Young love and childish fears highlight a year in the life of a turn-of-the-century family.Young love and childish fears highlight a year in the life of a turn-of-the-century family.Young love and childish fears highlight a year in the life of a turn-of-the-century family.
Sometimes, the words Technicolor, musical, Golden Age don't necessarily hit a sensitive chord and I blame it on the Millennial side of me, too blasé and hungry of modern significance. I could watch "The Wizard of Oz" for its status as an iconic classic, "A Star is Born" for its relevance and place in Judy Garland's filmography. But Vincente Minnelli's ode to Saint Louis never caught my attention despite its more than respectable reputation. And now that I saw it, and that I digested it, I realize how misinformed I was and I suspect this is a film I might want to watch again.
This is one of these pitch-proof movie where you keep waiting for something to happen... yet you realize that's not even the point. Indeed, who needs plot when you have the Smithes? This is a family full of such colorful characters that there's no room whatsoever for any plot or pre-written arc. Why should it anyway? Adapted from the happy memories of Sally "Tootie" Benson (yes, told from the little one's standpoint), the film displays such an exhilarating form of happiness that spoiling it with a plot would be a cinematic sin.
So let's visit the family! Leon Ames is Mr. Smith, father of one son and four daughters including Rose (Lucille Bremer), the second oldest Esther (Judy Garland) and the youngest one, Tootie (Margaret O'Brien), Mrs. Smith (Mary Astor) endure their shenanigans valiantly while they can count on the support of their cool and hilarious grandpa (Henry Davenport). These are the Smiths and as soon as they appear on the screen, we're literally caught in their communicative amiability and optimism with the opening theme of the same title.
"Meet Me in Saint Louis" belongs to these vignette family-themed movies such as "Amarcord" or "Radio Days" where it's just about getting a mood and feeling part of a loving community rather than watching something happening. And just when you think something ought to happen, false alarm, a new song pops up again to lift your spirit up and puts you in the most cheerful mood, even the "straight" sister Rose is fun to watch, especially during her shining moment where she gets quite a brush from her correspondent. And everything's in good spirit, no character is laughed at but rather laughed with.
The closest to a plot comes when Mr. Smith announces to the family that they're going to move to New York and the decision is irrevocable, by the time it happens, we got used to the seasonal enchantment of the city and can't imagine the Smiths anywhere outside St. Louis. Even New York resonates like a place of doom for the family, but it's deliberate since the film is a postcard recollection of middle-upper class family, from the perspective of Tootie, only spiced up with adult and romantic subplot and unforgettable musical numbers that were the perfect vehicles for Judy Garland.
If "Meet Me in Saint Louis" is incredibly catchy, it's nothing compared to the "Trolley Song" and of course the "Have Yourself a merry Little Christmas" that became Hollywood standards and among Garland's signatures. The two songs, listed in the AFI's Top 100, convey two opposite emotions: joy and sheer sadness, the excitement of being part of a city and the resignation before living, the Christmas moment is particularly heartbreaking as it allows Margaret O'Brien to implode her full acting power and make thousands of souls cry with empathetic tears. That the comic relief of the film, that bratty little kid could pull off such a masterful performance is one of the unexpected effects of the film. She would deservedly win an Academy Juvenile Award for her incredible performance.
I can go over and over about the film, its merit is to be so blatantly cheerful, never indulging to cheap thrills, even the love stories are sweetly naïve and idealistic, almost surreal but fitting for a fantasy picture whose purpose is to highlight the real thing about th film: family ties, and the bonds between sisters or parents and grandparents, the film is a non-stop delight, that can be regarded as itsch or campy but I find it more straightforward and honest than Minnelli' "An American in Paris". In a way, it's a fine companion piece to Judy Garland's Wizard of Oz with the same conclusion that there's no place like home... and sometimes, we don't cherish enough the place we live in.
My only complaint is Garland's awful hairstyle, was she trying to imitate Katharine Hepburn or what?
- Apr 10, 2019