|Meet Me in St. Louis|
|Directed by||Vincente Minnelli|
|Screenplay by||Irving Brecher|
Fred F. Finklehoffe
|Based on||Meet Me in St. Louis|
by Sally Benson
|Produced by||Arthur Freed|
|Cinematography||George J. Folsey|
|Edited by||Albert Akst|
|Music by||George Stoll|
|Distributed by||Loew's, Inc.|
|Box office||$6,566,000 (original release)|
Meet Me in St. Louis is a 1944 American Christmas musical film made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Divided into a series of seasonal vignettes, starting with Summer 1903, it relates the story of a year in the life of the Smith family in St. Louis, leading up to the opening of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (more commonly referred to as the World's Fair) in the spring of 1904. The film stars Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien, Mary Astor, Lucille Bremer, Tom Drake, Leon Ames, Marjorie Main, June Lockhart, and Joan Carroll.
The film was adapted by Irving Brecher and Fred F. Finklehoffe from a series of short stories by Sally Benson, originally published in The New Yorker magazine under the title "5135 Kensington", and later in novel form as Meet Me in St. Louis. The film was directed by Vincente Minnelli, who met Garland on the set and later married her. Tony Award winning designer Lemuel Ayers served as the film's art director.
Upon its release, Meet Me in St. Louis was both a critical and a commercial success. It became the second-highest grossing film of 1944, only behind Going My Way, and was also MGM's most successful musical of the 1940s. 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.
Garland debuted the standards "The Trolley Song", "The Boy Next Door", and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", all of which became hits after the film was released. Arthur Freed, the producer of the film, also wrote and performed one of the songs.
The backdrop for the film is St. Louis, Missouri, in the year leading up to the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition 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 Truett (Tom Drake), although he does not notice her at first. Tootie is riding along with iceman Mr. Neely and disputing that St Louis is the best city. Rose, the eldest daughter, is expecting a phone call during which she hopes to be proposed to by Warren Sheffield (Robert Sully). While the call takes place, she is embarrassed when not only does Warren fail to propose but also 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 disappointed 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 to the bonfire, while Agnes and the other neighborhood children discuss who will "kill" (throw flour at) various neighbors, Tootie begs to be included but is ignored because she is "too little." 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 they hear Tootie screaming from the direction of the trolley. Esther rushes out and carries Tootie back in. The little girl is crying, with a split lip and a lost tooth, and claims "John Truett tried to kill me." Without bothering to investigate, Esther runs next door and confronts John, physically attacking him and scolding him for being a "bully." After Esther returns, Tootie and Agnes confess the truth - John was trying to protect them from the police after a dangerous prank of theirs 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 was too late to pick up his tuxedo at the tailor's. Initially 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, Lucille Ballard (June Lockhart) by filling up her dance card with losers. They are surprised when Lucille turns out to be warm and friendly and not "an eastern snob." She suggests that Warren should really be with Rose, allowing her to pair up with Lon. Esther switches her dance card with Lucille's and ends up with the dances in Lucille's place as the clumsy and awkward partners. After being rescued by Grandpa, Esther is overjoyed when John appears 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 find Tootie waiting impatiently for Santa and worrying about whether she can bring all her toys with her to New York. After Esther's poignant rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", an inconsolable Tootie runs out into the cold to destroy the snowmen they have to leave behind. Esther follows the crying Tootie outside and comforts her, telling her they'll be together no matter where they go.
Mr. Smith witnessed what had happened through the window and begins to have second thoughts. After thinking in the living room, he summons the whole family downstairs. He announces to them that they will not move to New York, much to everyone's surprise and joy. Warren rushes into the Smith home, declares his love for Rose, and announces they will marry at the first possible opportunity. Realizing is it now Christmas, the Smiths celebrate.
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 and John, Lon and Lucille, Rose and Warren) gathered overlooking the Fair's Grand Lagoon, just as thousands of lights illuminating the grand pavilion are switched on.
For the 78 rpm album, see Meet Me in St. Louis (album).
The musical score for the film was adapted by Roger Edens, who also served as an uncredited associate producer. Georgie Stoll conducted the orchestrations of Conrad Salinger. Some of the songs in the film are from around the time of the St. Louis Exposition. Others were written for the movie.
Garland's pre-recording of "Boys and Girls Like You and Me" survives today, but the cut film footage has been lost. This song was originally composed by Rodgers & Hammerstein for their Broadway musical Oklahoma! but cut prior to its opening.
Upon its 1944 release, Meet Me in St. Louis was a gigantic critical and commercial success. During its initial theatrical release, it earned a then-massive $5,016,000 in the US and Canada and $1,550,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $2,359,000.
The film was a New York Times Critics' Pick: After seeing it at the Astor Theatre, Bosley Crowther called it "a warm and beguiling picturization based on Sally Benson's memoirs of her folks ... The Smiths and their home, in Technicolor, are eyefuls of scenic delight, and the bursting vitality of their living inspires you like vitamin A. Miss Garland is full of gay exuberance as the second sister of the lot and sings, as we said, with a rich voice that grows riper and more expressive in each new film. Her chortling of "The Trolley Song" puts fresh zip into that inescapable tune, and her romantic singing of a sweet one, "The Boy Next Door," is good for mooning folks." Crowther concludes: "As a comparable screen companion to Life with Father, we would confidently predict that Meet Me in St. Louis has a future that is equally bright. In the words of one of the gentlemen, it is a ginger-peachy show."
Time called it "one of the year's prettiest pictures": "Technicolor has seldom been more affectionately used than in its registrations of the sober mahoganies and tender muslins and benign gaslights of the period. Now & then, too, the film gets well beyond the charm of mere tableau for short flights in the empyrean of genuine domestic poetry. These triumphs are creditable mainly to the intensity and grace of Margaret O'Brien and to the ability of director Minnelli & Co. to get the best out of her." O'Brien drew further praise from Time: " [Her] song and her cakewalk done in a nightgown at a grown-up party, are entrancing acts. Her self-terrified Halloween adventures richly set against firelight, dark streets, and the rusty confabulations of fallen leaves, bring this section of the film very near the first-rate." Writing in The New Yorker, Wolcott Gibbs praised the film as "extremely attractive" and called the dialogue "funny in a sense rather rare in the movies," although he thought it was too long.
In 2005, Richard Schickel included the film on Time.com's ALL-TIME 100 best films, saying: "It had wonderful songs [and] a sweetly unneurotic performance by Judy Garland....Despite its nostalgic charm, Minnelli infused the piece with a dreamy, occasionally surreal, darkness and it remains, for some of us, the greatest of American movie musicals."
Arthur Freed: "Meet Me in St. Louis is my personal favourite. I got along wonderfully with Judy, but the only time we were ever on the outs was when we did this film. She didn't want to do the picture. Even her mother came to me about it. We bumped into some trouble with some opinions – Eddie Mannix, the studio manager, thought the Halloween sequence was wrong, but it was left in. There was a song that Rodgers and Hammerstein had written, called Boys and Girls Like You and Me, that Judy did wonderfully, but it slowed up the picture and it was cut out. After the preview of the completed film, Judy came over to me and said, "Arthur, remind me not to tell you what kind of pictures to make." [It] was the biggest grosser Metro had up to that time, except for Gone With the Wind."
The film holds a 100% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 34 reviews with an average score of 8.70/10. The site's critics' consensus for the film reads, "A disarmingly sweet musical led by outstanding performances from Judy Garland and Margaret O'Brien, Meet Me in St. Louis offers a holiday treat for all ages."
The film was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Color, Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture, and Best Music, Song (Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin for "The Trolley Song"). Margaret O'Brien received an Academy Juvenile Award for her work that year, in which she appeared in several movies along with Meet Me in St. Louis.
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 American Film Institute ranked the film 10th on AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals; two songs from the film made AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs ("The Trolley Song" at #26 and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" at #76).
The plot points for the film originate from the following of Sally Benson's stories published in The New Yorker
The Trolley Song is performed regularly by performers on Main Street, U.S.A. at the Disney Parks and Resorts.