Meet me in St. Louis
- Judy Garland as Esther Smith
- Margaret O’Brien as Tootie Smith
- Lucille Bremer as Rose Smith
- Joan Carroll as Agnes Smith
- Leon Ames as Mr Alonzo Smith
- Mary Astor as Mrs Anna Smith
- Tom Drake as John Truett
- Marjorie Main as Katie
A film that lifted the spirits of many during the Second World War, Meet Me in St. Louis hasn’t lost any of its original charm and remains one of MGM’s most splendid, sumptuous and highly regarded musicals. Vincente Minnelli directs a film that would make even the most cynical person smile and it has something for someone of every age to enjoy.
The film revolves around the Smith family who live a comfortable life in the eponymous city during the year of 1903 and the start of 1904. Alonzo, a businessman and his wife Anna preside over five children and an elderly Grandpa in a well-to-do Edwardian house. There is the pretty eldest daughter Rose, the second eldest Esther, the only boy amongst four girls who is named after his father and two mischievous younger sisters, Tootie and Agnes. The family’s comfortable existence is threatened after Alonzo is offered a job in New York and wants the rest of the family to uproot and leave before the arrival of the World Fair of 1904.
Esther pines for her next door neighbour
As there are so many memorable highlights in this glorious film it is hard to choose a few that are important to me, but here they are. In the first scene, Seventeen year old Esther (unlike her elder sister who tells her “My dear, when you get to be my age, you’ll find out there are more important things in life than boys”), has fallen for the next door neighbour John Truett, although he doesn’t know her at all. Her longing is expressed in the song “The Boy Next Door”, in which she watches him from the living room, her crooning voice echoing her feelings of neglected love. This scene is beautifully shot especially the very last moment filmed in luminous close-up in which she sighs, takes one last lingering glance at John and lets the translucent curtain fall in front of her lovelorn face. The scene and music had an impact on me because I could genuinely feel the emotions expressed in the song and the way that Judy Garland sings it with such sincerity is second to none. If anyone has fallen in love as a teenager you can definitely relate to this song and its lyrics. The supporting cast is excellent, with Margaret O’Brien a particular gem as the mischievous Tootie and Joan Carroll as Agnes, her equally adventurous sister. Lucille Bremer is luminous as the eldest daughter, Tom Drake makes an appealing love interest for Esther and Mary Astor and Leon Ames are splendid as the parents. Marjorie Main steals all her scenes as the housekeeper.
Tootie and Agnes have a Halloween misadventure.
Another of my highlights is the presence of the youngest daughter Tootie whose misadventures, morbid tendencies and puckish behaviour provide the film with a nostalgic quality and a comic feeling. It isn’t a typical musical in the mould of all singing all dancing and always happy. The film delves into other elements not usually associated with the musical genre. A prime example is the nighttime Halloween adventures of Tootie and her other sister Agnes; the whole sequence is filmed with low-angle shots and dark lighting, coupled with equally sinister music. In the scene, Tootie’s morbid personality is heightened when she agrees to play a prank on the so-called scariest man on the street.
Throughout this scene the film veers towards being a horror movie instead of a sugar-coated musical that the film at first appears to be. I always think that the scene in which Tootie runs out into the snow and destroys her snowmen because she can’t take them with her to New York is heart breaking. I think that everyone can relate to the feeling of not wanting to leave somewhere and moving away, it is a truly universal feeling. This is another example of the movie not being a typical musical as the way that she destroys the snowmen with such venom is quite unsettling for a children’s film.
The impish young Tootie
Esther sways with colourful passengers on the trolley.
The show-stopping section of the film has to be “The Trolley Song”, in which Esther sways and joyously sings with fellow passengers on board the local trolley. This scene was supposedly filmed in one take and it certainly looks effortless in its execution. The glorious presence of Technicolor helps add to the feeling of the good old days that are now sadly over. The jovial mood starts after Esther sees John running to catch the titular trolley; she then proceeds to sing about her feeling for him whilst the other colourfully dressed passengers listen in glee. The lavish use of colour and the overall exuberant mood is what gives this musical number such resonance with me because, no matter how bad I am feeling if I watch this scene I am immediately happy once again. It is in my opinion the musical highlight of the film and certainly the one where you can’t help but sing along to.
With memorable songs and a nostalgic longing for a time of jubilation and childhood innocence, Meet Me in St Louis is a film to treasure and re watch as many times as you possibly can. I assure you that even if you don’t enjoy musicals, you just won’t be able to help yourself enjoying this show-stopping film.