Director: Vincente Minnelli
Now I've finally seen this wonderful musical! I've been meaning to watch it for a long time, but we all know how that often turns out - putting it on the "to-see-list", and hopefully having watched it by the turn of the next millenium.
I was just lucky to turn on TCM yesterday, and I unintentionally timed it perfectly while zapping among all the God forsaken choices of channels my generation is cursed with. I suddenly heard the voice of the Lord himself saying "Next up on TCM - Meet Me in St. Louis", jumped high of joy and threw myself on the couch with a chocolate bar. And was it a delight, oh boy.
I must keep my eyes open for more Vincente Minnelli musicals (I've only seen An American in Paris before), cause Meet Me in St. Louis had the unusually right amount of everything - well-written lyrics, catchy tunes, melodrama, humor and even some horror (seen through the eyes of the children). All in magical Technicolor!
Rose (Lucille Bremer) and Esther sing the title song, to their father's despair.
The plot plays out in the city of (what else) St. Louis in 1903, the year before the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. During the whole film the town is getting ready for the event of the century.
In the centre of the plot is the Smith family, mostly dominated by women. Here we find the grouchy but well-meaning father Alonzo (Leon Ames), who bravely tries to keep his authority in the female household. There's also his wife Anna (Mary Astor), grandfather Smith, son Lon Jr and four daughters. Among the daughters we find the second eldest, Esther, played by Judy Garland. It is probably Esther and the youngest daughter, "Tootie" (Margaret O'Brien), who are the most important characters in the film. (The film is based on a novel written by Sally Benson, the real "Tootie".)
Tootie and Esther entertaining the guests at a family farewell party.
As I said before the film's greatest strength lies in the combination of candy sweet entertainment and, minutes later, truly heart tearing moments. A good example is the scene where Esther sings Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas to Tootie, only days before the family has to leave St. Louis to move to New York City. Taken out of context, the scene looks really calm and beautiful, but it's perhaps the most bittersweet moment in the entire film. Let me put it like this - I cried. (Luckily, I had my chocolate bar in reach.)
Meet Me in St. Louis was a huge box-office hit, and grossed more money that any MGM film had done in 20 years (except for Gone With the Wind, of course).
It was also during the filming of Meet Me in St. Louis that Judy Garland met her second husband (of five), director Vincente Minnelli. The married soon after the filming was done, were married for six years and had a daughter in 1946 - Liza Minnelli.