MEET ME IN ST.LOUIS—-“Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light. / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight. / Have yourself a merry little Christmas, make the Yule-tide gay / Next year all our troubles will be miles away.”
That this 1944 nostalgia piece can touch hearts, raise spirits and tap toes eight decades afterwards is testimony to the intent, talent and craft of the people that made it. Not only a smash hit at the time, it endures as an Americana classic and holiday favorite long after nearly all concerned have left the stage.
Summer, 1903, in St.Louis, Missouri sets the stage for a year in the life of the comfortably upper-middle class Smith family, done in vignettes that lead to the 1904 World’s Fair held in the prosperous city, then the 4th largest in the country. Taken from a semi-autobiographical book written by Sally Benson, it was produced by Arthur Freed, with MGM bankrolling $1,885,000 into director Vincente Minnelli’s dish of luscious Technicolor, laughter, heartache, a touch of suspense and some great songs. Irving Brecher and Fred F. Finklehoff received credit for the script, which had assistance numerous others, including Minnelli and Benson.
Everyone in the family gets attention but the most goes to love-struck teenager ‘Esther’ (Judy Garland, 21), and tomboy ‘Tootie’ (7-year-old Margaret O’Brien), obsessed with anything morbid. Thoroughly winning family entertainment is sentimental without being cloying, strikes the right balance between humor, hurt and heart and offers vivacious Garland singing “The Trolley Song”, “The Boy Next Door”, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, the title tune, and, with O’Brien, “Under The Bamboo Tree”.
Scene-stealing charmer O’Brien was awarded a special Oscar and the film was nominated for Screenplay, Cinematography, Music Score and “The Trolley Song”. It goes without saying that the lushly appointed and buoyant-spirited story presents an idealized past (not everyone had it so comfy in the 1900s), but the dark days of WW2 called for reassurance that we were fighting for what was hopeful as much as against something dark. Seeking relief from the escalating casualty lists from Europe and the Pacific, the Home Front public ranked it 4th from ’44, with re-releases eventually bringing its gross to $13,600,000.
With Lucille Bremer (older sister ‘Rose’, likewise pining for a mate), Leon Ames (frazzled father ‘Alonzo’), Mary Astor (patient mother ‘Anna’), Tom Drake (Judy’s ‘boy next door’), Harry Davenport (dependably supportive Grandpa), Marjorie Main (sass-dispensing maid ‘Katie’), Henry H. Daniels Jr.,(outnumbered brother ‘Lon’), Joan Carroll (daughter ‘Agnes’), June Lockhart (Lon’s beaming betrothed), Chill Wills, Hugh Marlowe and Darryl Hickman. Future bad guy William Smith, 10, is one of the neighborhood kids scuffling in the background. 113 minutes.