June 7, 2014

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Grade: 61/100

Director: Vincente Minnelli
Stars: Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien, Mary Astor

What it's about. A color MGM musical set in St. Louis, Missouri in 1903, just prior to the city's service as host to the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition.

Our focus is on the Smith family, which consists of breadwinner father Leon Ames, his comely wife Mary Astor, elderly but spry grandfather Harry Davenport, their plainspoken maid Marjorie Main, and several children. The oldest is Henry H. Daniels, Jr., a Princeton freshman, but the remainder are girls: pretty young adults Lucille Bremer and Judy Garland; and pre-teens Joan Carroll and Margaret O'Brien.

Naturally, Bremer and Garland have strapping young beaus, respectively Robert Sully and Tom Drake. O'Brien is a brat with a death fixation, and is encouraged in her impudent behavior by her Carroll, who otherwise is given little to do.

Unsurprisingly, Daniels is also given a suitably desirable girlfriend by film's end.

Although O'Brien's antics consume substantial screen time, the star of the film is Garland, the future wife of much older director Vincente Minnelli. Garland has a crush on Drake, the painstakingly nice boy next door, and spends the movie grooming him for a marriage proposal. Which, inevitably, she receives.

It appears that the family's much feared father, Ames, will force the ensemble to move to New York City, where he has a promotion waiting running an office. In real life, the family did move (the movie is based on an autobiographical novel by Sally Benson). Here, though, Ames relents after O'Brien goes psycho on a cluster of snowmen.

How others will see it. Meet Me in St. Louis was a box office smash, and its original score contained two future standards: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "The Trolley Song". Garland performed them in concerts for the rest of her life. The ever-emotive Garland was even more gifted as a singer than as an actress, but her future films were generally disappointing with the exception of A Star is Born (1954).

Meet Me in St. Louis was nominated for five Oscars, with a screenplay nod as the most prestigious. O'Brien won an honorary Oscar, something that Garland had received a few years earlier for The Wizard of Oz.

Today at imdb.com, the movie has a respectable 12,500 user votes, and a high user rating of 7.7 out of 10. Women and viewers over 45 like the film best, probably due to its happy ending for all, except, perhaps, the father, who remains saddled with everyone's bills but doesn't get the anticipated raise from his would-be promotion.

How I felt about it. Any film starring Garland has its merits, particularly when she is given several opportunities to sing. The MGM sheen ensures a thorough production. The script is competent albeit prone to wish fulfillment.

True, we would like to have more folksy wisecracks from Marjorie Main, and fewer scene-stealing antics from O'Brien. We wonder whether Robert Sully would really show up on Christmas Day just to propose marriage and exit stage right. Tom Drake is on the safe and bland side, but that is probably how Garland's good-girl character would have it.

It also seems incredible that children would be allowed to build bonfires on the street, and throw flour into the faces of homeowners, merely because it is Halloween. Perhaps the laissez-faire child raising philosophy of the Smith household extended deeper into Progressive-era American culture.

Nonetheless, it is a better musical than most, and certainly better than the tame Garland MGM vehicles that followed.

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