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Meet Me in St. Louis

Meet Me in St. Louis(1944)

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Although only the climactic scenes of its year-long story span focuses on the winter holiday, 1944's Meet Me in St. Louis (now on DVD from Warner Video) regularly shows up on lists of "Favorite Christmas Movies." That's probably because no one can forget Judy Garland's delivery of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" to her screen sister, Margaret O'Brien, who is distraught at the prospect of leaving her beloved hometown. Also likely to remain in the memory is the scene that follows, as little O'Brien, with shocking intensity, destroys a group of "snow people" she has created to represent her once-happy family. The problems have a sunny resolution, but it's the melancholy mood of this particular Christmas that touches the heart.

MGM producer Arthur Freed had settled on Sally Benson's "5135 Kensington" stories as a source for family-oriented, turn-of-the-century nostalgia after he lost the rights to the Howard Lindsey-Russell Crouse play, "Life With Father," to Warner Bros. Benson's stories tell of the day-to-day lives of the Smiths, a St. Louis family with four beautiful daughters whose serenity is threatened when their father accepts a transfer to New York. Freed envisioned the distinguished George Cukor as the ideal director for the project, but settled on relative newcomer Vincente Minnelli after Cukor was pressed into creating training films for the Army. Meet Me in St. Louis, Minnelli's third film, established his reputation as a master of the movie musical and became one of the most memorable vehicles for his wife-to-be, Judy Garland. Among her other musical highlights in the film are "The Boy Next Door" and "The Trolley Song," both of which became Garland standards.

The Minnelli-Garland collaboration did not get off to a happy start, thanks to the director's perfectionism and his star's determination to parody the sweet, na┬┐ve 17-year-old she was playing. Garland, now in her early 20s, was weary of playing juveniles and wanted to move on to more sophisticated roles. During the first day of shooting, Minnelli demanded endless retakes because of dissatisfaction with Garland's line readings, while Garland was reportedly in near-hysterics and demanded that producer Freed intercede. Gradually, however, Garland began to appreciate her director's vision and settled down to deliver an unaffected performance of great sincerity. Soon she and Minnelli became a couple and were engaged by the end of filming. (They would wed on June 15, 1945, and divorce in 1952.)

Meet Me in St. Louis broke box-office records and won high critical praise including The Hollywood Reporter's description, "a warmly human entertainment which has captured a nostalgic charm rarely if ever equaled on the screen." A critic for Variety wrote, "Miss Garland achieves true stature with her deeply understanding performance."

The Warner Video 2-disc special edition of Meet Me in St. Louis is a gorgeous (and long-awaited) transfer of this key MGM musical. On the first disc is the main feature which you can choose to listen to as a separate music track only. Or you can sample the many audio commentaries which include Margaret O'Brien, Barbara Freed-Saltzman (the daughter of executive producer Arthur Freed) and the composer Hugh Martin. The second disc has several fascinating odds and ends; Foremost among them is "The Dream Factory," a documentary hosted by Dick Cavett. More obscure and bizarre is a musical short entitled "Bubbles" which features Garland when she was very young (as part of the Gumm sisters) and the 1965 pilot for a TV series version of the movie starring Shelley Fabares - it didn't fly and you'll see why.

For more information about Meet Me in St. Louis, visit Warner Video. To order Meet Me in St. Louis, go to TCM Shopping.

by Roger Fristoe