Recently someone found their way to this blog by searching for ‘moppets in film.’ And that made Moppet think. They were to be disappointed: thus far The Misadventures of Moppet has contained nothing with regard to moppets in film. But that’s going to change.
This will be the first in a series of posts honouring the greatest moppet film performances. First up: Natalie Wood’s classic performance in Miracle on 34th Street as Susan Walker, the little girl who learns to believe in Santa Claus.
34th Street is the home of Macy’s, the workplace of Susan’s mother, Doris (Maureen O’Hara).
Embittered by her divorce, Doris has brought Susan up not to believe in fairy tales or happy endings. As a result Susan, a solemn and cynical child, is unimpressed by the Santa (Edmund Gwenn) hired by the store, and attempts to pull off his beard.
But – could this be the real Santa? He appears to have special powers. Confronted with a little Dutch girl, he talks and sings to her in her own language. Natalie’s reaction shots are priceless:
Before long it’s not just Susan sitting in judgment on Santa’s true identity: in fact this becomes the subject of a court case. But this is a 1947 family film, so it will come as a surprise to no-one that Susan at least does eventually decide to believe in Santa, convincing herself with the following mantra:
I believe, I believe. It’s silly, but I believe.
The film was promoted with a creative trailer:
which, while roping in stars such as Rex Harrison, Rosalind Russell, Anne Baxter, Peggy Ann Garner (another former moppet best known for her performance in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) and Dick Haymes, carefully omits any mention of Christmas – the film being released, for reasons best known to 20th Century-Fox, in July.
Miracle on 34th Street, eight-year-old Natalie’s fourth film, proved to be a perfect vehicle for her talent. Unlike many other moppet actresses, she would successfully make the transition to adult star in films such as Rebel Without A Cause, Gypsy and Splendor in the Grass.
Additional source: Gavin Lambert, Natalie Wood: A Life