We all have our favorite holiday classic movies that are on our “must watch” list at this time of year. There is such a variety to choose from — The Grinch, Charlie Brown, Elf, The Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life……the list seems to be nearly endless, and somehow we can watch some of these every year for many years, reaching the point where we can quote them word-for-word, yet we still love to watch them each time.
For me, my ultimate favorite old classic is A Miracle on 34th Street. I love this movie for a lot of reasons. The story line itself is pretty adorable. The characters are so memorable – Kris Kringle truly has a twinkle in his eye; young Natalie Wood is precocious yet some how endearing, with her bubble gum saved in her special box in her bedside table; the handsome young lawyer; the young janitor with the heavy fake Bronx accent; and of course, the strong Doris Walker played by the stunning Maureen O’Hara – the mom to be wooed not only by the Lawyer but by the spirit of the season. And what’s not to love about the under-story of the battles between two Retailers, Macy’s and Gimbels?
Last night as I settled in for probably the umpteenth time to watch it, I noticed how things have changed since 1947, when this movie came to be. What struck me first, which had never really dawned on me before, is how at the very beginning of the movie, we learn how little Susan has been spending time with an unrelated adult man in a neighboring apartment – someone her mom has not yet met. He has “grown very fond of Susan”, and apparently spends quite a bit of time with her. Unfortunately in today’s society, a million alarm bells would go off in any of our heads now if a child was in that situation. But then, in this movie, there was nothing “wrong” about it. Similarly, when the Lawyer admits he partly was spending time with the girl in order to meet the mom, Ms. Walker is only slightly taken aback, and actually charmed… not completely disgusted as women would be today.
Certainly, there are the other “old time” movie elements that have changed in modern day and are fun to pick out… actors are shown smoking pipes and cigars around children, women are always in dresses, and children have perfect manners. And of course Macy’s has outlived Gimbels, and still clings to its heritage to be special among a sea of modern-day retail giants — but shopping experiences are just not what they used to be. Seeing the world through Hollywood’s eyes in the late 40’s adds to the charm of this classic.
Most notable of all is the character of Doris Walker, one of Hollywood’s first Real Women. She is a career woman. In a time when most working women held supportive, administrative roles, Ms. Walker has her own office, her own assistant, and seemingly some authority with the men around her. Even more shocking, she is [gasp!] divorced, and raising her daughter on her own. This combination was rarely discussed in those days, especially on the big screen.
This Real Woman has become slightly bitter. She works hard and has built up a wall to protect herself. She makes all of her decisions in life based on reality and fact. There are no fairy tales in her life, and she scolds the new man in her life for his “idealistic ideas and beliefs in silly intangibles.” Yet, as the movie progresses, she goes through her own Grinch-like transformation and softens and begins to believe once again in something other than common sense, and lets in some spirit of the season.
Of course, we all could find it easier to be in the cheerful holiday spirit if we had a fabulous job, had just received a healthy bonus, had a new man in our life, were about to buy a quaint new home, and looked like Maureen O’Hara. But all that aside, what we see is a Real Woman who has been carrying the world on her shoulders in true martyr style, finally decide to relax a bit under those giant shoulder pads.
Last night as I was wrapping gifts and watching my old favorite, I began to wonder. How many of us modern day Real Women are Doris Walkers? How many of us have built up walls to be strong and resilient, have started to reject notions of fantasy and have become just a touch cynical? Not on purpose, mind you… but out of “necessity” or because we are too busy trying to carry too much on our modern day shoulder pads?
Maybe this is the perfect time of year to let go of our inner Ms. Walker and relax. Be silly. Believe in some sort of magic. Channel instead our inner Susans and start to have some fun with fairy tales and “silly intangibles.” We have spent the rest of the year being the strong Real Women, taking care of others and having our feet firmly placed in reality. It’s time for some faith and frivolity.