I remembered Meet Me in St Louis as a nice film with Judy Garland and that song about a trolley. It is a nice film with Judy Garland and it does have The Trolley Song (Clang, clang, clang goes the trolley. Ding, Ding, Ding goes the bell. Zing, zing, zing went my heartstrings as we started for Huntington Dell. – try getting that out of your head now) but it is far far funnier than I had any recollection of. Directed by Vincente Minnelli Meet Me In St Louis is set at the time of the Lousianna Purchase Exposition’s World Fair coming to St Louis, Missouri.
The story centres around the Smith family and predominantly the eldest girls’ desire to get married. Esther (Judy Garland) and Rose (Lucille Bremer) Smith are the original rules girls. They yearn for romance and fantasise over the objects of their affections. Plotting to get their men:
Rose: Oh, Es, isn’t he simply enchanting? And so mature!
Esther: Well, how did it happen? Where did you meet?
Rose: I was coming out of the shop and he was coming in. We bumped into each other!
But then feigning indifference when Warren (Robert Sully) phones in the much anticipated long distance phone call which is supposed to contain a proposal to Rose.
Rose follows the rules to the letter:
Warren: Wait, Rose! We still have… 36 more seconds!
Rose: I have an engagement. I think I can hear Joe’s voice, now?
Charlotte York from Sex and The City couldn’t have played the game better (maybe when it is referred to in the first SATC film there is more to it than Jennifer Hudson’s character coming from there).
I’m not sure 1944 audiences would have found all the same jokes funny but most don’t date, partly due to the historical setting of the film. I expect the 1944 audience also must have thought a small girl, Tootie (Margaret O’Brien), killing off her dolls and burying them in the cemetery was a little bonkers. When she decapitates the snowmen it is also all a bit surreal, but even disturbed children are hilarious in this film and there are so many one liners and quips that we laughed throughout.
Plot wise this is largely about the elder sisters falling in love whilst making comments on family and home. Being made in 1944 I can’t help but wonder what place in America’s official wartime narrative it had. I guess comedy boosted morale and there is some social commentary on the family, largely the role of the father or rather the lack of role of the father. Poor Alonso Smith (Leon Ames) is kept in the dark about pretty much everything his family does, he might as well be away. Grandpa (Harry Davenport) puts it well “Your papa’s not supposed to know. It’s enough we’re letting him work hard every day to support the whole flock of us. He can’t have everything”
Of course it is the songs which get in your head both the Trolley Song and the eponymous Meet Me In St Louis are catchy. The Trolley Song and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas give Judy Garland the chance of two big solos but there is none of the star posturing you might expect. There are other solo songs, including Over the Banister which suggests the domestic confines Esther feels while looking at the promise of love with the boy next door. Early on Esther is shown as a modern woman in the exchange with Rose:
Esther: I’m going to let John Truett kiss me tonight.
Rose: Esther Smith.
Esther: Well, if we’re going to get married, I may as well start it.
Rose: Nice girls don’t let men kiss them until after they’re engaged. Men don’t want the bloom rubbed off.
Esther: Personally, I think I have too much bloom. Maybe that’s the trouble with me.
When Judy Garland sings she is incredible and floors the rest of the cast but it isn’t entirely about her, Tootie and Agnes (Joan Carroll) supply most of the comedy with Tootie frequently stealing the show.
The historical setting of the film is interesting, allowing not only an escape from the realities of war but also because it is full of the folklore of St Louis in the songs and the scenes such as the throwing of flour on Halloween. However whilst it feels very different to the films set in 1944 it is worth remembering that it is only 40 years after the world fair. There is a nod to the speed the US has developed.
Oh and in case you are wondering whether it is Louis sounding like Lewes or Louis sounding like Louie then Tootie thinks she has the answer (she is the only one who thinks this):
Mr. Neely the Iceman: Well, I got a cousin who spells it the same way, and we call him “Louie”.
Tootie : He’s isn’t a city though, is he?
Mr. Neely the Iceman: No…
Tootie: Is he a saint?
Mr. Neely the Iceman: Uh, no.
Tootie: Then there’s no comparison.
If you want to be cheered up, have a laugh and aren’t too worried about the plot then this is the film for you.
Meet me in St. Louis, Louis,
Meet me at the Fair
Don’t tell me the lights are shining
Anyplace but there
- A guide to: Vincente Minnelli Season at BFI Southbank (independent.co.uk)