|MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS|
The film's sparkling perfection is the work of producer Arthur Freed, director Vincente Minnelli, an incomparable ensemble cast, an ace artistic and technical team, songwriters Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin and...Technicolor.
This is one of my all-time favorites...
Meet Me in St. Louis was adapted from a series of reminiscences by Sally Benson that first appeared in The New Yorker in early 1942. Told from the perspective of five-year-old 'Tootie' Smith, Benson's memory pieces, though rich in warmth and humor, were light on plot and conflict. A more defined storyline was developed, the characters were strengthened and 17-year-old Esther Smith (played by Judy Garland) became the pivotal character. The plot evolved into a "year in the life" of an idealized American family and was comprised of vignettes set in each of the four seasons with its dramatic climax, a family crisis, set at Christmastime.
|"Baby at Play" by Thomas Eakins|
Focused on the film's visual look and intent on accurate period detail, Minnelli supervised every aspect of set and production design. He brought in top Broadway set decorator Lemuel Ayres and, in addition, spent time with Sally Benson who described to him every feature of her girlhood home. To handle costume design, he turned to Irene Sharaff, another recent Broadway-to-Hollywood transplant. Sharaff researched the historic era carefully, even using a 1904 Sears & Roebuck catalog as a reference.
|"The Snow People"|
The songwriting team of Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin composed three very special songs for Judy Garland: "The Boy Next Door," "The Trolley Song," and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (click below to watch and listen). Each became a standard in Garland's later repertoire and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" remains a holiday classic today. To add more period flavor, Blane and Martin also reworked popular tunes from the turn of the century - "Meet Me in St. Louis," "Skip to My Lou" and "Under the Bamboo Tree." Up to this time, most films had music inserted arbitrarily, but the songs in Meet Me in St. Louis were integrated into the action and dialogue to help advance the plot.
Meet Me in St. Louis was an immediate hit, the highest grossing film of 1944. It turned out to be just the tonic a country at war needed to lift its spirits. The film firmly established Minnelli's reputation as a top director, provided Judy Garland with a solid push to the next plateau of her career and toward her ultimate status as a legend, and it ushered in a golden age of Hollywood musicals.
|The Christmas Ball|
As Esther Smith, Judy Garland glows as the film's heart and soul. She is at her best - wistful and endearing, spunky and warm, her voice at an early peak.
|Joan Carroll and Margaret O'Brien|
Margaret O'Brien as the high-spirited young 'Tootie' adds a dimension of childhood mischief and carries the imaginative Halloween sequence almost entirely on her own. She takes another precocious turn during the climactic Christmas scenes with Judy Garland.
Leon Ames blusters as good-hearted family patriarch, Alonzo Smith. Mary Astor is light-as-air as 'Mrs. Anna Smith;' Lucille Bremer is winning as the older sister, Rose; Harry Davenport shines as lovable 'Grandpa' Smith; Marjorie Main adds spice as the cantankerous maid, Katie...and Tom Drake is affecting as 'boy next door' John Truett. Very fine in fleeting roles are Chill Wills and a young June Lockhart.
Click here to listen to a 1989 interview by Terri Gross on NPR's "Fresh Air" with Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane in which the songwriters discuss working with director Vincente Minnelli and writing the songs for Meet Me in St. Louis...
Meet Me in St. Louis airs Sat., Dec. 11, on TCM's "The Essentials" and again on Christmas