Growing up, one of my favorite genres of film was the musical. Still, even though I loved the genre as a whole, it wasn’t until the past few years that I really started seeing some of the best musicals that Hollywood had to offer. I’m in the process of trying to get my children interested in classic films at an early age, and my theory is the musical is the easiest type of films for them to try to digest right now. With that in mind, one of the first films I wanted to try out on them is one of my personal favorite musicals, Meet Me in St. Louis.
The film tells the story of the Smith family in St. Louis in 1903 heading up to the World’s Fair in 1904. The Smiths are an affluent family living an idyllic life while dealing with the common problems that most families are used to. The main stories revolve around the relationships of the two oldest daughters Rose and Esther (played by Lucille Bremer and Judy Garland respectively), the first who is looking to get married to any number of potential suitors, and the second who is looking for a match with the boy next door.
The families’ entire world get thrown up in the air when Mr. Smith (played by Leon Ames) tells his family that he is moving them to New York due to a big promotion that he is receiving. While this means more money and success as a whole, the relationships that the daughters have forged will be tested. Plus, how will everyone get to see the World’s Fair now?
There are several reasons to love this film, but one of the first things to admire is the pure look of it. Shot in fantastic Technicolor by one of the best musical directors in Vincente Minnelli, the film beams off the screen wonderfully. From the Trolley Song segment to the Halloween portion, there is no part of the film that doesn’t look amazing and vibrant. It is like the entire film is a fairy tale of colors and costumes.
The second thing to like is that while there are remarkably few songs and even less dancing for a musical of 108 minutes, most of the songs that are in the film are memorable. Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis ties the initial scene together perfectly as it goes from person to person. You and I, even though it was dubbed, sets the scene after Mr. Smith has broken the news that the family is moving and Mrs. Smith shows she still supports him even if the move makes her unhappy. But the real scene stealing musical sequence is The Trolley Song, with Garland carrying the scene admirably. It was that scene that made me a fan of Garland for life.
Speaking of Garland, this is easily one of her finest performances on the silver screen. The rest of the cast does an admirable job as well, with Margaret O’Brien as little sister Tootie being outstanding at times, but the film is really Garland’s moment to shine. While everyone loves her in The Wizard of Oz, I would contend that while that is the superior film, this is her superior performance.
Overall, this is a wonderful musical that is just a few scenes short of being perfect (the Halloween scenes with the kids in the streets do nothing but detract from the film) with several memorable songs and a few great performances. Plus, just try to listen to Judy Garland sing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas without welling up a little bit.