This blog is a study of major motion pictures from its humble beginning forward. Studying and viewing many of the most influencial feature films in chronological order that journey attempts to study each subject with a sense of historical perspective on the medium, its creators, major players, and the audiences it has impacted, understanding that with time each work evolves in the minds of the general public and history as a whole.
In an age when the celluloid casted shadows on the silver
screen were predominantly black and white comes an MGM spectacle of magnificent
Technicolor in the musical Meet Me in St.
Louis. Judy Garland stars in this charming motion picture of nostalgia and
music for a generation of World War II weary Americans who looked fondly back
on the days that seem so innocent and carefree at the turn of the twentieth
century. The feature marks a reluctant return for Garland in a juvenile role after
her hard work to graduate to more mature characters. Its result one of the
highest grossing pictures in the studio’s history to that point.
Meet Me in St. Louis
is a musical about the year in the life of a St. Louis family leading up to the
World Fair of 1904, and the struggle with the idea that they may need to leave their
long beloved hometown. The picture follows the Smiths, an All-American family
led by patriarch Alonzo (Leon Ames) along with wife Anna (Mary Astor), their
daughters Rose, Ester, Agnes, and Tootie, and son Lon Jr. Much of the feature
focuses on Ester’s (Judy Garland) romantic infatuation with a handsome neighbor
boy John Truett (Tom Drake). Meanwhile Rose (Lucille Bremer) battles with
expectation of a proposal that appears to never come, and littlest sister
Tootie (Margaret O’Brien) finding ways to getting into innocent trouble.
The greatest drama for the family revolves around the
announcement of Mr. Smith taking a position that calls for him and family to
relocate to New York City, to the shock of the children who grieve the idea of
having to leave friends and the only place they think of as home. While
watching Ester consoling a very upset Tootie, following a heartbreaking
outburst that represented the loss of past happiness, Mr. Smith has a change of
heart and decides he cannot take his family away from their home, much to the
family’s delight. The film concludes with the family visiting the World’s Fair,
celebrating the beauty and prominence of their hometown.
Filled with bright, colorful imagery and timeless music, Meet Me in St. Louis, despite being a
rather simple and overly sweet motion picture, warms the heart of nostalgic
American audiences. The plot of the film is nothing complicated as we following
the very loving upper-middle class Midwestern family focusing primarily of the
children’s aspect of life. We watch as the older daughters deal with the ideas
of romance do not always meet expectation, and how the younger siblings, Tootie
to be more specific, just finds herself in different sorts of trouble, making
fibs, and simply enjoying aspects of being a child. All this is potentially
ripped away from away from these children when their father tells them they
will be moving away.
The quality of the filmmaking is first rate for the time,
with the beautiful use of Technicolor, elaborate sets and costuming, and the
delightful choreography to complement one of the most impactful scores of the
decade. With most of his experience coming from the Broadway stage, director
Vincente Minnelli brings the energy of stage musical to film, with use of
chorus players and the story-integrated choreography that transcends the
screen. Minnelli, in a way, becomes one of the first true directors to
transition from musical stage to musical screen, going beyond large kaleidoscopes
style of Busby Berkley or elaborate dancing of Fred Astaire. This film remains
grounded in the emotion of nostalgia and home, keeping the filmmaking style
relatively simple, but as vivid and dreamlike like and fond memory.
The film’s headlining star was portrayed by an actress who
strongly did not want to take the part. Judy Garland had recently graduated
from juvenile roles to more mature characters, an overdue move to the mind of a
then 22 year-old actress. For a while she had been attempting to shed the
youthful roles of her past, such as the Andy Hardy pictures, or the classic
Wizard of Oz performance, and just when it appeared the she had moved beyond
such youthful parts she was sucked back in once more as Ester Smith in Meet Mr. St. Louis.
Despite it seeming to take a step back in her career Meet Me in St. Louis was a large step
forward in her makeup artists reshaped her eyebrows applied makeup to downplay
the shape of her nose and enhance her lips. Essentially it was a massive
cinematic makeover using make-up for Garland. This picture would be the
starting point as to how Garland’s makeup was applied for all her future
projects. Most significantly on this
picture Garland was introduced to the man that would become her second husband
in director Vincent Minnelli, whose brief six year marriage resulted a
daughter, future Academy Award winner Liza Minnelli.
O'Brien and Garland
As MGM’s next popular child actress, Margaret O’Brien
receives quite the high billing in this feature despite the relatively minor
supporting character she portrays. As youngest daughter Tootie, O’Brien does
steal the scenes for the few fleeting moments she is on screen. In a very
productive year where the seven year-old was featured in four major motion
pictures for MGM, Meet Me in St. Louis
by far being the most notable, O’Brien was honored with a special juvenile Academy
Meet Me in St. Louis
would be well nominated at the Academy Awards in early 1945 with nominees in
various categories including Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography
(color), however the most memorable and lasting aspect of the picture is in actuality
its music. Beyond nominations for Best Score, Best Music, and Best Song, this
feature is filled with tunes that have transcended time. “The Trolley Song”
with its joyful “clang clang clang with the trolley” lyrics would land itself
as one of the best songs of the year, both at the Academy Awards and with
popular culture. “Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis” was the perfect lighthearted
tune to set the tone of the entire feature.
Garland performing "The Trolley Song"
Numerous songs were featured throughout the picture, but one
would go on totranscend the furthest of
all these in the emotions that it would evoke. “Have Yourself a Merry Little
Christmas” was an original refrain inked for this very feature as a melancholy
moment in the Christmas/winter scene where things appear their darkest for the
Smith children in the brink of moving away from their beloved city. With a
change of lyrics before filming, a lighter tone, and years of tinkering by
various artists in many covers this song has become a staple of the Christmas
season in American popular culture, so much so that a far greater amount of the
population would not know that the cherished melody actually originates from a
movie, let along this movie.
Meet Me in St. Louis
remains an exuberantly joyous motion picture that help deliver joys to
audiences in a darker period of World War II America and inspire a new
generation to look back on the nostalgia of their own pasts. It is believed
that it was with the help of this picture that Walt Disney was inspired to
mimic a turn of the century town as the entry section of new outdoor
entertainment enterprise constructed in the mid-1950s, Disneyland, naming it
the area Main Street, U.S.A., to evoke the same nostalgic hometown pride many
wished their pasts.
Along with The Wizard
of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis cements
Judy Garland as the all-American girl in movie musicals for this period in
Hollywood, a status she would in a way haunt her the rest of her life. However,
after the massive success of Meet Me in
St. Louis Garland began to trust producers at MGM a little bit more, understanding
that some choices she may not want would further her own career.
The feature a mega-success for its day and became MGM’s
second greatest box office success of all time up to that point, trailing only Gone With the Wind. The feature remains
one of America’s classic films, cherished by a great deal for its simple, yet
colorful joyous ways.