After a couple of darker selections (Nazi invasions and psychopaths), I thought I would lighten it up a bit. In the immortal words of Monty Python, “And now for something completely different.”
Today we look at a fun, uplifting 40’s musical starring a 21-year-old Judy Garland. Released in 1944, Meet Me In St. Louis is set in the year prior to the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904. The story focuses on a family over the course of the year leading up to the World’s Fair. It’s played out in four seasonal episodes—Summer of 1903, Halloween, Christmas, and finally Spring of 1904.
Judy Garland is one of the Smith family’s four daughters (Esther) and her siblings include a young Margaret O’Brien who plays little sister “Tootie,” Lucille Bremer as Rose, and Joan Carroll as Agnes. Henry H. Daniels Jr. plays the son, Lon Smith Jr. Mary Astor plays the mother, Mrs. Anna Smith, and Leon Ames is the family patriarch, Alonzo Smith. The film is well known for two very popular songs, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and “The Trolley Song.”
Meet Me In St.Louis is lavish in costumes and period settings and enhanced even more so by the wonder of Technicolor. The story was based on an autobiographical series of short stories written by Sally Benson and published in The New Yorker magazine called “The Kensington Stories” and later adapted as a novel, Meet Me In St. Louis. Vincente Minnelli was the director and it was here that he first met and fell in love with Judy Garland. They were a couple by the end of the filming and later married (having a daughter, Liza Minnelli).
The story involves the family adjusting to the idea that the father, a lawyer in St. Louis, has decided to pull up stakes and move the family to New York (not a popular idea in the family, I might add). In the meantime, Judy Garland’s character meets a new young man who has just moved in next door—and romance is in the air. The music, the sets, the colorful costumes, and the storyline all make this an uplifting, fun movie for me.
An added bonus is the playfulness and mischievousness of the young Margaret O’Brien– “Tootie.” She practically steals the scenes in which she appears. Tom Drake, the boy next door, was played by John Truett. Interestingly, also considered for that role were Van Johnson, Peter Lawford, and Robert Walker. Other well-known actors appearing in this film include Chill Wills, Hugh Marlowe, Marjorie Main, and June Lockhart.
Judy Garland balked at making this film as she did not want to play another role as a teenager. She wanted to be perceived as a woman. Vincente Minnelli convinced her to play the part of Esther, and she later admitted she fell in love with the story (and the director). Later in her life, she identified the role of Esther as one of her favorites.
The film proved to be a major box office success. It grossed more money than any MGM movie in the previous 20 years with the exception of Gone With The Wind. The success fostered plans to make a series of sequels focusing on the Smith family, but that never came to pass.
The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, and the rambunctious Margaret O’Brien won the award in 1944 as Outstanding Child Actress. The American Film Institute ranked the film number ten on its Greatest Movie Musicals list. The songs “The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” were both ranked in the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Songs in American Films list.
Meet Me In St. Louis was remade for television in 1959 (with Jane Powell, Patty Duke, Tab Hunter, and others) and again in 1966 (with Shelley Fabares and Celeste Holm). A Broadway musical based on the film opened in 1989. Rotten Tomatoes gives a score of 100% from critics and 87% from audience reviews. To lift a quote from The Rotten Tomatoes site: “In the end, love—accompanied by song, dance and period costumes, all in glorious Technicolor—conquers all.”
To come back to where I started, I wanted to look at something fun, light-hearted, and uplifting. We live in very difficult times now with the pandemic, war in the Ukraine, ongoing political division within our country and community, etc. Movies can be an escape, and to me, that is what this film brings. Sit back and catch a glimpse into a time long gone, enjoy the humor and hints of first love, marvel at the song and dance on the screen, and escape for a couple of hours. This movie brings joy and a smile to my face, and I hope you will find the same result.
The film is available on several streaming sites for a fee, but it is also available on DVD at the Clark County Public Library. View the trailer (from YouTube) below.
Be on the lookout for the next Reel Classic.