Sunday, December 07, 2008

Personal Canon #74: Meet Me In St. Louis

This post is for my musical of the month party as well as the latest in my Personal Canon (100 favorite films). It's one of two entries in the countdown for Judy Garland, one of my top ten favorite actresses of all time

It's Summer 1903 in Missouri and the Smith family are buzzing about the World's Fair coming to their town the following spring. Teenage daughters Rose (Lucille Bremer) and Esther (Judy Garland) are dreaming about proposals from handsome men, the eldest son Lonnie (Henry H Daniels Jr) is off to college and the father Lon (Leon Ames), a junior partner at a law firm, is about to tell the family that they're all relocating to New York Ci -- oh, but let's stop there. For any plot summary of Meet Me in St. Louis does the movie a great disservice. This classic musical isn't plot driven at all so much as a series of three seasonal vignettes of family life: Summer, Autumn and Winter with the following Spring in 1904 serving as a coda. Almost all of what might be called "plot" in Meet Me In St. Louis is imagined. That is to say, that the story drivers are all in the future. One day the family will move to New York. One day Rose, Lonnie, and Esther will be married. One day St. Louis will catch the attention of the nation. In essence the movie is a lovingly rendered still life of a family (and town) on the brink of great changes rather than an animated portrait of the changes themselves.

St. Louis begins smartly in the kitchen, the heart of any home. Mrs. Anna Smith (Mary Astor) and her maid and cook Katie (Marjorie Main) are preparing ketchup. Katie thinks it's too sweet, Anna thinks her husband will like it that way. Various members of the cast scoot through the kitchen sharing their opinions, too. They can't seem to agree on the flavor: too sweet? too sour? too spicy? too watery? Vincente Minnelli the real gourmet cook in the director's chair doesn't have the same problem. He gets everything right.


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Anonymous said...

My personal top ten that I think should be considered for somewhere in the top 100:

1910-1920 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
1920-1930 The Unknown
1930-1940 The Philadelphia Story
1940-1950 Black Narcissus
1950-1960 Plein soleil
1960-1970 Knife in the Water
1970-1980 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
1980-1990 My Beautiful Laundrette
1990-2000 Ghost World
2000-2008 There Will Be Blood

Anonymous said...

Okay, I didn't see the clue not to use the "anonymous" option. I'll change it now

Glenn said...

That movie is so joyful, isn't it? When I sat down to watch it years ago I had no idea the "Trolley Song" mentioned in the credits was that song. When it started my heard did got zing zing zing.

Kelsy said...

My first exposure to this movie was through the Sweeney Sisters sketch on SNL when they incorporated "The Trolley Song" into every medley they did. Little did I know the film was just a fantastic as the Sisters' vocal jazz abilities.


christine -- i haven't seen a couple of those! but at least one of them is on the list. There Will Be Blood isn't eligible because the list only goes up to 2000 (I figure give the movies a decade to breathe ;)

kelsy -same here. how funny

Janice said...

Meaning Moulin Rouge will be nowhere on your list then. (Good to know)

I saw this film as a little girl and the only thing I remembered was the Halloween sequence, which I found genuinely disturbing at the time; as a teenager I watched it again and the part that stuck with me was "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" - familiar with the old Sinatra-version chestnut, I wasn't expecting that bleaker final line, nor the way Judy sings it with complete conviction and beauty. I need to give this one another viewing.

Off-topic, I just watched Australia last night with my sweetie. Nat, I think your B grade was being very, very kind (and I say this as a MR fan, a Nicole fan and a Baz fan who really wanted to like it.)


re: the B grade. maybe so.

I do plan to see it again but it will have to wait until i've filled some of these gaps in my viewing before the FiLM BiTCH awards start.

Anonymous said...

Spot on Nat!

And thanks for providing me with a good excuse to watch this again! ;o)

Janice said...

Nat, no hurry on seeing it again. I have no plans to do so. (My sweetie was the one who paid for the tickets, bless her. )

We went home and watched The Interpreter as a palate cleanser.

Deborah said...

You're so right about how easily song and book blend in this film, and the songs are so perfect. Really, few musicals have as many long-remembered numbers.

One of the great things about MMISL is how unsentimental it is about childhood. That Halloween is really scary. Those children have rich, complex lives apart from adults that are anything but sweet.

Anonymous said...

Nathaniel R:
I have an aversion to the work of Vincente Minnelli, pretty much only because of "The Pirate," which was the first movie of his I saw. I just couldn't get into "Meet Me in St. Louis" after that. I'm going to re-look at his films after my childhood trauma now, after your suggestion.


christine --i'm glad to hear it. I think whenever you're turned off by a famous director after one film you should at least given them a second chance with a truly acclaimed work.

so go at it. and let me know what you think. maybe you won't love it like i do but i just think this type of supreme confidence that also plays all delicate-like is nearly impossible to find nowadays. I can't think of one director off the top of my head these days that is superb and confident but also almost invisibly comfortable with gentle touches.

can any of you?

Anonymous said...

Okay, I looked at Meet Me in St. Louis again after about ten years of not seeing this film, and
(1) love, love, love the cinematography, just beautiful (2) love that the Margaret O'Brien is obnoxious instead of the typical cute kid (3) also I like the theme of the hardship involved with changing to an industrial America.

Things I don't love:
(1) all the men in the movie seem either bland (the suitors) or jerks (the dad) (2) I wish Minnelli had pushed this a bit more. I'd like him to be a bit more like Sirk who can create lush pieces of film-making that still has a substantial bite.

I agree that the balance of subtlety and grand gesture in this film is brilliant. I also like that one never gets a sense that the director is doubting his choices.

All and all, my favorite musical is still Swingtime, but I like this movie more than I remembered. Thanks for making me watch it again.


wow! a follow up. that so rarely happens with blog post requests ;)

hmmm. while i agree that the women are more interesting I do actually like how sweetly bland John Pruett is. He's just bland enough to be The Boy Next Door but also doesn't feel wooden.

I'm glad it improved for you. It improved for me too. It was mostly on my top 100 because of Judy Garland but this time through I was all about what Minnelli was doing with the material.

I hope to do Swingtime in early 2009 if I continue the musical of the month series.

Anonymous said...

Please, Swingtime! Or, if you want another movie: Pillow Talk. My sister and I were obsessed with this movie, and still recite dialogue from it to each other. I have no idea why we loved it so much, but I'd like some objective analysis of the film. It is one of those films that I have no reason to love, yet I do.