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"Miracle on 34th Street" standard DVD review

1348 Views 0 Replies 1 Participant Last post by  Richard W. Haines
This holiday classic is being sold everywhere in a two disc special edition
for $14 and if you like this movie, it's the best condition it's been seen in
since it's release in 1947.

Like so many famous movies, it was the victim in it's own success in that
the film elements accumulated extensive scratches, dust, dirt and wear
from endless printing from 1947 to the present. The movie was shot on
the highly flammable and volatile nitrate stock which was subject to
complete decomposition but Fox transferred all of their surviving features
to the more durable safety film in the fifties and sixties. The problem was,
they apparently disgarded the nitrate originals even if they weren't deteriorating
and most of the titles were re-copied dry gate rather than wet gate (which filled
in the scratches) so the preservation elements had printed in wear and that's
how the film was shown for many decades. Earlier releases of the movie in
the home video formats like VHS and laserdisc did not look good.

Fortunately Fox did a full digital restoration of the picture and removed virtually
all of the damage so it looks brand new with good contrast, black levels
and sharpness. Any shrinkage has been stabilized so the image is rock
steady. It's a tad grainier than when originally shown due to the generation
loss but it's as good as the movie will ever look now which is not bad at all.
It's a shame the nitrate negative doesn't exist because it would generate
even better results. It will be interesting to see whether a future blu ray
release shows up the slight grain more obviously. I'm sure I'm being over
critical but the reason is I've seen original nitrate prints from the twenties
through the late forties and they were so fine grain and razor sharp, they
looked almost three dimensional. Nitrate stock did look better than
contemporary black and white film but it wasn't archival so it was phased
out between 1948-1951. (Some studios like MGM and Disney saved the
undeteriorated nitrate negatives which are being used for their digital

The re-mixed audio which has a slight stereo enhancement is acceptable but a bit hissy
like all movies from that era. This was several decades before noise reduction was
applied to optical sound.

There are some entertaining suppliments including a clip of the Academy Awards
where Gwenn received his Oscar and a bizarre trailer which has to be seen to
be believed. It's obvious they had no idea how to market this movie, especially
since they released it in the summer instead of December. When it was sold for
television broadcast it was shown twice yearly, once on Thankgiving and
once before Christmas Eve. I saw it every year of course but I noticed the
prints getting more and more scratched over the decades so it was like seeing
it for the first time projected on my home theater screen with a very clean
image. Maureen O'Hara (the only surviving lead player) does a commentary
with her thick Irish accent which returned after she retired from Hollywood features.

There is also a dreadful colorized version on the second disc which you should avoid.
The problem with most colorization (aside from altering the grayscale of the cinematographer) is that they didn't make it resemble a Technicolor print of the era. It looks more like a somewhat faded Eastmancolor print from the seventies which is disorienting to watch. The black and white cinematography wasn't that spectacular
to begin with. Just functional for the story.

To illustrate how surperb the original cast was, they even included a television remake
starring Thomas Mitchell in the Gwenn role. He comes off rather creepy and considerabley less charming. Part of the problem is that Mitchell brings his linkage with the mentally disturbed character he played in "Gone with the Wind" and some of those mannerisms come through. Theresa Wright in the O'Hara role is ice cold and unlikeable. And to show what a great thespian Natalie Wood was at age 7, compare her performance to Sandy Descher,the girl in the remake. She's a typical annoying and precocious child actress whereas Wood was a very natural one with a real screen presence.

I guess there's no point in describing the storyline since I'm sure anyone interested
in purchasing this edition has seen it many times. The only thing I'll add is that
while the theme, "Faith is believing in something when common sense tells you not
to", works nicely within the context of this fantasy, it isn't pragmatic in the real

In Summary for Black and White version: Picture A-, Sound B,
Cinematography B,
Performances A,
Story and Screenplay A
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