MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) C 113m. dir: Vincente Minnelli
w/Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien, Mary Astor, Lucille Bremer, Leon Ames, Tom Drake, Marjorie Main, Harry Davenport, June Lockhart, Henry H. Daniels Jr., Joan Carroll, Hugh Marlowe, Robert Sully, Chill Wills
From The Movie Guide: "A Valentine to the good old days, and all they stood for. Near-peak Judy Garland under the stylish direction of her future husband, Vincente Minnelli, in this wonderful period musical. It opens in 1903 in St. Louis, where Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames), a well-to-do businessman, lives with his wife (Mary Astor), daughters (Garland, Lucille Bremer, Joan Carroll, and Margaret O'Brien), son (Hank Daniels), capricious Grandpa (Harry Davenport), and maid (Marjorie Main). Daughter Rose (Bremer) is courted by one beau at home and corresponds with another away at college, while Esther (Garland) becomes engaged to the new boy next door. Little sisters Agnes (Joan Carroll) and Tootie (Margaret O'Brien) represent the timeless mischief of childhood. Trouble arises when Alonzo is promoted and ordered to New York, a move no one in the family wants to make.
"This is a peerless portrayal of America at the turn of the century and one family's struggles to deal with progress, symbolized by the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis (beautifully recreated for the film). Minnelli proves his eye for detail and captures the era and its values in richly colored, gentle images, displaying a startling balance of emotions from scene to scene, song to song. Among the songs included in this triumph of Americana are 'The Boy Next Door,' 'Meet Me in St. Louis,' the marvelous production number 'The Trolley Song,' and Garland's evergreen 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.' An almost unbeatable musical. Note Garland's beauty in this film: a tribute to the overhaul given her by Dottie Pondell, whose services Garland had snatched from under the noses of every major star in Hollywood, upon the death of Carole Lombard."
It should be noted, in light of the last comment from The Movie Guide, that Garland's lovely appearance in the film is also due in great part to the way Minnelli had George Folsey photograph her. The love that was growing between the director and his star is right there on the screen for all to see.
Also of note, when Leon Ames sings the song "You and I" in the film, his voice is dubbed by that most wonderful of all MGM musical producers, Arthur Freed.
From the Slant website (www.slantmagazine.com), this review of the film by Jaime N. Christley:
"The production and presentation of Minnelli’s first masterpiece gets everything right that really counts.
"Vincente Minnelli already had two features under his belt when he made Meet Me in St. Louis in 1944, and he’d been directing shows on Broadway since 1935. Like Eric Rohmer, Robert Bresson, and Manoel de Oliveira, he didn’t hit his stride as a filmmaker until his 40s, but also like those masters, he had several decades’ worth of outstanding work ahead of him. Meet Me in St. Louis was the first of three collaborations with Judy Garland (not counting uncredited direction), whom he would marry in 1946. The second of the three, The Clock, was be the masterpiece that makes the fullest use of both of their gifts, but their 1944 musical, often cited as the first major motion picture to weave its production numbers into the script’s 'regular life' scenes (as opposed to isolating them either inside a framework of showbiz, or in an alternate dimension of surrealist fantasy), more than deserves its reputation as a Technicolor screen classic.
"On the surface, Meet Me in St. Louis represents the apotheosis of the kind of candy-textured, Technicolor Americana we tend to think of first when we consider the 'genius' of Hollywood’s system of craftspeople and technicians, led by the guiding hand of a visionary leader --- in this case, Arthur Freed. It’s also the happy-go-lucky, sun-glazed doppelganger to Orson Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons; Minnelli's film takes place in the halcyon days of early-20th-century Midwestern America, the kind only glimpsed in passing in Welles’s (and author Booth Tarkington’s) view. On the surface, the only thing of consequence that threatens the family peace is the 'we might move away' crisis that subsequently became, for television writers, the warhorse of sitcom templates. In the end, everyone ends up where they ought to be, with those they ought to be with, and the lights go up on the 1904 World’s Fair.
"Freed is certainly responsible for a large part of the thing called 'Hollywood' --- certainly MGM owes him its very soul --- by making the feature-length color movie musical a part of the landscape of 20th-century American pop culture. But Minnelli’s richly layered and detailed compositions in Meet Me in St. Louis, which seem to embed (or embalm) the Smith family in fabrics and woodcuts, ends up transmitting what’s important about family unity and young love through physical patterns of impossible complexity. If Minnelli, whose mise-en-scene is truly 3D, couldn’t build a background of intersecting lines, lampshades, curtains, awnings, curtains, tables, doorjambs, and so on, he’d pack the frame to bursting with heads, arms, legs, and torsos, moving in cartwheels and pirouettes.
"In its depiction of small-town life, Meet Me in St. Louis fairly hums with dark undercurrents that would surface in two of Minnelli’s later masterpieces, Some Came Running and Home From the Hill; one of the most buoyant scenes in the latter shows the town getting together to do regular upkeep in the cemetery, while, without skipping a happy beat, Minnelli’s camera glides toward the area George Peppard’s lower-class Rafe Copley is cleaning up, which is cleanly segregated from the 'good people' graves.
"No such class divisions are so much as alluded to in Meet Me in St. Louis, except in the most lyrically childish manner: the pint-sized Tootie (seven-year-old Margaret O’Brien, whose adorable, crackerjack professionalism earned her second billing --- and an honorary Oscar) embarks on a solo mission to 'kill' --- that is, cast flour upon --- the town’s most feared, most loathsome grown-ups. What follows is one of the strangest sequences in 1940s American cinema, on par with the avant-garde work of Maya Deren and Kenneth Anger. Tootie and her older sister Agnes (Joan Carroll) conference with the (now feral) tribe of neighborhood kids before getting their assignment, over a large bonfire in the street. Accepting the challenge to 'kill' Mr. Braukoff, Tootie sets off alone, the bonfire at her back, afraid but determined. Braukoff’s alleged crimes include killing cats, drinking whiskey, and beating his wife with a red-hot poker. It could be that none of this is true, or it could be that the kids have accepted a distortion of the truth, and that the less-desirable underside of the American paradise can only be processed in a film like this through the eyes of imaginative children. Either way, it’s a sequence that seems to take on an unusual gravity by sheer association. For once, Minnelli’s extraordinary powers of expressionistic design threaten to derail what has up to that point been a harmless confection, and the effect is thrilling and strange."
MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS was nominated for four Oscars: Best Screenplay (Irving Brecher and Fred F. Finkelhoff, based on the stories of Sally Benson), Cinematography (George Folsey), Score (Georgie Stoll), and Song ("The Trolley Song," Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin).