|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 called "The Kensington Stories" 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, behind only 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. The film's producer Arthur Freed also wrote and performed one of the songs.
The backdrop for the film is St. Louis, Missouri, in the year preceding the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition World's Fair.
In the summer of 1903, the Smith family leads a comfortable upper-middle class life. Alonzo Smith and his wife Anna have four daughters: Rose, Esther, Agnes and Tootie, and a son, Lon Jr. Esther, the second-oldest daughter, is in love with the boy next door, John Truett, although he does not notice her at first. Tootie rides with iceman Mr. Neely and debates whether St. Louis is the nation's top city. Rose, the eldest daughter, hopes in vain to receive a marriage proposal from Warren Sheffield.
Esther finally meets John properly when he is a guest at the Smiths' party and hopes to meet him again on a trolley ride to the construction site of the World's Fair.
On Halloween, Tootie and Agnes attend a bonfire. Later, after Tootie appears with a split lip and lost tooth, she claims that John tried to kill her. Esther confronts John, physically attacking and scolding him. After 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 apologizes to John and they share their first kiss.
Mr. Smith announces that he is to be sent to New York City on business and they will all move there after Christmas. The family is devastated by 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 also upset, she reconciles with her husband and they sing a tender duet at the piano.
An elegant ball takes place on Christmas Eve. John cannot take Esther because he was too late to pick up his tuxedo. Esther is relieved when her grandfather 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 by filling her dance card with losers. They are surprised to find that Lucille is warm, friendly and not a snob. She suggests that Warren should be with Rose, allowing her to be with Lon. Esther switches her dance card with Lucille's and takes on the clumsy and awkward partners. After being rescued by Grandpa, Esther is overjoyed when John appears in a tuxedo, and they dance for the rest of the evening. Later, 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 Claus 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 destroys the snowmen that they must leave behind. Esther reassures Tootie that they will be together no matter where they go. Mr. Smith, who has witnessed the girls outside, begins to have second thoughts. After thinking in the living room, he summons the family downstairs and announces 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 that they will marry at the first possible opportunity. Realizing that it is now Christmas, the Smiths celebrate.
At the World's Fair, the family gathers overlooking the Grand Lagoon just as thousands of lights around the grand pavilion are illuminated.
The film is based on "The Kensington Stories", a series of sentimental family stories by Sally Benson that appeared in The New Yorker in 1942 and later in novel form as Meet Me in St. Louis. Shortly after the publication of the stories, Arthur Freed, who had enjoyed previous success with Judy Garland in MGM musicals, convinced studio head Louis B. Mayer to purchase the film rights for $25,000, and Benson was also hired to work on the screen adaptation. The idea for the film was also inspired by Life with Father, a nostalgic family play that had been running on Broadway to great success and acclaim since 1939.
While Freed and his writers developed the script, director Vincente Minnelli, whose background was in set and costume design, prepared the film's design. Minnelli worked with designer Lemuel Ayers on set design and with art director E. Preston Ames to capture the evocative quality of paintings by Thomas Eakins, a popular artist and illustrator at the time in which the story takes place.
A staff of six writers worked with Benson to capture the essence of her stories. Freed hired the husband-and-wife team of Victor Heerman and Sarah Mason in mid-1942 to add an element of intrigue to the script. They introduced a blackmail plot involving Esther Smith, which Freed found inappropriate, so he tasked staff writer William Ludwig, a specialist in adolescent romance, to excise the blackmail plot and weave courtship stories into the screenplay. By February 1943, Freed was satisfied with Ludwig's script and distributed copies around MGM and to the principal cast members. However, Garland was dissatisfied with the script, feeling its plot to be weak and her character too juvenile. Mayer agreed, and Freed brought in a pair of writers to revise Ludwig's script who added the storyline of the family's looming move to New York. Freed liked the changes but Garland remained unhappy with the script.
Freed's conflict with producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Garland's lover who was developing what would become The Pirate with Garland in mind for the lead role, nearly caused Meet Me in St. Louis to be indefinitely postponed. The situation was resolved when Mankiewicz left MGM for Fox, and Freed's project was given the green light with a preliminary budget of $1,395,000 and plans to begin production in early October 1943. However, production was delayed because of studio problems and Technicolor Inc.'s heavy schedule, and the project finally entered production on December 7, 1943, with shooting scheduled for 58 days and a budget that had increased to $1,500,000. Nearly half of the film's budget was devoted to sets ($497,000) and music ($234,000). Story and continuity costs exceeded $132,000 because of the numerous rewrites. Garland was paid $2,500 per week, Margaret O'Brien $250 per week and Minnelli $1,000 per week while producing the film.
Garland, unhappy with the script and unsure of herself as a leading lady, also suffered severe emotional problems, an acute addiction to amphetamines and numerous physical ailments such as recurring migraine headaches. Production reports show that she disrupted the schedule with fits of hysteria, habitual lateness and occasional absences, missing an entire week of shooting because of what she claimed to be an ear infection. Garland also balked at Minnelli's heavy schedule of rehearsals and prerecording sessions in the months preceding filming, but Minnelli won her confidence and the two became lovers, cohabiting by the time of the film's post-production and marrying soon after its release. Earlier in the production, Garland had a brief affair with her costar Tom Drake.
Production delays were also caused by illnesses suffered by O'Brien, Mary Astor (pneumonia) and Joan Carroll (appendicitis), but Minnelli used the delays to prepare O'Brien's most demanding and important scenes. Severe rains and flooding in the Los Angeles region caused further delays in the production of exterior scenes. Filming completed on April 7, 1944, behind schedule and with a final budget near $1.8 million. The first rough cut ran exceeded two hours in length, so the writers suggested edits that brought the film down to 113 minutes for its preview screenings in the summer of 1944. MGM, encouraged by overwhelmingly positive audience previews, held the film's release for the Christmas season. The premiere was held in St. Louis on November 22, 1944 and at New York's Astor Theatre one week later.
Minnelli's idea to introduce each season segment with a greeting-card illustration dissolving into live action was most likely influenced by a similar technique used in Orson Welles' 1942 film The Magnificent Ambersons.
Freed's process for Meet Me in St. Louis established a pattern for Minnelli's future musicals: budgets in excess of $1 million, preproduction schedules sometimes exceeding a full year, shooting schedules of three to six months and postproduction phases of six months or longer.
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, and others were written for the film.
Garland's prerecording of "Boys and Girls Like You and Me" survives, but the cut film footage has been lost. This song was originally composed by Rodgers and Hammerstein for their Broadway musical Oklahoma!, but were 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.
In a contemporary review for The New York Times, critic Bosley Crowther called the film "warm and beguiling" and wrote: "Let those who would savor their enjoyment of innocent family merriment with the fragrance of dried-rose petals and who would revel in girlish rhapsodies make a bee-line right down to the Astor. For there's honey to be had inside. ... In the words of one of the gentlemen, it is a ginger-peachy show."
Time called Meet Me in St. Louis "one of the year's prettiest pictures" and noted: "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 felt that the film was too long.
In 2005, Richard Schickel included the film in Time.com's list of the 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."
Producer Arthur Freed remarked: "Meet Me in St. Louis is my personal favorite. 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 in Meet Me in St. Louis and several other films of the same year.
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 its AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals list. Two songs from the film were included in the AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs list ("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.