Judge David Gutierrez says this musical didn't exactly zing, zing, zing his heart strings.
Our review of Meet Me in St. Louis (Blu-ray) Digibook, published December 13th, 2011, is also available.
"Nice girls don't let men kiss them until after they're engaged. Men don't want the bloom rubbed off."—Rose Smith
Facts of the Case
Set during the turn of the 20th century, Meet Me in St. Louis revolves around the romantic trials and family life of Esther Smith (Judy Garland). Esther experiences the worst and best day of her life simultaneously; she falls for the boy next door but learns that her father has taken a job that will uproot the family from St. Louis and land them in New York at the end of the year. Eldest sister Rose (Lucille Bremer) also experiences romantic woes as she awaits a long distance proposal from New York. All the while, the Smith family awaits the arrival of the World's Fair; an event they're convinced will make St. Louis the country's main attraction.
Possibly one of the most recognized musicals of our time, Meet Me in St. Louis is famous for its cast, crew, and its musical numbers. I had heard "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "The Trolley Song" long before I knew of this movie's existence. Typically, I'm not a fan of musicals. I usually find them to be pedestrian and overly reliant on exposition through songs. Luckily, Meet Me in St. Louis uses its songs as showpieces, not as operatic asides.
The movie's strongest suit is its visual appeal. Renowned director Vincente Minnelli (Ziegfeld Follies, Father of the Bride) floored me with his shot framing and composition. Every scene was appropriately vibrant and strong or dark and menacing. Minnelli did well to establish the mood and innocent hope of the time. Unfortunately, the storyline doesn't match the strength of the movies performances or visuals.
Esther falls for the boy next door; however, I am never shown why she does. Since the film takes place over approximately four seasons, we are never privy to the ins and outs of Esther's relationship. She and her would-be husband share only one major flirtatious scene together, and from this a lifelong relationship is expected to bud. Garland does a terrific job playing the stalwart, selfless sister who wants more for her family than for herself. I fault neither Garland, nor the boy-next-door himself, for failing to convince me they should be together. There was certainly enough running time to do so, given the film's two-plus hours.
I quickly grew fond of Tootie (Margaret O'Brien), the death- and murder-obsessed youngest sister. I found Tootie's antics and out-of-leftfield death wishes refreshing and brave. Tootie could easily have been her own movie, but her place in this one is strictly a diversion and filler. Her Halloween shenanigans subplot was too much of a departure from what wasn't going on in the movie. While her lies about the attempt to derail a trolley reunited Esther and her beau, Tootie had little else to do but act strangely.
A review of a musical wouldn't be complete without a review of the musical numbers. I found most of the songs well performed, if a bit schmaltzy. They complemented the movie and made me forget that there wasn't a lot going on in between musical numbers. I'm a sucker for "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and even enjoyed the Garland version.
My biggest disappointment was that I never got to see the World's Fair. What I thought was going to be a major scene in the movie turned out to just be a plot device. I would have enjoyed seeing what Minnelli could have put together.
The first disc contains the movie, a commentary track, a music-only track, and a useless introduction by Liza Minnelli. The picture was restored and looks vibrant and lush for the most part. I did notice some scratches and odd patches of flicker, but otherwise Warner outdid themselves on the transfer. The commentary track was primarily given by a Judy Garland biographer, snippets of thoughts from Margaret O'Brien, Irvin Brecher, Hugh Martin and Barbara Freed-Salzman (the producer's daughter), and added some insight and trivia to the making of the film. I found it most interesting that Garland was hesitant to do the film and feared being overshadowed by O'Brien. Rounding out the first disc was an archivist's dream, the Vincente Minnelli trailer gallery.
The second disc spills over with supplementals. Included are a making-of documentary, a Turner Classic Movies special about Judy Garland, a musical outtake, and the pilot for the "Meet Me in St. Louis" television series. Film history buffs will love the documentaries. The pilot was wincingly painful to watch as it was littered with a laugh track and poorly written jokes. I'd recommend the pilot for completists and Shelley Fabares fans, but would warn others to stay at least three arm length's away.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Musicals are spectacles and are supposed to be fluffy and distracting. Meet Me in St. Louis is a treat for the eyes. I can see how Judy Garland fans would enjoy this film. Garland stands out as the movie's biggest onscreen talent. What Minnelli has assembled is a bold and colorful picture that is breathtaking and charming.
I gave this film a lot of leeway because it is hailed as a classic. However, I just can't get behind it. At the center of every good movie is a story…something this one just doesn't quite seem to find.
Hung jury. Case dismissed. Meet Me in St. Louis is free to go.
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Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary Track by John Fricke, Margaret O'Brien, Irvin Brecher, Hugh Martin, and Barbara Freed-Salzmanm
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