Meet Me in St. Louis, director Vincent Minnelli’s tribute to, as daughter Liza says in the introduction, “the bonds that tie us to each other”, is powerful because the director treats the material with as much seriousness and respect as the main characters deal with life’s rather mundane problems. The overlying plot, in which the Smith family considers moving from St. Louis to New York City, is pretty thin. Minnelli though was a master when it came to dramatic, Technicolor musicals, and Meet Me in St Louis remains one of his best loved films.
Based on Sally Benson’s “5135 Kensington” stories, Meet Me In St. Louis takes place over one year in the life of a upper middle-class, middle-American family living in a large Edwardian home in the suburban part of St. Louis, as they look forward to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The Smith’s carefree existence is threatened when the patriarch, Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames), the grumpy lawyer, might uproot the family to New York because of a lucrative promotion. The family consists of his dignified, loyal wife Anna (Mary Astor), a bland college-aged son Lon (Henry Daniels, Jr.) and four single daughters, the old-fashioned 20-year-old eldest Rose (Lucille Bremer), the sweet 17-year-old Esther (Judy Garland, a year later, the then 23 year old would marry the director), the adolescent Agnes (Joan Carroll) and the ‘holy terror,’ 6-year-old Tootsie (Margaret O’Brien).
As one might expect, Judy Garland’s character is central to the story. Esther is seventeen, a high school junior, and in love with the new boy next door, John Truett (Tom Drake). Also involved in a newly burgeoning romance is Esther’s older sister, Rose (Lucille Bremer), who is desperate to get her beau Warren (Robert Sully) to propose. After all, there’s nothing worse than ending up an old maid. Also along for the ride is Grandfather Prophater (Harry Davenport) and faithful housekeeper Katie (Marjorie Main).
For some, the depiction of an idyllic Midwestern family whose biggest concern amounts to choosing between a great life and an even better one may seem like total nonsense. However, it’s important to remember that Meet Me in St Louis was released in 1944, a time when the United States had been mired in World War II for more than three years, and many people welcomed an escape to a much simpler time. Even now, I think a lot of us enjoy escaping to a kind of “alternate reality” for a couple of hours through movies.
It’s impossible to write about Meet Me in St. Louis without mentioning the soundtrack. Twenty-two at the time, Judy Garland gives one of her more memorable performances here (I’d say it’s third behind The Wizard of Oz and A Star is Born), while providing the soundtrack with two songs—“The Trolley Song” and a personal holiday favorite of mine, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”—that have since become American standards, but as Judy Garland so often did, she made her versions truly something special.
It’s also worth noting that in 1944, Margaret O’Brien was one of the biggest child stars in the world, and she comes dangerously close to stealing scenes from her adult counterparts in the singing and acting departments on several occasions. All of the supporting actor performances are delightful, but Meet Me in St. Louis owes its success to Vincent Minnelli, Judy Garland, and Margaret O’Brien.
Framed at 1.37:1 and presented at 1080p, Warner Brothers has provided a wonderful transfer. George Folsey’s Technicolor looks wonderfully vibrant, and rich. There is nary a compression artifact to be seen, and a nice texture has been retained. The very occasional, millisecond-long hyper-saturation/color flicker is an endemic degradation of the Technicolor process and does not significantly detract from the film’s overall presentation.
The DTS-HD 5.0 Master Audio soundtrack is fabulous, providing clear dialogue and full body to the musical numbers. No distortions or bobbles are present that wouldn’t be accounted for by the sound-recording technology of the era.
English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are available.
The following special features are included:
- Commentary by John Fricke, Margaret O’Brien, Irving Brecher, Hugh Martin and Barbara Freed-Saltzman. This excellent and informative commentary is hosted by John Fricke, who wrote a wonderful biography of Garland, and features a wealth of background on the production from virtually every angle. There’s a lot of heartfelt reminiscing from O’Brien and Hugh Martin, who reveals some surprising things about his collaboration with Ralph Blane.
- Introduction by Liza Minnelli (SD; 4:59). This is also a very heartfelt piece, as Liza recounts some background on the film where her parents met each other.
- Meet Me in St. Louis: The Making of an American Classic (SD; 30:47) is a nice overview of the film, and includes some snippets of Judy’s CBS variety show where she performed the three Martin-Blane songs from the film.
- Hollywood: The Dream Factory (SD; 50:31) is a great 1972 M-G-M documentary detailing some of Hollywood’s greatest films, musicals and non-musicals, narrated by Dick Cavett.
- Becoming Attractions: Judy Garland (SD; 46:10) is a Robert Osborne hosted TCM special which looks back over Garland’s storied career using trailers for her films.
- Meet Me in St. Louis 1966 TV Pilot (SD; 26:35). This never made it to air, but is an interesting prospective series with Shelley Fabares, Celeste Holm, and Wesley Addy (Holm’s husband).
- Bubbles (SD; 7:54) is a fantastic 1930 Warner Brothers Vitaphone short featuring a very young Judy Garland (still part of The Gumm Sisters).
- Skip to My Lou (SD; 3:11) is a 1941 Soundie short with Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane.
- Audio Vault contains “Boys and Girls Like You and Me” Outtake; 12/2/1946 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast; and a Music Only Track.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD; 1:42) is actually a reissue trailer.
- CD Sampler includes the three Martin-Blane originals from the score as well as Garland and Bremer performing the title song.
- Digibook Packaging includes a wealth of photographs along with some rather innocuous text.
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