Meet Me In St. Louis Blu-ray Review
Have Yourself a Merry Little Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, December 7, 2011
It's no big secret that Judy Garland did not want to do Meet Me in St. Louis
. She saw it as yet another film in
which she was going to play a young girl without much dramatic range, and furthermore this film had a role for a
young girl (the role of Tootie which ultimately helped Margaret O'Brien win a Juvenile Academy Award) that
was apt to draw focus from Judy herself. It took quite a bit of convincing from several people who were involved in the
pre-production of the film, but what it may have boiled down to was a simple request Judy made of director Vincente
Minnelli. She wanted to look beautiful. Garland had always been self conscious about her appearance and especially
her weight, which M-G-M studio honcho Louis B. Mayer repeatedly complained about, leading to Garland's lifelong
problems with amphetamines, which the studio regularly supplied her to help keep her appropriately svelte. Judy's
calling card had always been her voice, of course, but walking around a studio lot that had some of the most glamorous
females in the film industry only added to her insecurity. It didn't take much convincing for Minnelli to agree, as he
seemed almost preternaturally smitten by Garland, and of course the two would soon marry, albeit for a relatively brief
and tempestuous union. But in many ways Meet Me in St. Louis
is Vincente Minnelli's love letter to Judy Garland,
and though the film really has next to no dramatic arc (as Liza Minnelli humorously recounts in her introduction, much to
Louis B. Mayer's chagrin), the film is like a picture postcard time travel portal to a more winsome, innocent age, when
families gathered around the parlor upright to sing popular songs of the day, and a threatened move away from the
only home the family had ever known was the cause for major emotional upheaval. The fact is, there probably never
was a St. Louis like the one depicted in the film, and there may indeed may never have been a family like the Smiths of
Meet Me in St. Louis
, but that's part of the nostalgia, forced or otherwise, that has made this film such an
outstanding favorite for so long.
Younger audiences raised on the quick cutting, manic approach of such latter day film musicals as Chicago
find Meet Me in St. Louis
positively stultifying. We're introduced to the large Smith family, including daughters
Esther (Garland), Tootie (O'Brien), Rose (Lucille Bremer), and Agnes (Joan Carroll), as well as lone son Lon (Henry H.
Daniels, Jr.). The Smith parents are Alonzo (Leon Ames) and Anna (Mary Astor), and the crusty family maid is Katie
(Marjorie Main). The film opens in 1903, when St. Louis still (at least in this film version) had dirt lanes lining its spacious
residential neighborhoods and things like the daily milk delivery were made by men on horse drawn carts. The placid
to day life is at least partially upended by two events. Esther has fallen for the new boy who has moved in next door,
John Truitt (Tom Drake), though John doesn't seem to notice Esther even exists. And out of the blue Mr. Smith
that he's been transferred to New York City and the family will have to move from its comfortable life in St. Louis. That's
basically all there is to the "dramatic arc" of Meet Me in St. Louis
, and for modern day audiences, that frankly
not be enough to maintain interest in the ADHD environment in which a lot of current day movies play out.
What Meet Me in St. Louis
offers instead is charm in abundance, as well as some of the most touching "little"
moments in that era of musical film. Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane contributed three original songs to the score (which
otherwise consists of period tunes that were popular in the early twentieth century), all three of which have become
standards, "The Boy Next Door," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and the song which took home the Oscar that
year, "The Trolley Song." Meet Me in St. Louis
is an uncommonly integrated film musical for its day, and as Liza
Minnelli points out in her introduction, the first song, the old chestnut title tune, is actually introduced by characters just
kind of singing as they go about their daily business around the Smith household. But it's the Martin-Blane
contributions that are probably the best remembered musical elements of the film, and in fact Minnelli crafted the whole
iconic trolley sequence simply due to the song.
There are a couple of interesting trivia bits with regard to Meet Me in St. Louis
's song score. First of all, careful
listeners will notice some interesting differences in the lyric to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" from the version
with which they're probably most familiar. The song is actually much more bittersweet in the film, as Esther tries to help
Tootie come to terms with the fact this will be their last holiday in St. Louis. When Frank Sinatra wanted to record the
song, he didn't want it to be so morose, and so Martin and Blane recrafted it into the version that has become a
standard around the holidays. In a somewhat weirder piece of trivia, Meet Me in St. Louis
had been in
development for a long time around M-G-M (as the fascinating commentary gets into, there were four completed
versions of the script by the time the film really went into high gear, and the only reason it was prioritized for
completion is that M-G-M's lease of a then very rare Technicolor camera was due to expire). One of the many people
who had drifted through the pre-production process was none other than Oscar Hammerstein II (of Rodgers and
Hammerstein fame). M-G-M had purchased rights to a song that had been cut from Oklahoma!
called "Boys and
Girls Like You and Me," and that song was initially supposed to come directly after "The Trolley Song" sequence.
Unfortunately, much as it had been in the stage musical, the song was once again cut from Meet Me in St. Louis
but its ignominy didn't end there. The song was repeatedly
cut from subsequent properties, and ultimately was
shoehorned into the stage version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein television musical adaptation of Cinderella
As charming as Meet Me in St. Louis
undeniably is, it's also undeniable that with so many hands in its creation it
show some of its seams. With little dramatic impetus to move the story along, the film is one of the more anecdotal
musicals of its era, and
that may make the film less palatable to some. There's little suspense here and the romantic angle is such a foregone
conclusion that the
film never musters up much conflict to stand in the way. The finale also is too tellingly a riff on Judy's inconic "There's no
place like home"
mantra from the end of The Wizard of Oz
. Still and all, Meet Me in St. Louis
is a deliciously tranquil step
through a probably
imaginary and overly rosy-glassed view of what life was like in the first few years of the twentieth century. But that's
what The Dream
Factory was all about, wasn't it?—dreaming.