Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Seventy-six years ago today, the film Meet Me in St. Louis premiered. You have to see this movie.

Title: Meet Me in St. Louis
Directed by: Vincente Minnelli
Produced by: Arthur Freed
Screenplay by: Irving Brecher, Fred F. Finklehoffe
Based on: Meet Me in St. Louis by Sally Benson
Starring: Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Mary Astor, Lucille Bremer, Tom Drake, Marjorie Main
Music by: George Stoll
Cinematography: George J. Folsey
Edited by: Albert Akst
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Warner Bros.
Distributed by: Loew’s, Inc.
Release Date: November 22, 1944 (St. Louis), November 28, 1944 (United States)
Running time: 113 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $1,885,000
Box office: $6,566,000 (original release)

In 1994, the film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

The backdrop for the film is St. Louis, Missouri in the year leading up to the 1904 World’s Fair.

It is summer 1903. The Smith family leads a comfortable upper-middle class life. Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames) and his wife Anna (Mary Astor) have four daughters: Rose (Lucille Bremer), Esther (Judy Garland), Agnes (Joan Carroll), and Tootie (Margaret O’Brien); and a son, Lon Jr. (Henry H. Daniels, Jr.). Esther, the second eldest daughter, is in love with the boy next door, John Truitt (Tom Drake), although he does not notice her at first. Tootie was with Mr Neely and disputing that St Louis was the best city. Rose is expecting a phone call during which she hopes to be proposed to by Warren Sheffield (Robert Sully), and is embarrassed when not only does Warren fail to propose, but the entire family is present as she takes the call during dinner.

Esther finally gets to meet John properly when he is a guest at the Smiths’ house party, although her chances of romancing him don’t go as planned when, after all the guests are gone and he is helping her turn off the gas lamps throughout the house, he tells her she uses the same perfume as his grandmother and that she has “a mighty strong grip for a girl.”

Esther hopes to meet John again the following Friday on a trolley ride from the city to the construction site of the World’s Fair. Esther is sad when the trolley sets off without any sign of him, but cheers up when she sees him running to catch the trolley mid-journey.

On Halloween, Tootie and Agnes are costumed and ready to go out for the night. While Agnes and the other neighborhood children discuss who will “kill” (throw flour at) various neighbors, Tootie begs to be included but is ignored. Desperate to prove herself, she volunteers to go after the dreaded Mr. Braukoff. When she succeeds despite her fears, the others proclaim her “the most horrible” and let her toss scrap furniture on their bonfire. Back home, Rose and Esther are talking when all of a sudden Tootie comes in crying, claiming John Truitt attacked her. Without bothering to investigate, Esther confronts John, physically attacking him and scolding him for being a “bully.” When Esther returns, Tootie and Agnes confess the truth – John was trying to protect them from the police after a dangerous prank went wrong. Upon learning the truth, Esther immediately dashes to John’s house to apologize, and they share their first kiss.

That same night, Mr. Smith comes home and announces that he is to be sent to New York City on business and they will all move after Christmas. The family is devastated and upset at the news, especially Rose and Esther whose romances, friendships, and educational plans are threatened. Esther is also aghast because they will miss the World’s Fair. Although Mrs. Smith is upset as well, she reconciles with her husband and they sing a tender duet as she plays piano.

An elegant ball takes place on Christmas Eve. John cannot take Esther as his date because he forgot to pick up his tuxedo at the tailor’s. Briefly disappointed, she is soon relieved when her grandfather (Harry Davenport) offers to take her to the ball instead. At the ball, Esther and Rose plot to ruin the evening of Warren’s date–Rose’s rival, Lucille Ballard (June Lockhart)–by filling up her dance card with losers. But when Lucille turns out to be interested in Lon, leaving Rose and Warren together, Esther switches her dance card with Lucille’s and instead dances in Lucille’s place with the clumsy and awkward partners. After being rescued by Grandpa, Esther is overjoyed when John inexplicably turns up in a tuxedo, and the pair dance together for the rest of the evening. Later on, John proposes to Esther and she accepts, but their future is uncertain because she must still move to New York.

Esther returns home to an upset Tootie contemplating a move to New York she doesn’t want. Though her mood is temporarily assuaged by Esther’s poignant rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, Tootie remains inconsolable and runs out into the cold to destroy the snowmen they have constructed.

Mr. Smith watches his youngest daughter’s tantrum from an upstairs window and changes his mind: The family will not leave St. Louis after all, he announces. Warren is then free to declare his love for Rose: They will marry at the first possible opportunity.

On or after April 30, 1904, the family take two horse-drawn buggies to the World’s Fair. The film ends that night with the entire family (including Esther, John, Lucille, and Warren) gathered on a precipice overlooking the Fair’s Grand Lagoon, just as thousands of lights illuminating the grand pavilion are switched on.

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