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With: Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien, Tom Drake, Leon Ames, Mary Astor, Lucille Bremer, June Lockhart, Harry Davenport, Marjorie Main, Joan Carroll, Hugh Marlowe, Robert Sully, Chill Wills
Written by: Irving Brecher, Fred Finklehoffe, based on the novel by Sally Benson
Directed by: Vincente Minnelli
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 113
Date: 11/22/1944

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Clang, Clang, Clang

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This glorious musical was only Vincente Minnelli's third film, and his first in color. But it showed a remarkable instinct for the form and remains one of Hollywood's most astonishing achievements in Technicolor. And so thankfully, Warner Home Video took their time and did the new DVD release right.

Based on Sally Benson's series of short stories published in the New Yorker, Meet Me in St. Louis is a loosely connected set of episodes taking place over the course of a year. A family in turn-of-the-century St. Louis looks for love and happiness while preparing to move to New York City to accommodate the father's new promotion.

Judy Garland stars as Esther Smith. She's at her most beautiful, grown-up with alabaster skin and shiny hair. Her phrasing of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" puts a whole new spin on that holiday classic. But Margaret O'Brien ultimately steals the show as little Tootie. Her living-room rendition of "Under the Bamboo Tree" with Garland has just enough spontaneity to make it constantly fresh and endearing.

Little moments and particular segments stand out for me: Esther flirting by asking her next-door neighbor to help put out the candles (the ones she can't reach), the heartbreaking Christmas episode in which tearful Tootie demolishes the snowpeople, and especially the stunning Halloween sequence.

On that spooky night, Tootie must throw flour on the mean neighbor and win acceptance from the older kids. Minnelli tracks along with her, swirling dead leaves all around and managing a small miracle of light and shadow and color, and ends with Tootie's enthusiastic line reading: "I'm the most horrible!"

Perhaps not every episode is as strong, and some of the other players (like the ever-so severe Mary Astor) lack the reckless talent of O'Brien or the sheer presence of Garland, but Meet Me in St. Louis is nonetheless a masterwork, perfect for viewing at any time of year.

MGM's 2004 two-disc DVD set contains a commentary track by surviving cast and crew members, including O'Brien, composer Hugh Martin, screenwriter Irving Brecher, plus Judy Garland biographer John Fricke and Barbara Freed-Saltzman. A Vincente Minnelli trailer gallery includes Meet Me in St. Louis (the re-issue trailer only), An American in Paris, The Bad and the Beautiful, Brigadoon, Designing Women and Father of the Bride. The second disc includes several featurettes, a still gallery, the 1946 Lux Radio performance with Garland and O'Brien, and the dreadful pilot episode for the "Meet Me in St. Louis" TV series. (It only emphasizes how beautiful the film still is.)

In 2011, a truly gorgeous new Blu-Ray edition carries over some of the extras, notably the commentary track, the Lux Radio Theater Broadcast, and a music-only audio track. Best of all is a new CD mini-soundtrack with four songs from the film.

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