The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Edmund Gwenn), Best Writing, Original Story (Valentine Davies) and Best Writing, Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Picture, losing to Gentleman's Agreement.
Davies also penned a short story version of the tale, which was published simultaneously with the film's release.
Ignoring instructions to steer parents to goods that Macy's wants to sell, Kris tells one woman shopper (Thelma Ritter) to go to another store, Schoenfeld's, for a fire engine for her son. She is so impressed, she tells Julian Shellhammer (Philip Tonge), head of the toy department, that she will become a loyal Macy's customer. Kris later informs another mother that Macy's archrival, Gimbels, has better skates for her daughter.
Fred Gailey (John Payne), an attorney and neighbor of Doris, is babysitting her nine-year-old daughter Susan (Wood) and takes her to see Kris. When Doris finds out, she lectures Fred about filling Susan's mind with fantasy. Meanwhile, Susan witnesses Kris talking and singing with a Dutch World War II orphan girl in her native tongue and begins to wonder if perhaps Kris is real. (In the 1994 remake, Kris communicates with a deaf girl via sign language.) When Doris asks Kris to tell Susan the truth, Kris surprises her by insisting that he really is Santa Claus.
Fearing what he might do next, Doris decides to fire him. However, Kris has generated so much good publicity and customer goodwill for Macy's that a delighted R. H. Macy (Harry Antrim) promises Doris and Shellhammer generous bonuses, making it awkward to discharge the old man. To overcome Doris's misgivings, Shellhammer proposes a compromise: sending Kris to Granville Sawyer (Porter Hall) to get a "psychological evaluation". Kris easily passes the test, but antagonizes Sawyer by questioning Sawyer's own psychological health.
The store expands on the marketing concept. Anxious to avoid looking greedy by comparison, Gimbels implements the same referral policy throughout its entire chain, forcing Macy's and other stores to respond in kind. Eventually, Kris accomplishes the impossible: Mr. Macy shakes hands with Mr. Gimbel (Herbert H. Heyes). Kris then decides to donate his resulting extra bonus money to buy an X-ray machine for the nursing home at which he lives. Macy and Gimbel generously dicker down the price of the machine to wholesale price.
Doctor Pierce (James Seay), the doctor at Kris's nursing home, assures Doris and Shellhammer that Kris' apparent delusion is harmless and disagrees with the vindictive Sawyer, who argues that Kris should be placed in a mental hospital. Meanwhile, Fred offers to let Kris stay with him so he can be closer to his workplace. Kris makes a deal with Fred - he will work on Susan's cynicism while Fred does the same with the disillusioned Doris, still bitter over her failed marriage.
Then Kris learns that Sawyer has convinced a young, impressionable employee, Alfred (Alvin Greenman), that he is mentally ill simply because he is generous and kind-hearted (Alfred plays Santa Claus at his neighborhood YMCA). Kris confronts Sawyer and, in a fit of anger, raps him on the head with his cane. Doris and Shellhammer arrive at that point and only see the aftermath; Sawyer exaggerates his injury in order to have Kris confined to Bellevue mental hospital.
Tricked into cooperating and believing Doris to be part of the deception, a discouraged Kris deliberately fails his mental examination and is recommended for permanent commitment. However, Fred persuades Kris not to give up. To secure his release, Fred gets a formal hearing before Judge Henry X. Harper (Gene Lockhart) of the New York Supreme Court. Warned by Mr. Macy to get the matter dropped, Sawyer pleads with Fred not to seek publicity. To Sawyer's dismay, Fred thanks him for the idea. As a result, Judge Harper is put in an awkward spot - even his own grandchildren are against him for "persecuting" Santa Claus.
Fred quits his job at a prestigious New York law firm to defend Kris and has a falling out with Doris, who has no faith in his abilities and calls his resignation an "idealistic binge" over some "lovely intangibles." He replies that one day she may discover that those intangibles are the only worthwhile things in life.
At the hearing, New York County District Attorney Thomas Mara (Jerome Cowan) gets Kris to assert that he is in fact Santa Claus and rests his case, believing he has prima facie proven his point. Fred stuns the court by arguing that Kris is not insane because he actually is Santa Claus - and he will prove it. Mara requests the judge rule that Santa Claus does not exist. Judge Harper is warned privately in chambers by his political adviser, Charlie Halloran (William Frawley), that doing so would be politically disastrous for his upcoming reelection bid. The judge buys time by deciding to hear evidence before ruling.
Fred calls R.H. Macy as a witness. Mara pointedly asks if he really believes Kris to be Santa Claus. Realizing that denying Kris could ruin his Christmas sales season, Macy starts to give an equivocal answer, but when Mara asks him point-blank, Macy remembers the expressions on the faces of small children upon seeing Kris and firmly states, "I do!" On leaving the stand, Macy fires Sawyer. Fred then calls Mara's own young son to the stand. Thomas Mara Jr. testifies that his father had told him that Santa was real and that "My daddy would 'never' tell a lie! Would you, daddy?" Outmaneuvered, Mara concedes the point.
Mara then demands that Fred prove that Kris is "the one and only" Santa Claus, on the basis of some competent authority. While Fred searches frantically for a way to prove his case, Susan, by now a firm believer in Kris, writes him a letter to cheer him up, which Doris also signs. A mail sorter (Jack Albertson) sees it and realizes that the post office could clear out the many letters to Santa taking up space in their dead letter office by delivering them to Kris at the courthouse.
Kris receives Susan's letter and is uplifted by this breakthrough. Just then, Fred learns that over 50,000 pieces of mail have been delivered to Kris. Fred presents Judge Harper with three letters addressed only to "Santa Claus" and notes that they have been delivered to Kris. Fred nonchalantly admits he "has further exhibits." When Judge Harper demands he "put them here on my desk", the post office delivers all the bags of letters to Harper's desk. Fred then argues that the United States Post Office, a branch of the federal government, accepts Kris' claim as the one and only Santa Claus. This conveniently lets Judge Harper, now struggling to crawl out from behind the bags of letters, to rule in favor of Kris. Afterwards, Doris invites Kris to dinner, but he reminds her that "it's Christmas Eve!"
On Christmas morning, Susan is disillusioned because Kris was unable to get her what she told him she wanted most, a house in the suburbs. As they are about to leave, Kris gives Fred and Doris a route home, supposedly to avoid traffic. Along the way, Susan is overjoyed to see the house of her dreams with a For Sale sign in the front yard. (The house exactly matches the drawing she had shown Kris earlier.) Fred learns that Doris had encouraged Susan to have faith, and suggests they get married and purchase the house. He then boasts that he must be a great lawyer, since he managed to do the seemingly impossible. However, when he notices a cane leaning against the fireplace that looks exactly like the one Kris used, he remarks uncertainly, "Maybe I didn't do such a wonderful thing after all."
The house shown at the end of the movie is located at 24 Derby Road in Port Washington, New York. It looks practically the same, except the roof line has been altered by the addition of a window.
In June 2008, AFI revealed its "Ten top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Miracle on 34th Street was acknowledged as the fifth best film in the fantasy genre.
This remake had a more serious tone than the original and a large portion of the movie was rewritten, although the majority of the plot and characters remained intact. The characters of Alfred and Sawyer were removed entirely and Kris is instead manipulated to land himself in trouble due to a conspiracy between the drunken Santa fired at the beginning of the film and the agents of a rival store.
This version made much of the fact that the world in its current state is filled with greed and cruelty as demonstrated by how willing the people in the conspiracy were to lock up an innocent, benevolent man for their own selfish ends. This is contrasted with the number of people who support Kris, which includes an orderly at the hospital where he's placed and, apparently, the police officers who arrested him. There is a scene where Kris tells Dorey that he sees himself (Santa Claus) as a symbol of hope and compassion in a jaded modern world of selfishness.
The film also added a subtext concerning religious faith. This is demonstrated in the climax of this version, where Judge Harper rules in favor of Kris after Susan presents him with a Christmas card containing a one-dollar bill with the words "In God We Trust" circled and he declares that if the United States government can issue its currency bearing a declaration of trust in God on faith alone, then he can rule that Santa Claus exists in the man of Kris Kringle. The words "In God We Trust" were not added to U.S. paper currency until 1957, so they would not have been on the one-dollar bill when the original version was made.
The film also contains an early appearance by Allison Janney, who later played C. J. Cregg on the television series West Wing. In Miracle on 34th Street, she reprises the role played by Thelma Ritter in the original version. There is also an early appearance of Horatio Sanz as one of the hospital orderlies (This was brought to attention when Dylan McDermott hosted Saturday Night Live).
|1947||1955||1959||1963 Broadway musical||1973||1994|
|Doris Walker||Karen Walker||Dorey Walker|
|Frederick M. Gailey||Fred Gaily||Bill Schaffner||Bryan Bedford|
|Susan Walker||Susan Elizabeth Walker|
|Drunk Santa||[no name given]||Tony Falacchi|
|Julian Shellhammer||Mr. Shellhammer||Marvin Shellhammer||Horace Shellhammer||Donald Shellhammer|
|Granville Sawyer||Dr. Albert Sawyer||Dr. William Sawyer||Dr. Henry Sawyer||[eliminated]|
|R. H. Macy||Mr. Macy||R. H. Macy||C. F. Cole|
|Mr. Gimbel||Victor Landbergh|
|Dr. Pierce||Dr. Pierce||[eliminated]||Dr. Pierce||[eliminated]|
|Hon. Henry X. Harper||Hon. Harper||Hon. Martin Group||Hon. Harper||Hon. Henry Harper|
|Thomas Mara||Mr. Mara||Thomas Mara||[no name given]||Ed Collins|
|Mrs. Mara||[eliminated]||Rebecca Collins|
|Macy's Department Store||Cole's Department Store|
|Gimbels Department Store||Shopper's Express|