Recommended Viewing Situation:
When life is failing to deliver and you want to be in that world of spontaneous three-part harmonies and your first love being your last, if only for 113 minutes.
Running Time: 113 minutes.
Format: 35mm Technicolor
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Writer: Irving Brecher & Fred F. Finklehoffe
Cinematographer: George S. Folsey
Awards: Nominated for 5 Oscars and winner of one for best Juvenile Award (outstanding child actress of 1944 – Margaret O’Brien) More
‘Meet Me in St Louis’ hits the ground running with its vibrant opening scene of warm family chaos. Various members of the Smith family bustle around the house, singing ‘Meet Me in St Louis, Louis’ in anticipation of the historic World’s Fair, to be held the following summer in 1904. Grandpa wishes “everyone WOULD meet at the fair and leave me alone” whilst second daughter Esther (Judy Garland) displays grave concern over eldest daughter (Lucille Bremer) Rose’s continuing state of spinsterhood (she must be at least nineteen). She flits around their grandiose Victorian home, fretting over Rose’s pending telephone call, dreamily adamant that a marriage proposal is imminent, solemnly stating, “she isn’t getting any younger.” Youngest daughter Tootie (Margaret O’Brien) is missing, but we know that she has cheekily hitched a lift on Mr Neely’s ice wagon and is extolling the virtues of her home city, St Louis, feeling “lucky to be born in my favourite city”.
With strong characterisation, dazzling sets and costumes and witty quips, its songs elicit ‘that’s where that song comes from!’ reactions. Season by season it takes us through the older girls’ melodramas of the heart and the younger girls’ giggly mischief over one year. Released in 1944 and therefore firmly sitting right in the midst of the stylised Golden Age of Hollywood, it has a strangely modern feel. Not quite ‘kitchen sink’, but definitely featuring real people with real relationships. Director Vincente Minnelli entertains throughout, with awkward situations, family strife, moments of hilarity and depth of affection. He encapsulates the essence of each season splendidly: yellow haze of summer; glistening whiteness of winter; pure freshness of spring; but autumn stands out with its dark, threatening sense of foreboding, almost out-of-place in an otherwise picturesque piece. Tootie’s continuing references to her dead dolls – “I’m taking all my dolls …the dead ones too” – are comical but smack of gothic horror.
Capturing the first throes of unrequited teenage love in ‘The Boy Next Door’ and then later on letting Esther’s mood soar to the dizzying heights of first budding relationship with ‘The Trolley Song’, Garland displays an enchanting belief in her happy ending but with a doe-eyed melancholy that is equally alluring. She comforts Tootie with her magical voice in ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ and the unworldly teenager suddenly dons a wise head for her distraught little sister.
O’Brien is blessed with some of the best lines, which she delivers with charisma and expression. She plays Tootie as a mischief-maker and her finest moment is during the autumnal vignette, when her natural sense of drama makes you experience a myriad of emotions in response to her character’s decisions.
Made towards the end of WWII, when victory seemed within reach, ‘Meet Me in St Louis’ is set during the centennial celebration of the US’s purchase of the Louisiana territory from France. It is a comment on how America wished to be viewed but it is also a gift of golden Hollywood talent gift-wrapped in glorious technicolor.