DiscoverLaw on FilmMiracle on 34th Street and Top Law Movies List (Guest: Ashley Merryman) (episode 24)
Miracle on 34th Street and Top Law Movies List (Guest: Ashley Merryman) (episode 24)

Miracle on 34th Street and Top Law Movies List (Guest: Ashley Merryman) (episode 24)

Update: 2024-04-16


This episode looks at “Law Films You Won't Want to Miss,” a recent list of "the most captivating legal themed movies," published in U.S. News and World Report.  Which movies are on the list? Which didn't make the cut? And what does the list tell us about “law movies”—and of great law movies? 

One film on the list may be something of a surprise: Miracle on 34th Street (1947) written and directed by George Seaton, from a story by Valentine Davies. In this Christmas holiday classic, the events director of Macy’s Department Store in NYC, Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara) hires an old man named Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn, who won an Oscar as best supporting actor) to serve as Macy’s Santa Clause after the prior Santa is fired for being a drunk. Kringle not only closely resembles Santa Clause but believes he is Santa. Kringle is welcomed into Doris’s home and makes a favorable impression on Doris’s daughter Susan (Natalie Wood).  Kringle also makes an impression at work. He advises one customer to go to another store when Macy’s can’t fulfill her son’s request for a particular toy instead of trying to sell her something else. This turns out to be a public relations stroke of genius, demonstrating Macy’s concern for and loyalty to its customers. But Kringle’s success at Macy’s doesn’t last. He gets into a dispute  with another employee who insists Kringle be fired and put into a mental hospital. A civil commitment hearing takes place, where the question centers on whether Kringle’s belief that he is Santa Clause shows he is insane. Miracle on 34th Street raises timeless questions how law should treat beliefs.  I’m joined by Ashley Merryman, the author of the list, “Law Films You Won't Want to Miss.”


0:00      Introduction
4:21      The top law movies
5:16      What makes a great law movie
9:19      Witness for the Prosecution and other favorites
16:16    Erin Brockovich and why great law movies aren’t always courtroom dramas
22:54   Some also-rans
29:45   Why Miracle on 34th Street made the list
31:53   A take on how politics informs courts and trials
35:34   Proving Santa Claus through a federal postal regulation
39:47   The legal realism of Miracle on 34th Street
41:40   When holiday movies were released in the spring
45:34   When courts are the arbiter of beliefs 
51:04   Fun facts in compiling the best law movies list
57:29   Introducing the new Q & A segment

Further reading:

Davis, Kevin, "The 25 Greatest Legal Movies: Expanding the Boundaries," ABA Journal (Aug. 2018)
Merryman, Ashley, “Law Films You Won't Want to Miss,” U.S. News & World Report
 (Feb. 1, 2024)

Minnow, Nell, “An Idea Is a Greater Monument than a Cathedral: Deciding How We Know What We Know in ‘Inherit the Wind,’” 30 U.S.F. L. Rev. 1225 (1996)

Olear, Greg, “‘Miracle on 34th Street’: Best Christmas movie ever,”? Salon (Dec. 24, 2012)


Law on Film is created and produced by Jonathan Hafetz. Jonathan is a professor at Seton Hall Law School. He has written many books and articles about the law. He has litigated important cases to protect civil liberties and human rights while working at the ACLU and other organizations. Jonathan is a huge film buff and has been watching, studying, and talking about movies for as long as he can remember.
For more information about Jonathan, here's a link to his bio:
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Miracle on 34th Street and Top Law Movies List (Guest: Ashley Merryman) (episode 24)

Miracle on 34th Street and Top Law Movies List (Guest: Ashley Merryman) (episode 24)

Jonathan Hafetz