Meet Me in St. Louis is considered one of the finest Hollywood musicals
of the 20th Century. As a nod to the World's Fair of 1904, the film premiered
in St. Louis, Missouri on November 22, 1944. Six days later, it
was first showed in New York City, before it's official release in January
Produced by Arthur Freed, and directed by Vincent Minnelli, it sported a
flawless ensemble cast led by Judy Garland. It was an immediate hit and
its `grand' release on DVD has only helped solidified it as one of the true
important films of American cinema.
Originally, both MGM and Judy Garland did not want to work on the project, but the Sally Benson stories, from which the script was developed, contained such a simplistic yet timeless story about the Smith family of 1903 St. Louis, the memorable performances, musical and sentimentality were allowed to shine brilliantly.
The story centers on the middle-class Smith family who live in a stylish Edwardian home at 5135 Kensington Avenue; living at the time of the St. Louis World's Fair, at the crest of the Victorian Era. The main focus of the film centers on daughters, Rose, Esther, Agnes and Tootie. Judy Garland, plays the second eldest daughter, who falls for handsome boy next door, John Truitt (played by Tom Drake). When her father announces that the entire family is moving to New York City right after Christmas; the romance would be finished before it even began.
The family's move, which is the main hardship in the story affects the entire household, creating a rift. Rose and Esther, whose romances, friendships, and educational plans are threatened, not to mention missing the St. Louis World's Fair, do not want to leave. Tootie and Agnes are sad as they will lose their friends, Katie (the cook), will lose her job, and the Smith's home will be uprooted. Though not a life-threatening incident, the move seems to symbolize the loss of an uncomplicated way of life or the end of an era of innocence in American life.
The song "You and I," seems to be the glue that begins to cement the family back together (especially the mother and father, then the rest of the household); if they must move, they need to stay a family.
After Esther sings "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," to Tootie (played by Margaret O'Brien , the impish youngest of the Smith siblings), the little girl runs into the front yard and violently destroys their snow people. Mr. Smith then decides after seeing his daughter distressed, that the family will not move.
The Smith family attends and marvels at the World's Fair (a very brief depiction of the grandeur), as the film ends.
Besides the masterpiece- The Wizard of Oz, this is truly a Judy Garland movie. In this tragicomedy, she portrays a beautiful woman that is concerned with female confinement; having to deal with a father that though loving, determines the actions of others like a judge; and yet Ester does have a will of her own.
The musical was one of the first films to integrate the songs into the emotional lives of the characters, rather than simply belting out show-stopping extravaganzas.
As with the 1904 World's Fair, Meet Me in St. Louis suggested the end of innocence and of the opulent Victorian Era as well as the possible break up of the American family. Modernity and new inventions change the very nature of the family (as television, cel phones and portable music players has done for our era).
Deliberately nostalgic, the film gorgeously showcases the beautifully textured Victorian imaginary of the Smith's home. The films four acts are craftily broken into the seasons, appearing like Victorian picture postcard illustrations that blend into the live action. With all the emotional escapades and relationships, within the story, there is Tootie's dark humor, and the reaffirmation that the family is more important than a modernizing world shines at its finale.
Song highlights include: Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Trolley Song, and two older numbers- Meet Me in St. Louis and Under the Bamboo Tree.
Meet Me in St. Louis was nominated for four Academy Awards- Best Screenplay (Irving Brecher and Fred F. Finklehoffe), Best Color Cinematography (George Folsey), Best Song ("The Trolley Song" with music and lyrics by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin), and Best Scoring of a Musical Picture (Georgie Stoll). Though the movie did not win an Oscar, Margaret O'Brien was awarded a Special (miniature) Oscar as the most outstanding child actress of the year.