#28. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Directed by: Vincente Minnelli
Written by: Irving Brecher, Fred F. Finklehoffe (based on Meet Me in St. Louis by Sally Benson)
Starring: Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Mary Astor, Lucille Bremer, Leon Ames, Tom Drake, Marjorie Main, Robert Sully
Meet Me in St. Louis is Vincente Minnelli’s familial musical romance starring Judy Garland at the absolute peak of her stardom. The film takes place over four consecutive seasons, covering a year in the lives of Smith family – an upper middle class unit gearing up for the upcoming 1904 World’s Fair in their home town of St. Louis, Missouri. We meet Esther (Judy Garland), a young woman pining for her next door neighbor John Truett (Tom Drake), Rose (Lucille Bremer), who is to be married to a young man named Warren Sheffield (Robert Sully), and Tootie (Margaret O’Brien), the mischievous youngest daughter of the Smith family as she navigates her carefree childhood. Through the months, the Smith patriarch Alonzo (Leon Ames) receives a job promotion and decides to move the family to New York – which is not well received by his St. Louis loving family. Along the way to the World’s Fair and the eventual move to New York, we see the Smith family celebrate Halloween and Christmas, fall in love, have their hearts broken, and get involved in generally humorous and dramatic situations. Though Meet Me in St. Louis is very early on in Vincente Minnelli’s career, his talent as a director of musical films is immediately apparent. He uses bright, beautiful Technicolor to accentuate his unique aesthetic, and excellent blocking and choreography in the film’s many musical scenes that make it stand out from the crowd. Minelli’s direction feels both classic and modern in many ways, with the film’s pacing being one of the most notable – the film never spends too much time in any of the seasons, using the unique elements of each to push the main storylines forward. The musical aspects of the film work perfectly in context throughout, as the Smith family are established in the very beginning as a fun-loving, music-playing family, specializing in piano and song-and-dance numbers that they perform to entertain guests. The songs are excellent and incredibly catchy, most notably “Skip to My Lou”, “Under the Bamboo Tree”, “The Trolley Song”, and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – which was written for the film before ever becoming a Christmas classic. Judy Garland carries each and every song she is featured in to memorable heights, using her beautiful and unique voice to make each and every song her own. The performances in Meet Me in St. Louis are charming and often hilarious, with the highlights being Judy Garland’s bold, but shy, Esther and Margaret O’Brien’s wide-eyed and curious Tootie being the highlights. Supporting characters add a great deal of comedy to the film, with Leon Ames’ Alonzo and Marjorie Main’s Katie being the comedic highlights. Meet Me in St. Louis is an absolute blast from start to finish, featuring some of my favorite musical numbers, incredibly endearing characters, and a wonderfully funny and sentimental story to make it a truly special experience. If you’re interested in reading my full thoughts on Meet Me in St. Louis, you can read them here.