailout. Santa Kris is telling the kids parents’ that it is cheaper to buy toys from other stores, which probably should get him fired.

Santa talking to a mom while a boy sits on his knee

But here’s Allison Janney telling off the general manager for overselling stuff. Yet she says she’s going to shop at Cole’s for all of the things, despite them being like twice as expensive as everywhere else. I don’t think she understands how money works. So somehow Cole’s turns this terrible business model into a promotional idea. I really don’t know how this is happening. Something about being honest that they sell overpriced stuff? Dorey is confused, I am confused, but the boss at Cole’s is all for it, and implements the “if we can’t find it, we’ll find it for you” campaign, proving that in every movie, when Allison Janney speaks, you freaking listen.

Except that this plan only works if Santa works all year round. Which he doesn’t. So good luck in the January sales, Cole’s. Bad guy Landberg berates Dexter’s dad and OMG Daphne from Frasier about why they didn’t come up with that idiot plan. Neither of these places deserves to succeed.

James Remar and Jane Leeves in A Miracle on 34th St being berated by their boss
Dexter’s dad and Daphne from Frasier

It is Susan’s time for sitting on Santa’s knee now, and she hardcore judges him. Even pulls his beard. She knows. It might be a real beard, but it’s still not bushy enough. Old Susan can see straight through you, bro. Then Beige Bryan tells Santa that Susan and her Mom are “non-believers.” Like they’re “suppressive persons” for Scientologists. Maybe that’s why Mom doesn’t like you, Bryan.

Nope, it’s because he asks Dorey to come back to his place and try out the mistletoe. Oh, c’mon now, Bryan, give it up. The woman is not interested in you; no, she does not want you to dial-up and slide into her Hotmail inbox. But you can take her kid home, though, as she’s so busy at work. Yeah, none of these people are very nice, are they?

Susan pulls Santa's beard and squeals
No, the beard is not long enough!

Wait now—Santa lives in an old-folks home in Harlem? Dexter’s Dad and Daphne give him a lift home after stalking him late at night in Central Park. They catch him chatting with a random reindeer, because why not? I wonder if the cops bring him into the home all the time and are all, “Yeah, he was feeding a reindeer again. The zoo people have asked him repeatedly to leave them alone. Seriously, we don’t have time for these shenanigans.” Santa does the right thing and turns down the offer of working at Shopper’s Express, as he’s signed a contract for Cole’s, but I don’t really think it’s going to do them much harm. He’s basically sending people to their store anyway—surely a breach of contract?

Bryan, never one to take NO for an answer, arranges a “really good babysitter” so he can take Dorey on a date to Time’s Square. The babysitter is Old Man Reindeer Whisperer, and so Dorey agrees to go because, you know, he seems like a nice chap, even if she’s only known him five minutes, and it’s probably better than leaving her totally alone, right?

Santa makes reindeer shadow puppets on the wall

Susan still doesn’t believe that Santa is Santa and tells him that if he’s real, he’ll get her a house (the one used for the Cole’s catalogue photoshoot), a brother and a dad. Nice blackmailing there, kiddo! Santa looks pretty miserable now—can’t get those things at Shopper’s Express now, can you. Honestly, I’d let this one go. If she doesn’t believe, then great! One less house to visit on Christmas Eve.

It’s Date No. 1, and Bryan’s already popped the question. After one actual, real date. After she’s said no to countless dates with him, and never having said she wanted to get married. Dorey girl…RUN.

“I do everything to make you happy, and I’m asking for nothing in return.” Well no, Bryan, you literally just asked her to marry you, which is asking quite a lot. Assuming marriage means being solely with you for the rest of her life.

A gloved hand opening a box with an engagement ring inside

Drunk Santa is back. I really didn’t think we’d see him again. He makes a scene at Cole’s and then follows Real Santa down the street, provoking him. Santa assaults him! And get’s arrested for it. Oh Kris, this is no way for a Santa to behave. You kinda seem a bit hypocritical now, to be honest. But there is treachery in the air. This was all a set-up by Dexter’s Dad and Daphne to get Santa out of Cole’s, as he was making them far too much money in the spirit of Christmas. Wow, there are a lot of witnesses and photographers to the aftermath.  Where were they when the incident actually happened?

Santa is sad now and sits sadly by a window with sad music.

Dorey freaks out about her job and he calls Beige Bryan for help, as he’s a lawyer, remember? Real ’90s New York Bryan would be all, “Well, well, well. How the tables have turned.” But of course, Beige Bryan steps up to try and impress her. Dorey takes Kris’s case to court and drums up support for him from the public.

Unfortunately, Kringle’s claims to be the real deal ensures that he’s soon on his way to the loony bin. Saying things like, “My workshops don’t exist in the physical world! They’re in the dream world!” doesn’t help. Not exactly an airtight case. It soon becomes clear that to get Kris acquitted and freed, Bryan must somehow prove that not only does Santa exist, but that Kris is the real one. It is a seemingly impossible task until Bryan comes up with a plan that requires some help from Susan.

Dylan McDermott as Bryan a lawyer defending Santa in a courtroom
The Real ’90s New York Bryan

Cole’s takes a page out of Susan’s manipulation-by-children handbook and says, “If you don’t believe this man who is charged with assault isn’t Santa Claus, you’re a douche .” Everyone gets behind it, though. It’s like the Christmas version of “Support our Troops.”

(As a side note, I don’t think I’ve seen one person of colour in this movie yet who wasn’t an extra in the courtroom.)

I kind of like the prosecutor. He knows he’s a prick, and he doesn’t give a toss; he’s winning. Just as the judge (Robert Prosky) is about to make his decision—and it seems he was going to rule against Kris—Susan walks up to the judge with a Christmas card containing a $1 bill. On the back, the words In God We Trust are circled. The judge realises that, since the US Treasury can put its official faith in God on US currency with no hard evidence, then the people of New York can believe in Santa Claus in the same way. New York City stops dead to hear the verdict. But not cyclists. NEVER cyclists. Left with no choice, the elated judge dismisses the case and declares that Santa is real, existing in the person of Kris Kringle. Yay! And also, wow.

So, are we saying that God isn’t real, or that Santa is? Or neither? Or both? I kind of want to know for sure, as I am Santa myself you see, on Christmas Eve at least. Can I be God, too?

After the court drama is over, the prosecutor tells Santa that his kids want him to stop by, and Santa’s all, “Oh, I’ll see you real soon,” which seems like a thinly veiled threat.

And what if Santa didn’t win? How would he have done Christmas this year? Like, how would that have worked? And wouldn’t it have reinforced the argument that Santa didn’t exist? Would he have been forced into using magic? That would have been nice, to be fair. This film is distinctly lacking in the magic department.

Bryan and Dorey get married in a church
I bet this is just how Dorey dreamt her wedding would be

If the court case wasn’t enough, Santa still has to prove to Susan that he is the real deal, so he sets up a date at the church between Dorey and Bryan. Sexy. Dorey realises her true feelings (read: is brainwashed), and straight after Midnight Mass, the two of them are married in a very small ceremony. Small, because no-one else knows about it! This is a forced marriage. What. The. Hell.

On Christmas morning, Susan awakes to the joyous news that her mother is now trapped in a loveless marriage, but she doesn’t care because she got the stepdad she always wanted. The new family drive out to the catalogue house and find upon arrival that Kris has arranged for them to buy it with Dorey’s hard-earned bonus. Forced marriage, forced house purchase, what is next for poor Dorey? And blimey, that house is enormous. No-one needs a house that big; it’s pure gluttony. At least the Home Alone family had like twelve kids in their ridiculous house.

the Cole's catalogue house
Imagining having to clean it

I wish someone would give me a house like that, though. So I could sell it and buy one that I actually want. That’d be sweet.  I promise I’ll believe in Santa.

Susan, now having got two out of her three wishes, excitedly runs upstairs in the house to look at her bedroom. Dorey and Bryan are about to kiss when Dorey asks her what the last part of her Christmas wish was, and she triumphantly announces that it was a baby brother. Welp. Dorey and Bryan both look at each other, shocked, before glancing down at Dorey’s stomach and sharing a kiss. The film ends with the belief that Susan has now received all she asked for in her wishes.

It’s a Christmas miracle! Or something far more menacing. It is vaguely mentioned in passing that Kris has gone abroad. He’s probably back at the old-folks home in Harlem.

Susan walks into a room full of presents at Christmas

So that was A Miracle on 34th Street, which would probably be very different if it was remade today. It made me laugh anyway, if for all the wrong reasons, and isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.


Written by Laura Stewart

Laura is the Assistant Editor-In-Chief, a Writer and Assistant to the Webmaster at 25YL. She has been part of the team since May 2017 when she began writing about her favourite TV show of all time: Twin Peaks. She currently oversees the Film, Music and Gaming Departments. 25YL is her passion project and is constantly delighted at how big and beautiful it has grown.

Laura lives by the sea in Gower, Wales, with her husband and very special little boy.

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