Friday, December 12, 2008
Oh, Porter Hall, You're Always Getting People Into Trouble
Another thing that I like about Miracle On 34th Street, and didn't really think much about until I watched it again recently, is that it's one of the very few 1940s movies to take a dim view of pop psychoanalysis. As anyone who's seen Kings Row or Spellbound scores of other '40s and early '50s movies will agree, this was an era of filmmaking that was drenched in "Dollar-Book Freud" (Orson Welles's term for the Rosebud stuff in Citizen Kane).
But Miracle not only comes out against this kind of thing, it literally makes it the most evil force in the whole movie: the villain is Mr. Sawyer (Porter Hall), who uses fake Freudian jargon to convince a nice young man that his acts of kindness are really rooted in guilt, that he hates his father and that he has some kind of horrible buried secret in his past. All this phony psychiatry, used to make people feel that normal human emotions are rooted in something bad, is the one thing in the whole movie that can rouse Kris to anger and violence. And when telling off Mr. Sawyer, Kris mentions that he has respect for real psychiatrists but not for people who just want to use the language to make people question their own mental health. He, and George Seaton, might as well be telling off the whole '40s film industry.