'Meet Me in St. Louis' was nominated for four Academy Awards but did not win any, due in large part to MGM's extensive support for its other nomination, the movie thriller 'Gaslight'. Margaret O'Brien received a special Academy Award as outstanding child actress of the year. The film has been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry and in 2005, it was ranked by the American Film Institute as the 10th Greatest Movie Musical of All Time.
The movie was a huge hit and commercially successful from the moment it was released at the end of 1944. Although the final cost of the picture was over budget at over $1,800,000, it grossed $7,566,000 during its initial release. It was one of the top films of 1944, grossing more money than any previous MGM release for 20 years - except 'Gone with the Wind' - and it has continued to become one of the highest ever grossing film musicals.
'Meet Me in St. Louis' is also the film which brought director Vincente Minnelli and star Judy Garland together. The pair fell in love during the shoot and married in 1945. They had one child, Liza Minnelli, and made four more films together before divorcing in 1951.
PlotThe movie tells the story of the Smiths, a well-to-do family with four beautiful daughters, living in St. Louis just before the spectacular World's Fair of 1904, and how they deal with the father's proposed transfer to New York. The move will impact on each of their lives, and they have to make choices between small town and big city life. The change is particularly hard for Esther, the seventeen-year-old daughter, played by Judy Garland, who has a crush on the boy next door, John, played by Tom Drake.
ProductionFilm writers Fred F. Finklehoffe and Irving Brecher adapted the movie from a series of short stories by Sally Benson, first published in twelve instalments in The New Yorker magazine with the title "5135 Kensington", which was the address of the fictional Smith family.. After MGM outbid Paramount for the film rights in 1942, Benson worked on the screenplay and published the stories as a novel, called 'Meet Me in St. Louis'. It was based on Benson's own family life in St Louis. She based Tootie, played by Margaret O'Brien in the film, on herself, and Esther on her older sister.
MGM producer, Arthur Freed, envisioned director George Cukor as the ideal man to head the project, but when Cukor was needed for army filming duties, Freed chose Vincente Minnelli as his replacement. It was an inspiration. Minnelli, in his third film, established a reputation as a brilliant creator of movie musicals, and the movie made MGM the top film studio for musicals in the world, a position it held for the next twenty years.
MGM built a completely new street set for the movie on its back lot at Culver City. The houses on it were used and re-used for other movies and television shows until 1971 when the lot was demolished to make room for a residential building project. Most of the set for the actual fair was shot using miniatures, including two bisons made by sculptor Henry Greutart.
Some of the film's songs were written, and became popular, around the time of the St Louis World's Fair. The songs which have since become standards - "The Trolley Song", "The Boy Next Door", and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" - were all written for the movie and sung for the first time by Judy Garland.
A song written by Rodgers and Hammerstein which had been dropped from the musical Oklahoma! called "Boys and Girls Like You and Me" was shot but was ultimately dropped from the film in order to keep the movie to an acceptable length.
The song "You and I" was written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, and the singing was dubbed for Leon Ames by Arthur Freed.
Summary'Meet Me in St. Louis' is an unusual musical in that it blends music and melodrama - and even,(in the sequence devoted to Halloween,) has more than a hint of the horror movie. It is also a film that can be read either positively, as an innocent celebration of traditional family values, or else negatively, as a dark depiction of the human frailties which can tear a family apart.
As for the aesthetic challenges of the musical, Minnelli and his collaborators went a long way toward integrating singing and dancing into a whimsical, fairytale flow of incidents. Songs begin as throwaway phrases, spoken or hummed out in the street or at the door; they suddenly die away as a plot intrigue kicks in.
'Meet Me in St Louis' presents an idealised picture of an America that probably never really existed, but it is a heartwarming tale, a wonderful escapist movie with a happy ending. Not to be missed.
Main CastAlthough Judy Garland was reluctant to make Meet Me in St. Louis at first, feeling that she had outgrown teenage parts, her role as Esther Smith is one of the most luminous of her career and the camera has never better captured her beauty. She began to show signs of her future problems during shooting, complaining of headaches and mysterious illnesses, and keeping the crew and fellow cast members waiting for hours with her late arrival on set. Nevertheless 'Meet Me in St. Louis' helped to identify her with adult roles and to cement her position as one of the top musical stars of her generation.
Judy Garland ... Esther Smith
Margaret O'Brien ... 'Tootie' Smith
Mary Astor ... Mrs. Anna Smith
Lucille Bremer ... Rose Smith
Leon Ames ... Mr. Alonzo Smith
Tom Drake ... John Truett
Marjorie Main ... Katie - Maid
Harry Davenport ... Grandpa
June Lockhart ... Lucille Ballard
Henry H. Daniels Jr. ... Lon Smith Jr.
Joan Carroll ... Agnes Smith
Hugh Marlowe ... Colonel Darly
Robert Sully ... Warren Sheffield
Chill Wills ... Mr. Neely
CreditsDirector ... Vincente Minnelli
Producer ... Arthur Freed
Production Company ... MGM
Cinematography ... George Folsey
Story by ... Based on the New Yorker story by Sally Benson
Screenplay ... Irving Brecher, Fred F. Finklehoffe
Music Director ... George Stoll
Format ... Color (Technicolor)
Initial Release ... 31 December, 1944
Running Time ... 113 minutes
Academy AwardsNo Wins:
Four Unsuccessful Nominations:
Cinematography (Color) ... George Folsey
Music (Scoring of a Musical Picture) ... George Stoll
Music (Song) ... "The Trolley Song", Music and Lyrics by Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin
Writing (Screenplay) ... Irving Brecher, Fred F. Finklehoffe