Double Feature Duel:
Miracle on 34th Street vs. It’s a Wonderful Life
Miracle on 34th Street vs. It’s a Wonderful Life
Bout #27: It’s recently come to my attention that I haven’t seen two of the most classic Christmas movies. As a film school grad raised on the profit of a mom and pop video store, I figured tis the season…
Miracle on 34th Street: I wasn’t around in 1947 to know what a good film was. Maybe the pacing was natural for the time but I found some scenes awkward, particularly the long pauses on pieces of writing so the audience can read them. Directors find a different way to do that nowadays. All that said, it was a fun movie. A man named Kris Kringle is so disappointed about the Macy’s drunken Santa that he decides to take the job himself. His sanity comes into question both with the characters and with the audience. Is it really Santa? But when it came time for the second act, Santa hit somebody in the head with his umbrella. Maybe it was customary to hit people in heads with umbrellas in the 40s. I don’t know; I wasn’t around. But the movie just expected the audience to glance over this. Then it turned into a courtroom drama where Santa and his lawyer roommate had to prove that he really was Santa. And in a courtroom scene that would have made my 9th grade screenplay look good, they found a loophole to get Santa out free. Yay. Through the movie, the most intriguing facet was the relationship between Santa and a 9-year old Natalie Wood. She didn’t believe in Santa. But Santa came through in the end, of course. I’m guessing that was the miracle. 5.5 bugs.
It’s a Wonderful Life: Cheesy, predictable, awkwardly paced and rich with jump cuts – but it got me. The sappy ending pulled me back in. An above average man (James Stewart), through forces largely outside his control, ends up living an average life. I know. You can see the parallel. On the brink of suicide after hearing that he’d be worth more dead than alive, he tempts suicide. Down comes an angel – who we’ve already met in the beginning of the film in a Deus Ex Machina as literally as it has ever been applied – to save the day. He shows James what his life would be like had he never been born and SURPRISE! – it turns out he’s affected a few lives here and there. When returned to reality, he runs screaming through the streets about how wonderful his life is, having just minutes earlier, been ready to commit suicide. That’s the part that’s cool. That said, arguably the most iconic Christmas film of all time had jump cuts in emotionally important moments, which is so amateur hour, you don’t even see them in first year film school projects. And the very ending where everybody gives James the money he needs out of the goodness of their heart is over the top wine cheese. Without crackers. But again, I wasn’t around in 1946 to understand the culture. 7 bugs.
Title: Tough to judge film titles that have become so engrained in our culture. Both have been celebrated, redone and parodied. Both also give away the ending, though It’s a Wonderful Life was a lot more tongue in cheek. Because it wasn’t a wonderful life for a long time. And technically, the miracle didn’t necessarily occur on 34th St. (Point, Wonderful 0-1)
Funnier: Both were funny in their own ways, though James Stewart’s character from It’s a Wonderful Life had more carryover to the new millennium. (Point, Wonderful 0-2)
Better Turn: James Stewart was finally getting married and on his honeymoon when the stock market crashed and his business was about to crumble. He had to stay behind to save it, neglecting the lovely woman in the white dress, though she made the best out of the situation, rather than getting upset. And that sure beats Santa hitting a psychiatrist in the head with an umbrella. (Point, Wonderful 0-3)
Better Ending: I spoke about how much I liked the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. But I hated the very ending. In total, I don’t think it stacked up to Santa’s gift of a house and home for his little 9-year old friend. (Point, Miracle 1-3)
Better Message: Maybe it’s older than the 40s or maybe it was born with this movie, but there is yet a better message conveyed in a movie than the “be thankful for what you have” and/or “don’t forget the bright side” message from It’s a Wonderful Life. As good as “believe in miracles” is, it’s tough to compete. (Point, Wonderful 1-4)
Better Acting: I did enjoy Kris Kringle and the single mother (which probably wasn’t too popular in those days), but James Stewart and Donna Reed were a fun couple to watch. (Point, Wonderful 1-5)
More Creative: It’s a Wonderful Life gets a lot of press for the ending, but truth be told, it’s not that tough a concept to come up with. And Santa needing to prove he’s Santa in a court of law with a corrupt judge is pretty original for my money. (Point, Miracle 2-5)
Poster: Well, it’s tough to find a consensus on what the original poster is for some of these older films, but given what I have to work with, I’m going to have to go with It’s a Wonderful Life for at least using real people on the poster. And it helps that it isn’t on a puke yellow background too. (Point, Wonderful 2-6)
Watch again: I will likely watch a remake of either of these in 364 days or so, but if I were to watch one of the originals again, it would probably be It’s a Wonderful Life. But probably only if I was folding laundry or baking cookies too. (Point, Wonderful 2-7)
Overall: In the battle of classic Christmas movies that came out just a week apart from one another, It’s a Wonderful Life takes the blue ribbon. Though truth be told, it’s a lot less Christmassy than Miracle on 34th Street. Shame that’s not a category. Winner: It’s a Wonderful Life (7-2)