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"The day was bright, The air was sweet, The smell of honeysuckle
almost knocked you off your feet ..." This is unashamed nostalgia for an
idealised America, dating back to an age of innocence before the two World
It is 1903, and the city of St. Louis is ablaze with excitement as it prepares to host the World's Fair. Here in the geographic heart of the USA, the very pleasant Smith family lives in a very pleasant suburb of the very pleasant St. Louis. We watch the Smiths through the seasons and into Spring 1904 as they fall in love, dress up for Hallowe'en, bottle their home-made ketchup and .... well, ride the trolley.
This is a world of tranquillity where nothing can threaten the homely complacency of Middle America. The evening meal is always a wholesome family gathering, the month of July is always sunny, big brothers are always handsome Princeton freshmen and the iceman's mare knows the neighbourhood so well that she stops at each home on her round without needing to be told. The only shadow which falls across the Smiths' domestic bliss comes when Alonzo, the paterfamilias, proposes to move the household to New York. However, Alonzo soon realises what a terrible mistake it would be to tear his wife and daughters away from their beloved MidWest: he relents, and family harmony is restored.
This heartwarming, exuberant musical is one of the very best ever made, and MGM knew exactly what it was doing in terms of box office success. The film was calculated to cash in on the zeitgeist of 1944, the year in which vast American armies were sent across to Europe and the war in the Pacific turned decisively in America's favour. Millions of young American men found themselves far from home in what was certain to be the last Christmas of the War, and millions of families back home missed them terribly: " Some day soon we all will be together, If the fates allow. Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow ..."
In this idealised America, everyone is prosperous, everyone conducts himself like a good citizen should, old folks are cheerful, healthy and alert, domestic servants feign grumpiness but actually adore their masters, and teenage girls are flirtatious but impeccably proper. There are strong American folk-resonances in the homespun wisdom of the family elders, the strong, straight young adults and the 'down home' hearthside gatherings and dances. It could be argued that the film invokes an America that has never in fact existed. This maybe so, but the Perfect America which we experience here exerts an emotional pull far stronger than any real place could command.
Vincente Minnelli directed the movie with panache. There are many subtle but sure touches - for example, two short scenes which establish the proposition that the family's happiness is inextricably linked to St. Louis. Alonzo announces the move to New York, and with clever choreography Minnelli turns him into a pariah in his own living-room. Esther and Tootie gaze at the snowmen which they will have to abandon in the yard, and we know without any dialogue to help us that the eastward migration isn't going to happen. With similar cinematic economy, Minnelli shows us the happy commotion around the Christmas tree without allowing it to distract our attention from Alonzo and Anna, whose wordless reconciliation sets the seal on the plot. This is directing of rare skill.
In films of the 1960's and 70's a stock device was used: a sepia-tinted photograph would 'come to life' with colour and motion, to show that the scene was laid in the past. Minnelli employs the trick elegantly in this film, and I am not aware of any example which pre-dates this one.
This is a 'formula' movie, but its ingredients are so fine and they are combined with such marvellous skill that the whole eclipses the parts. Among the elements which contribute to the project's success are the songs - and the film contains three classics: "The Trolley Song", "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" and (of course) "Meet Me In St. Louis".
Judy Garland was 22 years old when she made this film (though she easily passes for a 17-year-old) and it was this movie which cemented her relationship with Minnelli. They married one year later and Liza was born in March 1946.
Predictably enough, the film has a happy ending. The teenage girls Esther and Rose are paired off, and the Smiths get to visit the World's Fair as one big happy family. As they look for the restaurant (once again, a meal signifies domestic harmony) they are distracted by the lighting-up of the city, a filmic metaphor for the approaching end of World War Two. The sisters are filled with awe at America's technological ascendancy, and that such miracles can be achieved by such folksy, simple people - "Right here where we live: right here in St. Louis!"
This is such a sweet, wonderful movie - a slice of 1900's America that
probably was never so perfect, but we would like to think that it was. The
storyline is not a love story between Esther (Garland) and "The Boy Next
Door" (one of the three timeless classic songs found in this movie). The
storyline is really about the whole Smith family, based on an actual family
who lived in St. Louis at the turn of the century. The real-life "Tootie"
Smith (played by Margaret O'Brien) wrote stories of her life for the
NewYorker. These stories were bought and compiled into this classic
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" originated here, and has become a classic yuletide song. It has been sung a thousand times by a thousand artists, but no one could ever capture the heartfelt emotion expressed by Judy Garland. If it doesn't bring a tear to your eye as you listen to her sing the song to little Tootie, I would have to wonder if you have a heart at all.
The most fun song is "The Trolley Song" - you can even see that Judy herself had a ball singing it. That scene was done in one take.
Judy Garland never looked better in any of her films as she did in this one. Perhaps it was one of the happiest times in her life? It is well-known that she married director Vincent Minelli after this picture.
Beautifully directed, depicting with accuracy the passing of the seasons of one year in the life of the Smiths of St. Louis. What a fun, charming, movie. I could never tire of it.
This movie is sheer delight from start to finish. I'm sure St. Louis in
1904 wasn't really the same as its depicted here...but it should have been!
Only the most jaded cynic imaginable could not be charmed by this
The songs are perfect, the cinematography, the set direction, costumes, everything really - MGM movie magic at its best! Vincente Minelli did a superlative job of direction, and the cast simply could not be bettered. Judy Garland gives what I feel is the most relaxed and charming performance of her career, and sings like an angel, not like the jittery bundle of nerves she would become in later life. Tom Drake is very winning as the "Boy Next Door" we should all be so lucky to have. But Margaret O'Brien absolutely steals the picture as the adorable but irrepressibly morbid Tootie, a refreshing change from the normally saccharine moppets of Hollywood's golden years. Marjorie Main also swipes a scene or two as the mouthy cook, and Mary Astor and Leon Ames give sterling support as the parents. Their "make-up" scene at the piano is beautifully done.
What a wonderful antidote this movie is when you need to retreat from the harsh world and have your spirits lifted for a while.
If there was no other reason why Judy Garland married Vincente
Minnelli, then this film supplies the reason for how he won her hand.
It's a valentine to her talents and, as an example of MGM's gilt-edged
manufacture, it's a sold gold entry.
Yes, Tom Drake was a bit wan as Judy's love interest but everyone else in the cast, maybe even including the too-glamorous Lucille Bremer, are just right, especially the inimitable Marjorie Main. Mary Astor, already deep in the throes of her extended bout with alcoholism as the family's matriarch shows nary a sign of her illness, such was the wizardry of the makeup artists, costumers, hair dressers and the cinematographer. And Judy, too, already addicted to the medications that her tyrannical studio bosses used to keep her nose to a very demanding grindstone, looks as wholesome and lovely as one could wish, particularly in the "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" number.
It's one of those Golden Age classics that always repays a return viewing and its naysayers are in a rather lonely minority, in my opinion.
This is one of my favorite movies with Judy Garland in it (the others
'A Star Is Born' and 'Easter Parade'). She is so superb in it! Vincente
Minnelli's direction is pristine and lushly beautiful. The supporting
of the film also adds flair to the film. Little Margaret O'Brien plays
Tootie, Judy's little sister in the film, who is a real standout. Lucille
Bremer (a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette, who had a very short
at MGM), plays Judy's older sister who tries flirting with a colonel. The
fabulous plot is very simple:
The year is 1903, the town, St. Louis.Tthe Smith family is anxiously awaiting to go to the World's Fair in their hometown. Esther (Judy Garland) has an endless crush on the boy next door Jon Truett (Tom Drake. Then, Mr. Smith (Leon Ames) breaks the news to the family that they are moving to New York City so he can get a job. Mrs. Smith (Mary Astor), Tootie (Margaret O'Brien), Agnes (Joan Caroll), and Esther (Judy), are extremely disappointed. But, on Christmas Eve, they decide not to move after all, and become one of the first visitors to the St. Louis World's Fair of 1904.
This movie is one of the greatest movie musicals of all time, and one of Judy Garland's BEST movies! (She sings the legendary "The Trolley Song", the heartwarming "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas", the lovely "The Boy Next Door", and the cute duet with Margaret O'Brien, "Under The Bamboo Tree")
I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS WHOEVER LIKES MUSICALS! 10/10
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'd seen this film several times as a child before studying it in
earnest as part of a college film class. Now, nearly 20 years past, I
look more at the nuances and subtleties of the performances and
direction in a movie that seems easy to characterize as sentimental.
Indeed, the vibrant color, the relatively simple plot contrivances, and
the resolution of the big question of the movie all make for what seems
superficially like a film for fans of Corny Musicals.
Let me argue against "sap" for the main reason that a deep undercurrent of real and heartfelt emotion underlies the entire enterprise. And the credit can be spread wide for that:
1. The rich and subtle performance of Judy Garland, who does not miss a step, a note, a glance or an inflection throughout the entire movie. For many la Judy can be an acquired taste, but she shows her "stuff" here. Watch her primping at the mirror with Rose, watching Tootie as she sings "Dear Mother," or in the scene where The Boy tells her he can't get his tuxedo out of the cleaners. She was a marvelous actor, and it shows in the small scenes as well as the grand singing ones. Her transition from worry and disappointment to exuberance in The Trolley Song is a wonder to behold.
2. Margaret O'Brien as Tootie (and also the writer's characterization of Tootie): here is a child who is not "nice" or "cute" the way TV/Movie kids are today. But she is compelling and wonderful in own right - a real flesh and blood kid. In particular the Halloween scene really shows the dark side of childhood where scary fantasies can become real, and the depths of her despair at leaving St. Louis capture the essence of leaving everything that is familiar and right.
3. The acting company is so wonderful from the smallest supporting actor to the largest role, there is a give and take (note the "passing" of the title song from person to person at the beginning of the film) and the easy banter, the dinner table interactions, the scene where everyone finds out about the Big Move, and you get a sense that this is a real family.
4. The integration and the transition from the emotion of the scene directly into the emotion of the song, and then back to the scene is repeated again and again. This is not an easy thing to do, and for all I can recall, Minnelli was the first to master it. Most musicals would stop dead in the their tracks to do a song, but the music here is so organic and truthful you hardly notice the strings moving in the background.
5. And don't get me started on the score, which is really wonderful, echoing the various themes at just the perfect moment. The Halloween bonfire music is especially good. I think credit goes to George Stoll for that.
6. And for putting the package together, a tip of the hat to Vincente Minnelli and Arthur Freed, who went on to do many wonderful musicals, but none perhaps as wonderful as this one. Minnelli works magic with staging (the "Skip to My Lou" and "Trolley Song" are wonderful group numbers), and it must have been true love that helped Judy Garland's wonderful performance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'd never seen this movie until a few weeks ago. After I rented it from
Netflix last month (I still have it, but I plan to buy my own copy
soon), I saw it on AMC. Has it been on TV before? I mean, I've known of
its existence, because I've seen the title in the sheet music for Have
Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. I heard James Taylor talk about the
movie in an interview after he recorded that song in response to 9/11
and I've been wanting to see it ever since. Now I've become a MMISL
junkie. I can't stop watching it!
I've read everything I can find on the Internet about it (and about the St. Louis World's Fair, which is absolutely fascinating--did you know that one of the pavilions featured actual premature babies in incubators?), and I just started reading Sally Benson's original book. For those who complain that this film is some kind of idealized or fantasized representation of life in America, I say read the book. It's based on Sally Benson's actual recollections of growing up in St. Louis and the movie dialogue and situations are lifted almost word for word from the book. It jibes pretty well with other things I've read about the era and with stories I've heard my parents and grandparents tell, so I have no trouble believing it at all.
Actually, the situations and relationships are not that different from what families face today (at least the normal, two-parents-of-the-opposite-sex kind that I'm familiar with). Just listen to Mrs. Smith tell her husband to count to three before responding to his daughter. (He counts to three and shouts at her anyway!) As for Mr. Smith giving up a lucrative career move for the sake of his family's happiness and well-being, how many parents have not faced similar decisions?
I think there are five main reasons I like this movie: 1. Judy Garland. She's just one of the greatest performers of the 20th century, that's all there is to it. 2. Margaret O'Brien. What a joy to watch on the screen. Now I know why she was one of the most beloved child stars in America. 3. The wonderful songs. It doesn't get much better than "The Trolley Song," "The Boy Next Door," and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." 4. The beautiful Technicolor cinematography. In the DVD version, the colors are so brilliant that it looks like it could have been filmed yesterday. And Rose and Esther's clothes are simply stunning. I especially love the (Oriental?) robes they wear at home. 5. Last but not least, I enjoy its refreshingly positive, upbeat take on family life and life in these United States.
I just wish I hadn't had to wait fifty years to see this sixty-year-old movie!
A film that is firmly ticking all the boxes for those looking for a
family classic to admire and tap your feet along with. This delightful
musical deals with one family and their struggle to deal with the
changing of the times at the turn of the century. When the Father is
requested to move to New York permanently with his job, the rest of the
family are not that keen to leave their memories and their beloved home
in St. Louis, and in to the mix is the varying degrees of blossoming
love involving the elder daughters and their respective beaus.
This film is just so gorgeous on many fronts, the colour beautifully realises the tremendous scope director Vincent Minnelli brings with his recreation of the era, the attention to detail is quality supreme. The story is good and earthy, a sort of tale to have the viewer hankering for the good old days before the world got itself in one big hurry. The songs are crackers, enjoy standards such as The Boy Next Door, The Trolley Song, and the simply precious Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. The cast are across the board doing good work but it is of course Judy Garland who carries the movie firmly on her slender shoulders, and here she has never been prettier, and her voice is practically as good as it ever was in her career.
A film for all the family to enjoy, a film that is from the top echelons of musicals, and a film that simply demands you relax and enjoy.
Right, I'm off to get a piece of cake... 9/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
None of the songs in this film bears any relation to the story line,
but few people notice because there is no story line, no plot. Nothing,
beyond, Will the family go to the fair?
So why watch such a boring movie? Nostalgia.
Set in 1903-4, made in 1944, Meet Me in St. Louis is the equivalent of looking back at 1971 today, at least mathematically. 1904 must have seemed so long ago, even in 1944, and in the depths of World War II, surely the peaceful normalcy must have had great appeal with audiences.
What makes St. Louis of some interest today is that it is a very early example of a full-blown modern movie musical, and of Technicolor. There were musicals in the Thirties, but much of the music was staged, performed by performers. Gradually, beginning perhaps with The Wizard of Oz, studios shifted over to free form musicals, where singing and dancing arose spontaneously from ordinary people. Garland played a key role in the evolution of these musicals because of her top notch musical interpretations.
To get a feel for the development of the modern musical, you need to see Meet Me in St. Louis, and see other movies around this time period to get perspective. Another key musical was State Fair in 1945, the first Rodgers & Hammerstein musical on the screen. State Fair copied the device of the opening song about the fair, passed around among the characters, but otherwise was distinct. Some say St. Louis was inspired by the theme of the earlier non-musical State Fair in 1933.
When you compare the two, the music in State Fair is far more closely integrated to the story line, and is an expression of the thoughts of the characters -- the Rodgers & Hammerstein hallmark. There is some free form singing, but much of it is tied to musical performances, so it is still mostly old form. On the other hand, The Trolley Song is great fun, but the words are glaringly inconsistent with what you see on the screen. State Fair has a stronger story line, and a more elaborate, expressive dance number choreographed by Hermes Pan, during the Iowa song. There is more humor and more pathos. But it is essentially a light, escapist story, like Meet Me in St. Louis.
When I look at the two, State Fair 1945 makes me heartsick for the normalcy and decency of an America we seem to be losing, while St. Louis produces no such emotion, perhaps because it is so long ago, but mostly because it looks so artificial.
St. Louis has Garland, the charming Margaret O'Brien, demonstrating her remarkable ability to cry on cue, and Marjorie Main, performing some delightful scenes. Some people love this movie, and these are probably why. And some people just go gaga over the theatricality of musicals, the color, dancing, music, even when there is little or no plot to hold it together.
The movie opens with the main characters singing the title song. Gee, I wonder what's going to happen? The suspense is killing me! What follows is a grab bags of scenes from family life, circa 1903-04, some cute, some quaint, but mostly cliché, and some nice songs we used to sing at summer camp. Let's face it, Meet Me in St. Louis is famous for its songs, especially the Trolley Song. Take out the music, and what have you? A movie without a plot, a slice of life story.
Garland is at her best singing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. But listen to the words closely; it is not Garland in 1903, it is Garland talking about WWII:
Next year all our troubles will be miles away,
Someday soon, we all will be together
If the Fates allow
What does this have to do with the movie? The song was first published in 1943.
Without the music I would rate this movie a 3 out of 10; with it, a 5. It is highly over-rated. State Fair 1945 is almost forgotten, yet has a lot of polish and fine detail, and a story line of eternal appeal, in short, a classic, so it is highly under-rated.
Part of the contemporary 10 star hype surrounding St. Louis may be because it is a clean family movie that mostly fits the bill of Christian fundamentalists, though there is a shocking premarital kiss or two. On the other hand, I feel sorry for those who are so jaded they give it 2 stars. It's still fun, in a brainless sort of way.
By all means, see Meet Me in St. Louis. It has an important place in the history of cinema. You will probably enjoy it and hear some fine singing by Judy Garland.
If you like this type of story, you should watch the 1949 Little Women, which stars a slightly older Margaret O'Brien. Or Life with Father, 1947. Or I Remember Mama, 1948. Or even Cheaper by the Dozen. They are all semi-autobiographical stories of family life, far more interesting and better acted. A fictional family slice of life movie with O'Brien is Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, also starring Edward G. Robinson and Agnes Moorehead. It is a clean family values film that anyone can enjoy.
And for a musical on a similar family theme, see the 1945 State Fair (not to be confused with the 1963 remake). The Technicolor work is actual much more impressive, though the sound quality is not as good. It is a vastly superior film than St. Louis, which will warm your heart.
In the last two minutes, the family finally arrives at the fair. They spend the first minute talking about where to eat, and the second exclaiming how beautiful it is. The end.
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