Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) – Movie Review
Meet Me in St. Louis is a wonderful musical filmed in Technicolor, full of enchanting songs, dazzling costumes, and attractive sets. Time magazine called it “one of the year’s prettiest pictures”, and the Library of Congress deemed it “culturally significant”. The film was directed by Vincente Minnelli and produced by Arthur Freed, who has said since that it is his personal favorite.
Judy Garland plays the role of the third Smith child, Esther. She falls in love with the boy next door and does everything in her power to trap him. With a little conniving and girlish dreaming, Judy plays the part well.
At the time up-and-coming child star, Margaret O’Brien, is said to have stolen the screen. Her cute obsession with the morbid and overly dramatic temperament has caused many to question who the real star of the show was. But unfortunately, the little girl’s voice was no match for Judy’s.
As a little girl I loved it for its extravagant vintage costumes, and lovely music. Now that I am older, I love all that and more. (Especially since Tom Drake is in it.) It’s the a delightful example of the sweet and simple life many of us would love to have. The story is a typical one, of young love and big dreams, but it never fails to capture the attention of its viewers.
The Year is 1903 in St. Louis, Missouri, a year before the arrival of the Louisiana Purchase World’s Fair. The people of St. Louis couldn’t be more pleased that their lovely city was chosen to host the spectacular, international event celebrating the anniversary of the purchase of Louisiana from the French.
The event is seen through the eyes of the Smith family. Mr. Alonzo Smith is a well-to-do lawyer, and his wife Anna and he have five children: Rose, Lon, Esther, Agnes, and Tootie. Rose hopes to receive a proposal from her boyfriend, Warren Sheffield, who is away at Yale, while Lon is trying to figure out how to get the attention of Lucille Ballard. Similarly, Esther is sure it is love at first sight when she sees the young man who just moved in with his family next door. With Grandpa and Katie, the maid, to help straighten them out, the future is bright. But suddenly, Mr. Smith makes an announcement that might shatter the dreams of them all!
In a lovely Victorian styled home in St. Louis, Missouri, Mrs. Anna Smith spends the morning in the kitchen preparing homemade ketchup over a hot stove. She is assisted by Katie, the family’s maid. She’s trying to determine whether its too sweet or too sour and has an endless supply of not-so-helpful opinions.
Esther, one of Mrs. Smith’s daughters, comes home from playing tennis with her friends and finds them in the kitchen. She rushes up to Katie and quietly asks if she has talked to mother about having dinner an hour early, since her sister Rose’ boyfriend is supposed to call long distance from Yale and the phone is located in the dining room. With her usual grumpiness, Katie runs Esther out of the kitchen. She then tries to suggest the idea to Mrs. Smith.
Rose comes home as well and tells Esther that the boy next door is on his lawn. Curious, they casually walk out onto their porch and watch him through the trellis. But only too quickly does he return to the house without noticing the girls.
As the family begins preparing to gather for dinner, the popular song Meet Me in St. Louis that was written in honor of the up-and-coming World’s Fair is upon all their lips. Unfortunately, Mr. Smith does not share their enthusiasm for the song.
Something else he does not share is their desire to have dinner early. He insists he’ll eat at the usual time and the family has no choice but to cooperate. During dinner, everyone tries to hurry along as fast as possible but once again their father thwarts their plans.
The phone rings. Mr. Smith, who is not aware of the expected call, answers it and then hangs up. Disappointed, Rose and Esther tell him who the call was from. Moments later, the phone rings again and Rose answers it. Warren chats for a few moments while Rose tries to encourage him to speak his mind, but in the end he loses his nerve and says good-bye.
Alonzo Jr., otherwise known as Lon, is getting ready to go to Princeton so his sisters throw a farewell party for him. This is also a great chance for Esther to finally meet John Truett, the boy next door. During the party, Agnes and Tootie are spotted watching from the stares and everyone begs them to let the two stay. Esther and Tootie entertain their guests by performing a new dance called the cakewalk.
After purposefully hiding John’s hat so that he would be the last to leave, Esther asks him to help her put out the lights, all the while hoping he’ll kiss her goodnight. Being more on the shy side, John fumbles for word and ends up telling her she has a handshake stronger than a girl’s and wears the same perfume as his grandmother. Though slightly disappointed, Esther manages to invite him to tour the fairgrounds with her and her friends, to which he agrees.
She waits and waits for him at the trolley stop but he doesn’t come. While she is busy singing, he jumps on the moving trolley and surprises her. But she couldn’t be more delighted.
Autumn rolls around and Agnes and Tootie get all dressed up in their ghoulish costumes to join the other neighbor kids for Halloween festivities. Ever aspiring to please the older kids, Tootie takes on the most difficult job of “killing” the neighborhoods scariest occupant, Mr. Braukoff.
Hours later she comes home with bruises and a busted lip mumbling, “John Truett tried to kill me.” Appalled that John would do such a thing, Esther runs out of the house and finds John on his porch. She tells him what she thinks of a man bullying little children and lands a few punches, as well as bites his hand.
Racing back to her house satisfied she has done her sisterly dutie, she hears Agnes talking to Tootie. What really happended was they had placed a dummy on the trolley tracks and caused an uproar. When the police arrived, John took Tootie away before they could catch her.
Now even more appalled at her mistake, Esther runs back over to the Truett house and finds John emerging all bandage up. He immediately shrinks away from her expecting another onslaught of violence but Esther tells him what happened. He kisses her and responds with, “You can beat me up anytime.”
Floating on a cloud, Esther enters the dining room just as everyone has gathered for ice cream and cake. She hardly notices her family’s snickers but suddenly her father makes an announcement that startles them all. He says that his firm has offered him a promotion. And not only that but a position in their New York firm. He plans to move right after Christmas.
Hardly as delighted as Mr. Smith would wish, the family begins to disperse from the dining room. All they can think of is how it will change all of their plans. What’s more, it means they will miss the Fair the coming spring.
Mrs. Smith realizes what is happening and begins to play a favorite piece on the piano. Mr. Smith joins her in singing and soon the whole family returns to the dining room. Despite their fears, they love their father and are willing to go along if he asks them to.
Soon winter has arrived and with it the Christmas ball. Lon’s hopes of taking Lucille Ballard, a girl he met while at Princeton, are shattered when learns she has already been asked by Warren Sheffield. Rose is also disappointed and it looks like Esther will be the only Smith attending the ball. Then Katie has the wonderful idea of Lon taking Rose. Though Lon recoils at the idea, Esther agrees that its a grand idea. The brother and sister agree that it is better than not going and it’s a deal.
The night of the ball arrives and Esther is called down to the kitchen. John informs her that he was unable to get his tuxedo in time and won’t be able to take her. Crushed, Esther leaves John to let himself out and goes upstairs where she throws herself on her bed in tears.
Having resigned herself to her fate, Esther is surprised when Grandpa offers to take her instead. Though not quite John Truett, Esther accepts her grandfather’s invitation and the two go to the ball together.
Rose and Esther scheme over what to do about Lucille Ballard, Rose’ rival. Esther shows her sister Lucille’s dance card she has taken the liberty to fill. The card is full of all the dorks and clods there. The two are obviously pleased with themselves, but not for long.
Warren and Lucille arrive and almost instantly Rose realizes what a mistake she and Esther have made. Lucille tells Rose how much Warren talks about her and admits that she thinks Rose and Warren should go together, which leaves her with Lon. Rose calls off their plan and Esther decides the only right thing to do is switch dance cards with Lucille.
Esther’s grandfather finally snatches her away from the left-footed young men she has been dancing with and passes her off to John Truett, who has managed to get there anyway.
Nearly midnight, John proposes to Esther who readily accepts. He tells her that when she goes to New York it will be with her husband. At first Esther is sure that’s what she wants but then she begins to reconsider. John still has to go to school to become an engineer and she wouldn’t want him to give that up for her.
Besides that, she feels she owes it to her family to be with them during this change in their life. She tells him that they’ll still be able to work it out but John is worried things won’t be the same.
Expecting everyone to be asleep, Esther finds Tootie sitting in her window staring at the snowmen below. Trying to cheer her up, she sings Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, but Tootie is too upset and runs downstairs and out the door. Grabbing a bat, she busts the snowmen to pieces. Esther runs after her. She tells her it will all be okay and finally manages to quiet the little girl down. Little did they know their father had seen it all.
Sitting in the living room alone Mr. Smith realizes the effect the move will have on his family. He suddenly calls for everyone to wake up. They come down the stairs in surprise but they are even more surprised when he tells them that he has changed his mind about moving to New York. While he is still speaking, Warren charges through the front door and tells Rose that he is going to marry her. He leaves just as quickly and Mr. Smith is left trying to figure out what is going on.
Time has slipped by and it’s Christmas already. With rounds of congratulations for Rose and thank you’s for father, the family decides to open their gifts right then and there. Esther knows that her and John’s fears will now be gone. It’s truly a merry Christmas!
The World’s Fair has finally come to St. Louis! Dressed in their finest, the Smith family, along with John, Warren, and Lucille, enjoy the sights together. The future is bright once again!
At the first, Judy was determined not to do the movie. She tried to get out of it, for reasons unknown, and had her mother talk to Arthur Freed as well. In the end though, Judy told Freed, “Arthur, remind me not to tell you what kind of pictures to make. “
Even to day, Rotten Tomatoes, a website that holds the public’s views on movies, gives it 100%, not something you see too often.
The film debuts beautiful songs such as The Boy Next Door, The Trolley Song, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, and then of course the 1904 special, Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis, all of which are catchy and well-written.
I’d like to add, if you haven’t seen it already, be sure and get it. It’s definitely one of my favorites. And don’t forget to leave me a comment telling me what you think. Make sure and come back in two weeks for another movie review. I’ll give you a hint as to what movie I will be reviewing: Judy Garland gets a taste of the west!