Meet Me in St. Louis is a 1944 romantic musical from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer which tells the story of four sisters living in St. Louis at the time of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World's Fair in 1904. It stars Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien, Mary Astor, Lucille Bremer, Leon Ames, Tom Drake, June Lockhart, and Marjorie Main.
The movie was adapted by Irving Brecher and Fred F. Finklehoffe from a series of short stories by Sally Benson, originally published in The New Yorker magazine and later in the novel 5135 Kensington. It was directed by Vincente Minnelli, who met his future wife, Judy Garland, on the set. In the film, Garland debuted the standards "The Trolley Song" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" which were written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane (along with several other original songs).
The musical score (but not the original songs) was composed by Roger Edens. The song You and I was written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, who was also the producer of the film. Freed also dubbed the singing voice for Leon Ames. Mary Astor's singing voice was dubbed by D. Markas.
Background and production notes
With less than two years to go before the end of World War II, American movie-goers (women left on the homefront) were offered some comfort by this film with its retreat to a simpler time, and a story in which almost all the major roles are female.
Although Minnelli is rarely discussed in the same breath as Hitchcock or Welles, the Halloween sequence (and others in the movie) is remarkable. Minnelli actually films outdoors at night with new film for that purpose. At the time, it would be much more typical for a "night exterior" to be a conceptual construct, to be filmed on an obviously darkened & more controllable soundstage, as they continued to do in movies like Oklahoma! (11 years later; 1955) or The Music Man (18 years later; 1962) whose exterior night shots are obviously interiors.
The backdrop for Meet Me in St. Louis is St. Louis, Missouri on the brink of the 1904 World's Fair.
The story centers on the middle-class Smith family, who lead a comfortable and happy life. The family has four daughters, Rose, Esther, Agnes and Tootie and a son, Lon. Esther, the 2nd eldest daughter (Judy Garland), is taken with the boy next door, John Truett (Tom Drake), although he does not notice her at first. Life seems perfect for the family until Mr. Smith (Ames) reveals that he has earned a position at a law firm in New York and the whole family will have to leave St. Louis before the Fair.
The film starts out with Mrs. Smith (Mary Astor) and Katie the maid (Marjorie Main) making ketchup. Esther Smith then walks in and asks Katie to ask Mrs. Smith if dinner can be an hour early because Rose (Lucille Bremer) is expecting a long distance phone call from Warren Sheffield (Robert Sully). Esther then leaves and Katie askes Mrs. Smith if dinner can be an hour early. Mrs. Smith agrees, but when Mr. Smith (Leon Ames) comes home, he refuses to have dinner an hour early. Everybody is eating when the telephone rings. Mr. Smith answers but says he will not accept the long distance call. Rose starts crying and that is when Mr. Smith finds out about Warren Sheffield. The phone then rings again, and Mr. Smith lets Rose answer it. The whole family is expecting Warren to propose to Rose, but they did not expect the humiliating phone Rosereceives. All Rose and Warren talk about is the weather. The film has a notable sequence which occurs on Halloween, in which unsupervised children make a bonfire (now a scandalous idea). The sequence is an interlude of some length that involves a rite of passage for Tootie (Margaret O'Brien), in which she is charged with "killing" a neighbor (again this would be verboten nowadays). Rather than be a saccharine cutesy take on childhood, it actually revolves around the issues that disturb children, death, mean adults, etc. This portion of the film has been compared in its specific, grim folksiness to the writing of Mark Twain.
The emotional climax of the movie occurs when Tootie cannot cope with the disruption of her social world, and experiences a violent breakdown in a yard full of snowmen.
Awards and nominations
The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Color, Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture, Best Music, Song (Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin for "The Trolley Song") and Best Writing, Screenplay. Margaret O'Brien received an Academy Award for Best Juvenile Performance for her work that year, in which she appeared in several movies along with Meet Me in St. Louis.
The film has been deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 2005, Time.com named it one of the 100 best movies of the last 80 years.
Benson, Sally. The New Yorker