… I’m a man of wealth and taste. Actually, I am the Pope! The Pope of Film. For the next year, I am going to be counting down the fifty greatest films ever made, and I would like you to come along for the ride. The films I write about will be THE fifty greatest films, rest assured—because I am the Pope, the Pope of Film. I am infallible. This is not a matter of taste. This is not a matter of opinion. What I say goes. Why am I the Pope of Film?
I thought of it first.
The Pope (me) hopes you (you) enjoy this countdown and agree with his (my) selections. If you (you) disagree, that’s just too damn bad. As I have already explained, I am the Pope of Film. Bathe in my holy light of wisdom and kiss the ring, bitches -- because I am a good and just pontiff but will quarter no dissention.
This list is in rank order, so we will start at #50 and count down to the single greatest film ever made. Doesn’t that sound like fun? The Pope (me) is confining himself (myself) to English-language films, because the Pope (me again) needed to narrow the scope (the Pope Scope) to a manageable level. It is decided! And now, bow your heads (toward the screen) and let us begin.
#50: Miracle on 34th Street
The Plot In Brief: The Santa Claus in the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving parade shows up sozzled, so parade chief Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara) must find a quick replacement. Luckily, helpful old coot Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) is on hand and agrees to play the part. Later, Kris agrees to be Macy’s official department store Santa as well. This proves confusing to Doris’s daughter Susan (Natalie Wood,) who has been taught that Santa doesn’t really exist. Next-door neighbor and attorney Fred Gailey is a good friend to Susan and has his eye on Doris. He thinks that little Susan is being denied a childhood by her practical, no-nonsense mother. Fred agrees to take Kris on as a roommate, so Kris’s daily commute to Macy’s will be shorter.
Miracle on 34th Street should be considered one of the wonders of American cinema for its performances alone. From the always-wonderful Maureen O’Hara to John Payne to Natalie Wood giving one of the most unaffected and iconic child performances in Hollywood history, the film is perfectly cast. The entire enterprise would collapse under its own weight were it not for the intuitive and charming performance of Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle. One could improve one’s life if one simply aspired to act more like Gwenn in this, his best-remembered performance. My proof of this is the misbegotten remake from 1994 in which Mara Wilson gives a child performance out of a Coca-Cola commercial and Richard Attenborough portrays Kris Kringle as John Hammond from Jurassic Park only with a longer beard. The remake is also 20 minutes longer. Shudder.
Miracle’s Three Miracles: Edmund Gwenn’s warm, committed performance; the scene where Kris speaks Dutch to the little war orphan girl; and the “postal twist” that decides the court case. Sublime.
"In nomine Patrici, et Scorsese, qui mecum est Jai Beaie, Amen."