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The Greatest Lawyer Movies of All Time: Um… Miracle on 34th Street?

This dude is just as surprised as you are that he made the ABA Top 25 Lawyer Movies.

This week, with ambient Christmas music having burrowed its way deep into my subconscious, I decided to watch a Christmas classic, #25 on the ABA’s list of the 25 best legal movies…

Miracle on 34th Street
1947 dir. George Seaton

There’s an annoying trend in movies about the supernatural. There’s always a token realist, smug in his or her assurance that, certainly, there must be some rational explanation for all of this. When the unexplainable phenomenon is malevolent, this person is always the first to get snatched.

Obviously, there’s no such comeuppance in “Miracle on 34th Street,” a film that is thoroughly kind-spirited and just about as charming as it gets. Still, the movie is aggressively propagandistic. Believe! Don’t question or doubt! The gentle bearded man needs you to trust he’s real so that he can spread joy and love!

In “Miracle on 34th Street,” the cynics are a Macy’s executive and her bright young daughter, played by Maureen O’Hara and Natalie Wood, respectively. The child has been raised not to believe in fairy tales or delusions, to look squarely at world and use logic and reason to make of it what she will. Man, is she stupid! She doesn’t even believe in the Jolly Flying Toy God, and her mother is even worse. Together, they make a kind of test case for Santa. If he can convince them that he’s the Real McClause, rather than a kindly old man suffering from mental illness, then the future of the Christmas spirit might have a fighting chance.

I just want to say, for the record, that Santa isn’t real, and mental illness is. Okay, I got it out of my system. Clearly I need a Christmas spirit miracle myself.

In the final third, “Miracle on 34th Street” becomes a courtroom drama in which, of all things, an intrepid and upstanding attorney takes on the task of proving in a court of law that Mr. Kringle is exactly who he claims to be. We’ve seen some big questions tried in the Movie Court of Law, but maybe none as big as the existential status of a demigod. The courtroom proceedings are silly, but effectively staged and entertaining. There are no Pacino-level theatrics, but everyone acquits themselves quite nicely.

Setting aside my scrooge-like gripes, the truth is that “Miracle on 34th Street” is pretty great, both as a lawyer movie and as a Christmas movie. It’s the story of an outsider coming into a community and bringing out the best in everyone around him, and that’s a sentiment I can certainly get behind. This blueprint seems to have been lifted, almost beat for beat, by 2003’s “Elf,” an equally charming movie that got regular airtime in my childhood home around this time of year.

So check out “Miracle on 34th Street” this holiday: it’s an extremely pleasant film and you and the lawyers in your family will get a kick out of the third act. If you’re like me and haven’t seen it since you were watching VHSs, you’ll be surprised at how well it holds up, nearly 70 years after it was released. Unless there’s an angry Santa-skeptic in your family, this is a movie that’s sure to please just about everyone.