Meet Me in St Louis is not primarily a film about Christmas, it takes us on a journey with one family through the seasons, from Summer, through to Christmas and then to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair in 1904 the following Spring.
Meet Me in St Louis is
not primarily a film about Christmas, it takes us on a journey with one family
through the seasons, from Summer, through to Christmas and then to the Louisiana
Purchase Exposition World’s Fair in 1904 the following Spring. Yet, it is very much regarded as one of
the ideal Christmas/Boxing Day movies and this is simply because it has the
warmth, humour and family themes of any Christmas movie.
The film tells the story of the Smith family, who live in
St. Louis at the time of the World’s Fair in 1904. The family has four beautiful daughters; Esther (Judy Garland) who has fallen in love
with John Truett (Tom Drake), the
new boy next door, Rose (Lucille Bremer)
who anxiously awaits a proposal from her boyfriend and the youngest two
daughters, Agnes (Joan Carroll) and
Tootie (Margaret O’Brien) who spend
their time causing all kinds of havoc and hilarity. Comfortable and caught up in their lives, the family is
shocked when Mr Smith reveals that he will be uprooting the family as he is
being transferred to a position in New York. His decision to leave St. Louis greatly affects the family,
in particular Esther’s romance with John and the childhood contentment of his
youngest daughter, Tootie.
Meet Me in St. Louis was based on a series of short stories
by Sally Benson. Attempts were made several times to
adapt the stories into a movie until eventually, in 1944, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
brought us this wonderful, colourful, musical version with one of its primary
stars, Judy Garland. Garland was at the pinnacle of her
career when this film was made, well established as one of the main faces and
voices of Hollywood. Despite the
passing of five years, she was still fresh from the success of The Wizard of Oz. Garland brings a sweetness and warmth
to the character of Esther and she is visibly the film’s main star. Aside from Garland as Esther, O’Brien’s
portrayal of little sister, Tootie, really stands out. Tootie is a quirky little character – a
6-year old who buries her dolls in the cemetery and takes great pleasure in a
Halloween dare to throw flour at a neighbour. Her acting is at times Shirley Temple-esque with her token
exaggerated facial expressions but she does not take this to the extreme and
gives an endearing and comical performance.
The film itself is lensed in Technicolor which serves to
accentuate the rich settings and luxurious costumes, particularly in the final
scene. The songs were composed by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin and include The
Boy Next Door, The Trolley Song
and Have Yourself a Merry Little
Christmas, the latter used in many a Christmas movie since. However, hearing it originally here,
sung by Garland with a slight trembling behind her voice and in the sad context
of a family about to leave all that it loves behind, brings a tear to your eye.
Of course Meet Me in St. Louis is a great representative of
the musical genre in general but it is also reminiscent of movies such as Cheaper by the Dozen with its portrayal
of family values and similarly, Little
Women, which coincidentally Margaret O’Brien later starred in as Beth in
1949. Watching this film, you
would be forgiven for feeling somewhat patronised, the women depicted as
romantic and over-emotional, hankering after true love, the men depicted as the
decision-makers, breadwinners and leaders of the household. However, while this is partly a
suggestion of the era in which the film is set, musicals as a genre do not
pretend for one second that they are a depiction of real life. It is fun, it is romance, it is a
picture postcard. Filmed at the
height of WWII, it would have provided the perfect form of escapism.
Meet Me in St. Louis is a lot of fun and will have you
whistling the songs for days afterwards.
It is heart-warming, beautiful and highly recommended as a film to fill
you with Christmas spirit.