Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)

Meet Me In St. Louis
★★★★ 3/5

While I had
previously known this film was a musical, I had no idea that is was the debut of the classic Christmas song "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas." Esther Smith (Judy Garland) sings the ballad to her little sister "Tootie" Smith (Margaret O'Brien) soon after learning that the entire family will have to pack up and move to New York City for their Father's (Leon Ames) job.

Although a musical in nature, the film carries on more or less like a drama about the American family in 1904. The musical numbers are subtle and more or less as music might have been used in 1904. In one scene, the family hosts a party where Esther and Tootie perform for the guests. Another scene involves the entire family coming together as their parents sing at the piano. The only true musical styled act that does not come across this way is the famous "Trolley Song" scene.

The essential plot is simple. The family is living their life. They are celebrating holidays like Halloween and Christmas. The older daughters are trying to find suitable boys to be courted by, the younger daughters are causing mischief through the neighborhood, and their Father is trying to find the best way to support his family.

Throughout the storyline, the topic of the World Fair arises. The town prepares for the fair in St. Louis and everyone is excited to attend. The fact that the Fair is coming becomes one of the reasons the family does not want to leave St. Louis for New York City. Tootie's breakdown after Judy Garland also is a major factor in the Father deciding finally that they will not be moving.

The character of Tootie is extremely bizarre in this film. Here is this upper class family in 1904 with a small girl who has the most morbid of fascinations. Although we do not see the ceremonies, we are made aware that Tootie regularly holds funerals and buries her dolls. There is an incident where Tootie and her older sister Agnes (Joan Carroll) almost derail a trolley. In the excitement, neighbor John Truett (Tom Drake), who is also Esther's love interest saves the girls from being caught as the ones who caused the incident. In explaining her injuries to her family, Tootie declares John tried to kill her. In the final scene of the film at the World's Fair, she is talking about dead bodies floating in the river. It's all a little awkward.

One interesting musical number seems to contain a mash up. "Skip To My Lou" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy" are blended as guests dance at the Smith home. It is actually quite hearing how these two songs were taken and blended to form one song. It's a wonder that the TV show "Glee" hasn't actually taken this song and improvised it. But then one must wonder if they were inspired to mash up songs in general from the performance in this film.

I was not taken by this film. It was entertaining. It also shows us that even in 1904 teenage issues were not that much different then today. The fear of going to a dance alone, the excitement of Halloween, the struggles a family faces when pressured to make a move because of a parent's job. The theme of the American family is carried out nicely. Personally I found the most intriguing part of the film to be that of the set and the imagery created. Among the film's 4 Oscar nominations was one for photography. George J. Fosley was the cinematographer and did a fine job. The interior shots of the home are beautiful. Even the outside shots are well done. Whether it be a scene with a buggy passing by, or a scene with children sledding down the hill, they are picturesque. For me it was this photography that made the most interesting aspect of the film.

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