“Miracle On 34th Street,”An Ethics Companion,Chapter 5: Boy, This Guy Sure Doesn’t ACT Like He’s Santa!

Bellevue ride

(The Introduction is here.; Chapter I is here.;Chapter 2 is here; Chapter 3 is here; Chapter 4 is here.)

Everything so far has been laying the foundation for the climactic and justly famous courtroom scene. But before that can happen, there needs to be a pretext for getting the story into court. Of course, the fact that Kris committed assault and battery on Mr. Sawyer would normally be enough to get him there on a criminal charge, but that wouldn’t have anything to do with Santa Claus, so we have a lot of dubious plot machinations that make no sense at all. in rapid succession—got to get to that courtroom scene!—we get…

Sawyer’s Perfidy

First, Sawyer acts like he’s been grievously wounded so he can credibly insist that Kris be committed. He’s a liar as well as a weasel. He’s also not very bright. He knows Macy’s has been using Kris a public relations cornucopia. He has to know that in any feud with a store Santa Claus who has made money for Macy’s, he’ll lose. Sawyer’s antipathy towards Kris to his own likely detriment makes no sense at all.

Doris’s Failure

Doris refuses to have anything to do with sending Kris to Bellevue, the NYC mental hospital, to be examined. She is, however, unlike Sawyer, responsible for Kris, and has said as much. Her duty is to Macy’s, and her employee attacked someone. This is where conflicts of interest get you in the workplace, and she should have seen this coming. Her job is to fix the problem, and instead she acts helpless. I find this to be nascent sexism in the film: “just like a woman,” Doris is being sentimental when she needs to be practical and decisive.

Actress Maureen O’Hara, a notorious tough proto-feminist, must have been seething.

Let’s see now: Doris hired an inherently questionable old man as her Santa Claus. Then she has him room with her sort-of boyfriend, and have regular concourse with her young daughter, in defiance of the recommendations of the company psychologist. (He’s an ass, but that’s beside the point.) When the predictable crisis involving her oddball employee arrives, she can’t deal with it without her workplace actions also affecting her boyfriend, her child, and her personal relationships with both of them.

Good job, Doris!

 Ethics Incompetence At Macy’s

A Macy’s manager, Mr. Shellhammer, takes over for Doris and says that the Bellevue examination is no big deal: all that will happen is that Kris will again answer all the questions (which do not appear to have any reasonable connection to mental stability: I bet most crazy people know who the first President was) correctly and “If he passes the test, he can return to work at once!” What kind of place is Macy’s? I have never worked anywhere that wouldn’t immediately fire an employee at any level who hit another employee on the head with a solid object. It wouldn’t make any difference what the reason was, what the object was, or whether the victim was injured. I’ve run (lets see now…) at least 15 staffs and organizations, and that doesn’t count theater productions. Engage in physical violence on my watch, and you were out.

Kris is not only a low-level employee, but he works with children. I find this plot cheat an insult to the audience’s intelligence, and dramatically, a turn that makes the audience’s suspension of disbelief impossible (well, impossible for those older than 12 or with an IQ above that of a radish.) It’s lazy screenwriting, and lazy screenwriting is incompetent screenwriting. How hard would it have been to come up with a reason to send Kris to Bellevue that didn’t involve violence?

Sawyer and Shellhammer get Kris out of the store and into a car that takes him to the loony bin—having him in his Santa suit is a nice touch— by telling him that Doris has set up a publicity shot with the mayor. Later, they tell Kris that Doris agreed to the ruse, and to taking him to the hospital. Now, sometimes one has to lie, but pulling an unwilling, non-consenting party into the lie is unconscionable.

Kris Forgets Who He Is, Or Thinks He Is, Or Something…

Stuck in Bellevue, Kris is author of the most unforgivable plot foolishness of all. He forgets that he’s Santa Claus! As he tells Fred, he was so disillusioned that Doris would betray him that he deliberately flunked the same test he’s passed so many times: he even said that Calvin Coolidge was the first President. (At least he knows Silent Cal was a President: how many current high school grads do?) He’s given up. He doesn’t want to go down any more chimneys or fly his sleigh, and will disappoint all those millions of children all over the world, leave Mrs Claus alone in the freezing Arctic, and put the elves and reindeer out of jobs, all because a mid-level Macy’s flack who didn’t believe in him anyway let him down.

Sure! Makes perfect sense, Kris! That’s keeping your priorities straight.

Kris’s conduct at Bellevue undermines the whole flimsy pretense of the film. He can’t be Santa Claus, because Santa Claus would never abandon his duties because of any single person or disappointment. My favorite line in his exchange with Fred, a classic of the “sounds good if you don’t think about it too hard,” is when Kris says,

“There’s Mr. Sawyer. He’s contemptible, dishonest, selfish, deceitful, vicious… Yet he’s out there and I’m in here. He’s called normal and I’m not. Well, if that’s normal, I don’t want it.

Uh, Kris…by definition Santa Claus isn’t normal. There’s only one, after all, and we’re giving you the benefit of the doubt here.

Fred talks Kris Kringle into not giving up his suit and sack after nearly 2000 years because of Doris, and Kris persuades Fred to represent him as he tries to avoid a permanent padded cell at Bellevue. “I believe you’re the greatest lawyer since Clarence Darrow!” he says.

Wait—how does Kris know anything about what kind of lawyer Fred is unless…he really is Santa Claus?

See you in court…

2 thoughts on ““Miracle On 34th Street,”An Ethics Companion,Chapter 5: Boy, This Guy Sure Doesn’t ACT Like He’s Santa!

    • More people knew who Darrow was then and would have gotten the reference. I’m not so sure many of them would today. One of the things I find fascinating about old shows and movies are the references to events and people that would have been widely known and understood that have largely fallen out of public consciousness today. Jokes that would have been hilarious then fly over our heads now as obscure references.

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