Meet Me in St. Louis (Vincente Minnelli, 1944)
It is often said that black and white films were more « artsy » and that they truly represented the craft that is Cinema. However, the right handling of the coloured medium can easily surpass the best use of the smoothest B&W. A wider color palette, a much easier graduation of colors and light can easily support this argument. In the case of Meet Me in St. Louis, the superb use of bright colors in the costumes and the sets added to Vincente Minnelli’s sumptuous mise en scène can’t be wrong.
Set in 1903, the year before the World Fair of 1904 held in St. Louis, the Smith family has four girls and one boy. Rose (Lucille Bremer), Esther (Judy Garland), Agnes, and Tootie (Margaret O'Brien) and Lon Jr. as the only boy. The story revolves around the family but more specifically around Esther, 17 years old who has a crush to the guy next door: John Truett (Tom Drake). Everything is picture perfect in the Smith house: the family is tight together and Mr. Smith (Leon Ames) a business is wealthy. Until, he accepts a higher position in his company and a transfer to New York City. For the elder girls this is catastrophic because their main interests are the nice men of St. Louis.
The story is told with the passing of the seasons like the chapters of a novel retelling the story of a family reminding me of Little Women at some point. But here, the drama isn’t really as dramatic as the Leo McCarey film. Let’s also keep in mind that this Garland/Minnelli vehicle is a Musical after all. Both were renowned for their mastery of the genre. This is right after the shooting of Meet Me in St. Louis that they got together and had baby Liza Minnelli.
Since we are into the Musical genre let’s have a look at the numbers. They doesn’t seem too forced to fit into the story and at some points they are parts of the action. The “cutest” moment is the duo of Esther and her younger sister Tootie during the birthday party of their brother Lon. Seeing Garland singing and dancing with the child reminds that she started singing on a stage at the age of two years old and that her life always have been around show business. The songs sung by Garland are classics of the genre and are never too long into the pace of every scene. It shows a great mastery in the craft of dosing the numbers and the story. Garland’s contralto voice is perfect and even she is the shortest person on the set, at 4’11” she is the biggest star.
Musicals never were love at first sight for me, but the more I discover the classics and the more I watch them the more I grow to like them. They luscious colors, the superb sets and costumes and the beautiful ladies are many reasons why I enjoyed Meet Me in St. Louis so much. It also feels like a well crafted literary adaptation nicely translated on the big screen. And the tunes just stick into your head I am still humming it as I write those lines: Meet me in St. Louis Louie!