When people complain that modern movies are lacking in plot, I suggest they go watch Meet Me In St. Louis, a film that makes many modern blockbusters look like they’ve got Russian novels full of storyline. However the 1944 musical, which is getting a welcome Christmassy cinema re-release courtesy of the BFI, is proof you don’t need acres of plot to make a movie.
Here’s the story: The Smith family lives in St. Louis and the four daughters are really looking forward to the 1904 World’s Fair, which is due to be held in the city. However their father gets a job in New York and so they might not be able to go to the fair. And, um, well that’s about it!
To be fair, there is a tiny little bit more than that, which largely revolves around eldest daughter Rose (Lucille Bremer) trying to get someone to propose to her, while Judy Garland re-enacts her real-life love life by chasing a man who doesn’t appear to be all that interested in women (to start with at least). Largely though it’s just an excuse for a joyous, rip-roaring, ridiculously over-saturated Technicolor MGM musical, where the costumes are lush, everyone’s having a great time (unless they might not be able to go to a World’s Fair, of course) and there’s nothing you can’t sing about.
It’s essentially a series of vignettes about how simply spiffing life in the 1900s was. Before we’d been corrupted by TV and the internet you could have enormous fun throwing flour at strangers (which apparently was a perfectly fine Halloween activity back then) or trying out the amazing new electrical device, the telephone. When you weren’t doing that you’d sing about anything and everything, whether it’s being under a bamboo tree or riding a trolley car (can you imagine a modern film devoting five minutes to how great being on a bus is, which is essentially what Meet Me In St. Louis does with ‘The Trolley Song’?).
Admittedly it was also made during a time long before women’s rights, so it’s not exactly a bastion of feminism. The movie presents a young woman’s life as being purely about trying to nab a man. While I suppose we should really be wishing Judy Garland stood up to 1900’s social mores and was insisting she wanted to be an independent woman with acareer, it’s tough not to hope that she gets together with the next-door-neighbour that she’s mooning over.
Meet Me In St. Louis is bizarre but wonderful, helped by a wonderfully joyous attitude and great performances by Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien. The latter in particularly is brilliant, despite the fact she was only seven when she made the movie. Indeed, between this, Little Women and Jane Eyre, Margaret O’Brien may be the greatest child actor Hollywood’s ever produced – and certainly no one has ever been as good at crying as she was.
It’s almost surprising that Meet Me In St. Louis isn’t treated as some sort of gay sacred relic. Not only does it star Judy Garland and features the song Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (with its lyrics about ‘making the Yuletide gay’), but it was also on this film that Judy first met and worked with director Vincente Minnelli, which led to marriage and the birth of Liza Minnelli.
While Vincente’s illustrious career also saw him make Father Of The Bride, An American In Paris, Gigi, Brigadoon, Kismet and various other movies, I still think Meet Me In St. Louis is his best film. If you can catch it at a cinema, it’s well worth searching out, but if not, go get on DVD (or it’s even on TCM at 2.25pm on Christmas Eve). It is movie made purely to put a smile on the audience’s faces, with great songs, beautiful production design and very slick filmmaking.
Overall Verdict: There may be remarkably little to it plot-wise, but Meet Me In St. Louis is one of the true musical greats. It’s a wonderful, heart-warming movie that’ll leave you with a smile on your face.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac