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Miracle on 34th Street

Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood
May E. Romm
Spoiler alert
Blog entry

Miracle addresses the conflict between faith and fact, fantasy and reality, and the labeling of behavior that we cannot understand as crazy (about Kris Kringle, as Santa, 0:21). Filmed against a very different back drop from The Snake Pit, filmed around the same time, Miracle almost equals Snake Pit in richness of commentary on popular attitudes toward psychiatry soon after World War II in the U.S.:

Dispute over the best way to raise a child: Doris to Mr. Gailey about her daughter Susan and fantasy causing "horrible mental conflict" (0:21); Susan parrots her mother's teaching to Kris: "see things that aren't really there" ... "imagination" (0:39)

Use of psychologists by employers: Mr. Sawyer (Macy's company psychologist) will examine Kris (0:29)

The notion that a psychologist/psychiatrist might be more disturbed than the patient: Kris turns the tables on the Mr. Sawyer, who reacts with anger (0:32)Movie Home Alone

Hints at notions of ability to predict potential violent behavior: Mr. Sawyer about Kris: "He may become violent," has "latent maniacal tendencies" (0:34)

Questioning the propriety of depriving an individual of liberty because of aberrant or unexplained behavior or ideas: Kris "should be in a mental institution"; Dr. Pierce (family physician from retirement home): Kris is "delusional" but harmless (0:34)

Misuse of positions of authority and psychological theory by psychiatrists or psychologists: Mr. Sawyer says Kris has a guilt complex which takes time to treat (0:51); Mr. Sawyer tricks Kris to get him to (the psychiatric ward at) Bellevue Hospital (0: 57)

Psychiatrists portrayed as superior to psychologists: Kris challenges Mr. Sawyer, implies a psychiatrist has more authority, "Are you a psychiatrist?...passing yourself off..." (0:53).

Why might a psychologist be addressed as "Mr." instead of "Dr.?"

Emergence of casual use of psychiatric jargon in popular culture: talk about phobias, delusions, being maladjusted (0:53)

Notions of psychological determinants of behavior: Mr. Sawyer says about Kris, when he (Sawyer) "attacked his delusions he became violent" (0: 55)

Popular, and partly accurate, notions of a psychological examination portrayed as silly: Mr. Sawyer examining Kris, who already know the drill from prior experience (0:32); Even a lay person (Kris) knew how to skew the outcome of an examination, faking sick by having deliberately "answered questions incorrectly" (1:00)

Invocation of legal process to "certify" a patient for commitment: Dr. Rogers, presumably a psychiatrist at Bellevue, recommends Kris be committed (0:58); the certification form (1:02); reference to a "lunacy" hearing, (1:04); Gailey, as Kris' attorney threatens to file a writ of habeas corpus; the hearing before a judge (1:07)

May E. Romm, MD acted as technical advisor.

References in Home Alone, Lost in America, The BigamistThe Santa Clause