Edmund Gwenn won an Oscar for his portrayal of the real deal Santa Claus that for some reason has escaped an old folks home and decided to wreak his holiday brand of havoc on the capitalist pigs at Macy’s, as well as firing up a little girl’s imagination which has been stymied by her divorced workaholic and very sensible mother. He’s also got no use for drunken Santa imposters, pop psychiatry, and doesn’t mind going to trial to prove he is the one and only Santa!
The movie begins with Doris Walker, single crabby mother, in charge of making sure that none of the drunks in the Macy’s parade get carried off by the Underdog balloon and she finds Kris Kringle hassling this drunken Santa Clause. Like all those classic movies where the understudy goes on after the star breaks her leg or is just too much of an alcoholic to perform, Kris steps into the roll on a moment’s notice and does a splendid job.
Backstage in the Macy’s locker room, Santa has an encounter with a subplot named Chucky. Chucky is one of those chubby, ugly do-gooders who likes to dress up as Santa and hand gifts out to the kids at the Y. Santa is all for this, since anything is better than having a drunk run around dressed like you and passing out on parade floats.
Meanwhile there is a guy named Fred who has been sucking up to Susan in an effort to get into her mom’s panties. I know what you guys out there are thinking: There has to be an easier way. Well there isn’t, so just buck up and get interested in Barbie dolls and Holly Hobbie.
Susan and Fred work together to get her frigid, I mean reserved, mom to invite him over for dinner. Susan does her part by asking Doris to let her new buddy Frank come over, but then asks Frank in front of Doris if that was the way he wanted her to do it! You’ve probably already gone ahead and identified this burgeoning relationship as one that is going to need a little help from Santa.
Back at Macy’s, they’ve decided to hire Kris as the department store Santa since he comes with his own beard and costume. He immediately shows himself to be one of those Santas who plays by his own rules, promising kids toys their parents can’t find, telling the parents to go get them at someplace other than Macy’s, and even by speaking Dutch!
The people at Macy’s are a bit disconcerted that the dude they are paying to move overstocked merchandise (there’s a great scene where the scummy store manager is telling him to push the toys they bought too many of) is sending customers out to places with better deals. Before they can put him on suspension though, the customers tell them that they think it’s great that Macy’s has their best interests at heart and that they will be buying all their stuff at Macy’s from now on! (Unless Santa tells them not to of course.)
Management immediately see this as a wonderful public relations opportunity, but Doris has already gone and fired his fat ass!
Through the machinations of the plot too ridiculous to tell, somehow Santa ends up rooming with Frank. This allows Santa to hang out with Susan and teach her the importance of pretending and stuff. She tells Santa that the only thing she wants for Christmas is a nice home in the suburbs.
The plotting goes from the ridiculous to the absurd when Chucky tells Santa he’s not going down to the Y anymore because the store counselor told him that the only reason he did those good deeds is because he has a guilt complex and is trying to make up for the bad stuff he did even though he hasn’t done anything bad at all!
Santa is enraged and confronts the counselor, telling him that he has no business playing his amateur head games with poor little Chucky. And just to make sure he’s gotten his point across, he hits the guy on his head! Santa gets hauled away and he intentionally fails all the tests at the mental hospital because it’s obvious that the world has turned into one giant reindeer turd sandwich! Next stop: commitment hearing!
What’s great about this movie is the underlying cynicism that pervades it. Santa has to go to court to prove he’s real, the only reason the judge declares him to be Santa is because he’s concerned about his decision’s ramifications on his re-election bid and Macy’s only puts up with Kris sending people to other stores, not because it’s the best deal, but because it gives Macy’s good publicity!
Even so the movie was enjoyable and its message that we could all benefit from having a little faith is a good one. Thankfully, Santa is well-played by Gwenn and while his Santa is trying hard to make people believe again, he isn’t about to take any crap either!
Natalie Wood also shines as the kid who desperately wants to believe in spite of what her worthless mother has tried to hammer into her. And when you’ve got a Kris Kringle who’s assaulting people, beating the rap at trial, and most importantly sets you up with a sweet new house in the burbs, it’s not hard to understand how she’s able to learn to get some of that good old fashioned Christmas cheer into her!
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