Sunday, August 15, 2010

#169 Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)


Director: Vincente Minnelli

Cast: Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien, Mary Astor, Lucille Bremer, Leon Ames, Tom Drake, Marjorie Main

This bizarre, Southern technicolor musical is set in the year 1903 in... you guessed it... St. Louis, Missouri. It's the story of an 'average' family filled with young, coming-of-age women both lovesick and ready for mischief. It's a simpler time, of course, when "men don't like girls who kiss before engagement." Judy Garland plays Esther, a middle child who is falling madly in love with her pipe-smoking, sweater-wearing neighbor. She seems to have a steady hand in keeping her family in line-- she plots to marry off her older sister and often is the one to take care of her two mischievous younger siblings (one of which is "Tooti" played by the famous child-star Margaret O' Brien).

The costuming, sets, and songs are over-the-top with color and imagination. The make-up and hair are plastic-perfection! Garland croons, swinging in doorways and off the sides of trolleys. Zing, Zing, Zing goes her heart strings, and the moment I finally saw that scene in its full cinematic context, a bit more of my life was indeed complete.

However, what seems to be the makings of almost a too-perfect, happy family classic somehow takes a dark turn. Long and dramatic interludes are taken into rather morbid subject matters, such as the youngest daughter burying her dead dolls, Halloween ghosts, and a young tortured child beheading her family's snowmen with a bat. Yes. This really happens.

And although it's still a speculation amongst critics as to whether this film is meant to be simply entertaining melodrama or whether it pushes the edge of making comment on familial bliss... it does not matter. Meet Me In St. Louis is by no argument meant to do less than dazzle.

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