HomeA Legal “Miracle” or How US Law Saved Kris Kringle

A Legal “Miracle” or How US Law Saved Kris Kringle

The 1947 Academy Award-winning comedy Miracle on 34th Street, directed and written by George Seaton from an original story by Valentine Davies, is rightfully considered one of Hollywood’s most cherished Christmas classics, alongside Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Miracle on 34th Street is often hailed as “the best Capra picture Capra never made.”

As is widely known due to its frequent television broadcasts during the holiday season, the film follows the tale of Kris Kringle (portrayed by character actor Edmund Gwenn.

Earning him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor), a gentle older man employed to portray Santa Claus at Macy’s Department Store.

Kris excels in his role as Santa and claims to be the authentic figure.

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Legal Accuracy and Departure from Sentimentality in Miracle on 34th Street

Miracle on 34th Street has received widespread praise for its vibrant characters, iconic performances, well-crafted script, and ability to convey heartwarming sentiment without becoming overly sentimental.

However, an often overlooked aspect of the film is its representation of the use and interpretation of law in legal proceedings.

Despite Fred, the film’s romantic lead, being an attorney, Hollywood’s history with courtroom movies doesn’t instill confidence in the accuracy of legal depictions.

Similar sequences likely influenced the film’s climactic courtroom scenes in Frank Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, where the protagonist avoids legal entanglements through sentimentality rather than legal tactics.

In Miracle on 34th Street, director George Seaton opted for a more legally sound approach for Fred to secure a judgment in favor of his client.

Initially, Fred attempts to argue on sentimental grounds but ultimately shifts to a legally valid strategy.

When questioned about the existence of Santa Claus, a political advisor provides an unsentimental, logical explanation to dissuade the judge from ruling against Santa Claus’ existence.

This approach departs from the sentimental reasoning often employed in comparable movie courtroom scenes.

The judge responds with a meek observation that the DA is a Republican.

Harper then sidesteps the issue by stating that proving whether Santa Claus exists is irrelevant; the defense’s obligation is to affirm his client’s sanity by proving that Kris is “the one and only Santa Claus.”

This appears to set a seemingly impossible bar for Fred, but Seaton has cleverly set the stage for a solution that adheres to legal procedure.

Edmund Gwenn in Miracle
Edmund Gwenn in Miracle

Turning attention to the two major characters not yet mentioned: the Macy’s employee who first hired Kris, single mother Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara), and her daughter Susan (portrayed wonderfully by eight-year-old Natalie Wood).

Disillusioned by her failed marriage, Doris has forbidden Susan from believing in “fairy-tale” characters, including Santa Claus.

Despite her considerable affection for Kris, Susan tells him that, to her, he’s “just a kind old man with whiskers.”

After Judge Harper’s ruling, Susan decides to uplift Kris by writing him a letter stating that she’s changed her mind and is now willing to believe he’s Santa Claus.

Unbeknownst to Susan, Doris adds a post-script telling Kris that she believes in him, too. Susan then addresses the envelope to “Kris Kringle, New York County Courthouse.”

The Legal Miracle in Miracle on 34th Street

The “miracle” in the film occurs when a post office mail sorter notices a letter addressed to “Santa Claus” and decides to send all the “Dear Santa” letters to the courthouse.

This practical joke unwittingly becomes the miracle that helps Fred have Kris recognized as Santa Claus in a legally sound manner.

Upon learning about the bags of mail awaiting delivery to his client, Fred researches postal law.

He presents it to the court, emphasizing that misdirecting mail’s a criminal offense. He then produces letters addressed to “Santa Claus” that were delivered to Kris, using them as evidence.

When the DA questions the sufficiency of the evidence, Fred dramatically presents a multitude of letters, leading to a memorable sight gag where the judge is buried under the pile of mail.

John Payne, Edmund Gwenn in Miracle
John Payne, Edmund Gwenn in Miracle

Fred’s legal masterstroke comes when he asserts that since the Post Office, a federal government branch, has delivered these letters to Kris, they recognize him as the one and only Santa Claus.

The judge, faced with this legally acceptable rationale, dismisses the case, avoiding a contentious decision and maintaining his public image.

This unexpected attention to legal detail in a comedy is a notable aspect of Miracle on 34th Street, adding a layer of depth to the film’s narrative.

The film’s ability to blend legal accuracy with entertainment value is reminiscent of the best works of renowned filmmakers, making it a standout in its genre.

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Ashish Dahal
Ashish Dahal
Ashish is a prolific content writer, blends with the creativity with precision in his writing. His work, characterized by clarity and engaging storytelling has gathered a loyal readership. His passion for words fuels his constant pursuit of excellence.

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    Ashish Dahal has combined his interests and content writing. Through his work, he showcases enthusiasm and ability to deliver captivating content consistently. Ashish's writing demonstrates his passion for storytelling and content creation.



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