Title: Meet Me in St. Louis
Genre: Comedy, Musical, Family
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Fred F. Finklehoffe
based on the novel by Sally Benson
Cinematography: George J. Folsey
Henry H. Daniels Jr.
The film now best remembered as a matchmaker that ignited the romance between Ms. Garland and Mr. Minnelli, and spawned two distinguished show-tunes: THE TROLLEY SONG and HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS. MEET ME IN ST. LOUISE, a Garland-starrer aims to mollycoddle audience with its Technicolor floridness, tuneful schmaltz and provincial self-importance, is undeniably a hoot to watch, but also inexorably suffers from a similar distaste non unlike many a its contemporary when comes to connect with new audience decades later, hobbled by its own antiquated ethos of middle-class complacency and facile “perfect family” propaganda.
One year prior of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904, St. Louise, the local Smith Family will experience some shifting sands during the film’s one-year span, but please rest assure that everything will be fine, in fact, a little bit too idealistically fine. Alonzo Smith (Ames) and his wife Anna (Astor) have four daughters and one son, and Garland plays the second daughter Ester, a girl-next-door type who has a yearning for their new neighbor John Truett (Drake), a straight-up young man, unlike her elder sister Rose (Bremer), she will not just sit and wait for her suitor to initiate the move (a long distance call from New York is quite a novelty then), but proactively and tactfully lures her object of desire under her charm, at then, a petite Garland still possesses a child-like countenance but it unfortunately does glaringly contrast her mature and mellow voice, however wonderful it is.
As a former child star sinking her teeth into breaking the girlhood mold, Garland finds a mirroring presence in the brood, Margaret O’Brien, the then seven-year-old singing-and-acting prodigy as Tootie, the youngest daughter of the family, indulges in a somewhat queasy persona as a pampered princess who could be a prototype ghoul girl, on top of her innocuous affectations. That set piece where she willfully razes their snow sculptures into the ground solely because she doesn’t want to anyone else to have them except herself, is alarmingly disagreeable with the sweepingly genial atmosphere (what a petulant, spoiled brat, not to mention the mischief and blatant lies she has chalked up at her risk-prone whims, one cannot help thinking…), and the whole business to elicit her emotion comes near to an unwholesome exploitation of a child in hindsight. If there is any positively edifying message from this saccharine tale, surely it is that parental competence is so important for those procreation-prone families, otherwise, please check out Mervyn LeRoy’s THE BAD SEED (1956) for a possible outcome.
Among others, Mary Astor’s stern but sensible mother is a rare breeze among the childish state of flux and Leon Ames is beguilingly affable as a chafed father bristled with humor and frustration, although the former is betrayed by a blooper of fake-fingering the piano and the latter is barely able to clinch that the-eleventh-hour changeover without veering into cavernous incredulity. For all its obsolete making-merry and conventional worldview, what this small-town fanfare can still impress us is Mr. Minnelli’s outstanding command in his director’s chair, freewheels among variegated demands: family symphony, larking musical, cheesy romance, Halloween scares and jovial festivity, and most significantly he also safeguards Ms. Garland’s screen transformation into adulthood, although their eventual wind-up would ruefully overshadow this stage of inchoate rapport.