Film Flick: Meet Me In St. Louis

Thursday, December 12, 2013

With the month of December well on its way, we're continuing a Holiday Tradition on Never Fully Dressed by sharing some classic holiday films. Some might be institutions in your home this time of year; others might be delightful new friends, but they're all sure to impart some the season's spirit and sense of fun. Consider it my way of wishing you and yours nothing but the very merriest.  

Step back into a nostalgic rendition of Americana when you Meet Me in St. Louis. Today, it might be considered a bit of an odd duck- both as a Christmas movie and perhaps as a film in general. Told in four segments -one for each season of the year- only a few scenes take place at Christmas, though that is where the iconic song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is first introduced. Instead, the film undertakes to chronicle the lives of a close-knit and perfectly ordinary middle class family living in St. Louis in 1904. As everyone in the city is excitedly anticipating the opening of the World's Fair, the audience gets a peek into the Smith family home. We see the older girls' love lives through their trials and rewards. We watch the younger children's antics, and the neighbor's comings and goings. But tensions rise when the father announces they are moving to New York! It hardly sounds like a scintillating plot. In fact, back in 1944, when the film was being made, it didn't sound to movie executives like anything an audience would pay to see either.

The film is based on a serial story by Sally Bennson, which was semi-autobiographical. Once purchased though, the story languished through several bad attempts at making a screenplay of it. Not until Arthur Freed, creative force behind most of the musicals of the 40's and 50's, got ahold of it, did it become something. In fact, it became so much of something that, when it hit theaters, it would be MGM's biggest grossing film to date!

Part of it's success was due to the talent brought on board. Vincent Minnelli was a little known director who made his name with this technicolor musical. He was a perfectionist who understood understatement. Of course, things were not always smooth sailing for the director. The star of this ensemble film, was Judy Garland, but she was not happy to be there, at first. Though she'd become a big name through Wizard of Oz some years earlier, MGM had typically cast her as the plucky teen- the little girl with the big voice. Meet Me in St. Louis would be the first technicolor movie she'd made since Wizard of Oz, but, at twenty one, she desperately wanted to move on from playing teenaged parts. Added to that, the endless retakes demanded by the director drove her nuts. Still, after seeing the dailies, she realized this film portrayed her as more beautiful than she'd been allowed to be on film before. Perhaps this was the first step that lead to her relationship and eventual marriage to Minnelli.

Garland wasn't the only one causing problems on set. Margret O'Brien was the child actor hired to portrayed the youngest Smith daughter, Tootie, but her mother wanted more money. They considered casting a light man's daughter to play the role instead, but ultimately, O'Brien got the role- and the raise. When a light fell and nearly landed on top of the young girl, that same lighting man was admitted to a psychiatric  institution!

Despite these set backs, this film became one to be numbered among many of the actors' favorite roles (yes, even Garland!) Its subtle and beautiful use of technicolor and camera angles makes it visually a treat to see. For modern audiences, the pace might be a bit unexpectedly slow at times. A second viewing was much more enjoyable than the first, because I went into the film anticipating that slower pace. I was able to drink in the details- and, of course really enjoy Judy Garland as she crooned that classic Christmas song.  So come on, you'll Meet Me in St. Louis, won't you?


1 comment

  1. The fact about the song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is kinda my go-to party conversation starter during the holiday :) my high school did this show my Junior year and my brother was in it, they had the absolute coolest set that was basically an opening and rotating dollhouse! Such a classic and cozy story.

    perfectly priya

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