Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) / Musical-Romance
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably G, suitable for all audiences
Running time: 113 min.
Cast: Judy Garland, Tom Drake, Margaret O'Brien, Mary Astor, Lucille Bremer, Leon Ames, Marjorie Main, Harry Davenport
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Screenplay: Irving Brecher, Fred F. Finklehoffe (based on the writings of Sally Benson)
Review published July 19, 2008
Set in 1903, St. Louis, the site of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World's Fair, Meet Me in St. Louis wraps its tale around several short stories called "5135 Kensington" by author Sally Benson, as originally published in "The New Yorker" magazine. Judy Garland (The Wizard of Oz, Judgment at Nuremberg) plays Esther, one of four sisters living in a typical house on a typical street in the growing town, who has an eye for the boy next door, John Truett (Drake, Words and Music). Through a series of circumstances, the two eventually do come together, only to have Esther's hopes and dreams of her first true love crumble when her banker father announces that the family will be moving to New York City after the holidays.
Long considered a classic musical, this is "greeting card" nostalgic Americana, telling of the innocence and humble life of Mideast United States families. Although billed and promoted as a romance, it's as much about the town of St. Louis, and how people come to cherish the life they hold, even when given the chance to live somewhere known to be more exciting. Musical lovers rank this quite high, landing as #10 in a recent list of musicals ranked by the American Film Institute. If you're not into musicals, it will hold less appeal, as the slice-of-life storyline never quite congeals into a tangible and consistent form, including a lengthy side jaunt involving the young children of the neighborhood and their Halloween bonfire.
Perhaps the most memorable components to Meet Me in St. Louis are the songs. Certainly, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" has become a perennial yuletide classic, especially when sung by Judy Garland. "The Trolley Song" has also enjoyed immense popularity to an almost equal extent. This is why the film tends to be considered a classic more than any other -- people watch a Judy Garland film to hear her sing, and sing she does, quite well. It would be the first collaboration between Garland and her future husband, director Minnelli (An American in Paris, Gigi), and though the marriage didn't last, they do show early on how well they work together to produce a visually appealing display to go along with the mirthful and melancholy music.
Meet Me in St. Louis, like most classic musicals, stands out more for the bells and whistles than for the story at the heart of the film. You'll remember the songs, the cute moments, and the Technicolor beauty of a bygone era only previously seen in black-and-white photographs. Four Oscar nominations would result for the music, cinematography and writing, though the only Oscar to go home with anyone would be the special non-nominated one given out to young Margaret O'Brien (Jane Eyre, Little Women) for Outstanding Child Actress of 1944 for her memorable roles in several films, including her scene-stealing turn in Meet Me in St. Louis as the precocious young girl with morbid fascinations, Tootie. Some viewers have fallen in love with the film for its adorably cute atmosphere and heavily nostalgic ambience. My personal take is it is a sporadically interesting film bolstered by a few great songs and lively performances that shine amid an underdeveloped, sentimental vignette storyline.
-- Remade twice for television in 1959 and 1966.
©2008 Vince Leo