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The opening scene of the movie describes it best: "Once upon a time there lived in Denmark a great storyteller named Hans Christian Andersen. This is not the story of his life, but a fairy tale about the great spinner of fairy tales."
St. Louis 1903. The well-off Smith family has four beautiful daughters, including Esther and little Tootie. 17-year old Esther has fallen in love with the boy next door who has just moved in, John. He however barely notices her at first. The family is shocked when Mr. Smith reveals that he has been transfered to a nice position in New York, which means that the family has to leave St. Louis and the St. Louis Fair. Written by
One of the greatest movie musicals, and thus one of the greatest American movies, "Meet Me in St. Louis" tells a story that may appear insultingly inconsequential: a happy family living in turn-of-the-century St. Louis considers moving to New York, but decides against it. Yet Vincente Minelli, working with a wonderful cast and unusually intelligent songs, takes this story and makes it the one really convincing screen refutation of Tolstoy's claim that all happy families are alike, and indeed perhaps the only fully rounded and persuasive representation of a happy family in the history of movies. From the small family conflict over the quality of homemade ketchup that begins the movie, to the agony over moving at the end, the Smiths are a collection of distinctive, vibrant and at times almost incompatible characters bound together not only by love but by a contagious, and very particular, sense of fun.
Minelli's genius for musical numbers in interior spaces--most notably the great party in the Smith home near the beginning of the movie--is complemented here by two unforgettable outdoor sequences, Judy Garland's matchless "Trolley Song" and Tootie's Halloween adventure in the neighborhood, where she shows such vulnerability, such courage,and in the end such diabolical lack of conscience that no one can fail to love her. These outdoor scenes protect "Meet in St. Louis" from the claustrophobia that so frequently limits the power of "family" dramas.
Tootie, at five, is the youngest of the five Smith children, and as played by the great child actor Margaret O'Brien, she is also the center of most of the fun. Her relationship with her older sister Esther (Judy Garland) is captivating in its joy, complexity, and ultimately in its sadness. For even though the catastrophe (!) of moving to New York is narrowly avoided, Esther will still leave home for life with the boy next door, and the powerful unity of these lucky people will ultimately give way to other claims of new love, new suffering and new duty. The happiness the Smiths knew while living together will only increase the pain of each parting. We're blessed, though, to have glimpsed their particular brand of happiness at its glorious peak.
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