Meet Me in St. Louis
- Street Date:
- December 13th, 2011
- Reviewed by:
- David Krauss
- Review Date: 1
- December 14th, 2011
- Movie Release Year:
- Warner Brothers
- 113 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Release Country
- United States
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Judy Garland made more than 30 films during her legendary career, and although 'The Wizard of Oz' will forever top her cinematic résumé, the beloved Garland was never more beautifully photographed or contributed a more natural, winning performance than in 'Meet Me in St. Louis.' One of the all-time classic musicals, this sumptuous slice of Americana continues to warm the heart and thrill the senses almost 70 years after its initial release. Director Vincente Minnelli artistically weaves together a tender, simple story, melodic and often exhilarating songs, and the glorious Technicolor palette to create an unforgettable masterwork.
The achievement, however, becomes magnified when one takes into account Minnelli's relative inexperience at the time. 'Meet Me in St. Louis' was only the director's third feature film, causing even Garland, who was far from enthusiastic about her proposed role, to initially question his abilities. At age 21, the actress stubbornly resisted being cast as 17-year-old Esther Smith, a plucky ingénue who wistfully pines for the boy next door. Garland was sick of playing awkward teenagers, and felt 'St. Louis' might sabotage the strides she already had made toward mature roles. Yet studio pressure forced her to acquiesce, and after a few days of shooting, Minnelli won her respect and, shortly after, her love. The two would be married the following year, and 'Meet Me in St. Louis' would become MGM's biggest moneymaker since 'Gone with the Wind.' For Garland, 'St. Louis' was an instant personal triumph, and Esther Smith, along with Dorothy Gale in 'The Wizard of Oz' and Vicki Lester in 'A Star Is Born,' remains one of her most memorable and acclaimed screen roles.
With charm and insight, the film chronicles a year in the life of the Smith family and their common middle-class existence in turn-of-the-20th-century St. Louis. With anticipation at a fever pitch over the upcoming 1904 World's Fair, father Alonzo (Leon Ames) drops a bombshell by announcing he's accepted a promotion that will force the Smiths to move to New York City. The family, which in addition to Esther includes Mrs. Smith (Mary Astor), eldest daughter Rose (Lucille Bremer), son Lon (Henry H. Daniels, Jr.), and youngsters Agnes (Joan Carroll) and Tootie (Margaret O'Brien), balks at such upheaval, especially Esther, who's crushed at the prospect of ending her blossoming romance with John Truitt (Tom Drake). But soon everyone accepts the inevitable and prepares to leave idyllic St. Louis.
Although the plot is practically threadbare, writers Irving Brecher and Fred F. Finklehoffe draw us into the story and keep us involved by making the Smiths reflect the dynamics and foibles of a typical American family. It's impossible not to identify with the squabbles and bickering, playful ribbing, and deep sense of loyalty and love that pervade the Smith household. Such timeless themes of home and family packed a powerful punch during World War II, and still resonate today. (In fact, when Garland earnestly recites the film's last few lines—"I can't believe it. Right here where we live! Right here in St. Louis!"—the sentiment so blatantly echoes 'The Wizard of Oz,' one almost expects Garland to add, "Oh, Auntie Em, there's no place like St. Louis!") Thankfully, the script's light comedic flair keeps sappiness at bay most of the time, and although tears certainly will be shed during the film's climax, the emotions expressed are honest, visceral, and universal.
Such simplicity and grace also distinguish the film's score, a combination of period standards and three contemporary songs that Garland would quickly stamp with her inimitable signature. Written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, 'The Boy Next Door,' 'The Trolley Song' and 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' are seamlessly woven into the film's fabric, gently moving the story forward and adding emotional subtext. Complemented by Garland's exquisitely rich vocals and Minnelli's impeccable visual sense, the musical sequences tell mini-stories of longing, exuberance, and uncertain hope that far outshine the bloated production numbers of other films.
Dramatically, Garland projects both a winsome charm and spunky self-assurance that make her performance irresistible. Although few actresses could hold their own against the scene-stealing prowess of moppet O'Brien, Garland, with her sincerity and vulnerability, always maintains our focus. O'Brien deservedly captured a special juvenile Oscar for her portrayal of the mischievous and lovably ghoulish Tootie, and her work in the Hitchcockian Halloween scene (brilliantly conceived by Minnelli) is one of the film's highlights, but 'St. Louis' is Garland's picture from start to finish. In addition, Ames, Drake, Astor, Bremer, the priceless Marjorie Main as the blunt Smith maid, and a very young June Lockhart also contribute fine performances.
Acting, script, and music aside, just looking at the film is a joy. From the art direction and costumes to George Folsey's eye-popping cinematography, Minnelli perfectly integrates every element, and his meticulous attention to detail permeates every frame. Simply said, 'Meet Me in St. Louis' is one beautiful film, a tailor-made showcase for the supreme artistry of Judy Garland and the boundless creativity of MGM craftsmen. As far as musicals go, they don't get much better than this.
Meet me at the fair, indeed.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Meet Me in St. Louis' comes packaged in one of Warner's handsome digibooks. The 50GB dual-layer disc and CD sampler, which contains four songs from the film, are housed inside the front and back covers, respectively, and a lavishly illustrated 40-page book lies in between. Song lyrics are sprinkled throughout, along with bits of trivia, a brief analysis of the movie, and mini bios of Garland, O'Brien, Mary Astor, and Vincente Minnelli. One amusing error slipped by the editors - when referring to Garland's appearances in the 'Andy Hardy' films, the uncredited writer mistakenly identifies the star of those movies as Andy Rooney instead of Mickey Rooney! (Who knew the late '60 Minutes' contributor had such an illustrious film career before going into journalism?!) Such an egregious mistake only emphasizes the ignorance of so many when it comes to cinema history.
Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0. Upon insertion of the disc, the Warner Home Video logo pops up, followed by the static menu with music; no previews or promos precede it.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
When Warner released the DVD of 'Meet Me in St. Louis' back in 2004, it sported a spanking new digital transfer from restored picture elements, and the results were spectacular. Yet believe it or not, this Blu-ray edition outclasses that fine effort with a perfectly balanced image that showcases the movie's exceptional Technicolor photography and period detail. It's often tempting to over-saturate three-strip Technicolor films, but Warner remains true to the source, fashioning a natural-looking palette that embraces the lush hues without pushing them into an artificial realm. From Garland's auburn hair and red Christmas ball gown to Bremer's green velvet dress and the verdant front lawns that line Kensington Avenue, every color exudes the proper temperature and makes this movie a true visual delight.
The grain structure complements the film as well, lending it a cozy texture that ties into the antiquated setting. (In only a couple of instances did the grain seem excessive, but that's to be expected for a movie of this vintage.) Clarity and contrast are both excellent (and a step up from the DVD), so the picture brims with vibrancy. Details on a Tiffany lamp, wallpaper and carpet patterns, and background elements are all strikingly sharp. Black levels in the Halloween sequence exude a lovely inkiness, yet shadow delineation never suffers and crush never occurs. Whites are solid, too, especially the elaborate dresses the Smith women wear to the World's Fair, but fleshtones adopt a slight rosy tint.
Minnelli was a master of the close-up, and some of his shots of Garland are so exquisitely framed and executed, they take our breath away. The final shot of 'The Boy Next Door' and extended close-up during 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' exhibit a unique lushness and beauty that only a man in love with his leading lady could construct.
The print is primarily spotless, with almost all incidents of speckling erased. There's still a faint vertical stripe with a greenish-yellowish tint that shows up late in the picture for several isolated seconds, but it's not particularly noticeable unless you look for it. No edge enhancement or DNR have been applied, and no banding, halos, artifacting, or noise disrupt the image. Once again, Warner has done a superior job transferring one of its classic titles to Blu-ray, and all fans of musicals and Golden Age cinema should be thrilled with this eye-filling treatment.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The addition of lossless audio really perks up the 'St. Louis' soundtrack, offering more purity of tone, detail, and dynamic range than the previous Dolby Digital mix on the DVD. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 track gently envelops; you won't hear anything distinct coming from the rear speakers, but the overall surround feel, which is most potent during the musical numbers, makes the movie more immediate and involving. The wide dynamic range handles Garland's soaring highs well (with distortion never an issue), while lows possess lovely resonance and weight. Subtleties are more pronounced, too, such as the rustling of dresses and the roaring flames of the Halloween bonfire, and accents, like the clanging trolley bell, are crisply rendered.
Dialogue is always well prioritized and easy to comprehend, and the music score enjoys marvelous fidelty and tonal depth. A couple of errant pops could be detected and just the faintest hint of hiss, but neither in any way hamper one's enjoyment of this aural feast. Listening to Garland sing such standards as 'The Trolley Song,' 'The Boy Next Door,' and 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' is always a treat, but hearing her legendary voice in lossless audio adds a rare and wonderful extra dimension to the experience.
The original mono track has been dropped from this release, but a music-only track, highlighting Garland's numbers and Conrad Salinger's lilting orchestrations remains, and can be accessed through the Audio Vault section in the special features area.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
Though the spec sheet affixed to the back of the digibook only mentions a handful of supplements, fans of 'Meet Me in St. Louis' can rest assured almost all the extras from the 2004 DVD have been ported over to this release. (Why would a studio risk alienating potential buyers by not providing a full list of special features on the packaging?) Both the Vincente Minnelli trailer gallery and a stills gallery have been deleted, but all other extras remain. The array of material is comprehensive and entertaining, and will please aficionados of Golden Age Hollywood, the film itself, and Judy Garland.
- Introduction by Liza Minnelli (SD, 5 minutes) – Who else would be more qualified to host an introduction to this classic film than Liza Minnelli? After all, if it wasn't for 'Meet Me in St. Louis,' Liza might never have been born, considering her parents (Garland and director Vincente Minnelli) met and fell in love during production. Say what you will about Ms. Minnelli's tabloid history and rocky personal life, her preamble is one of the best I've seen - seemingly unscripted and presented with warmth, humor, and natural grace.
- Audio Commentary – This innovative and highly informative commentary is well worth a listen, as renowned Garland historian and biographer John Fricke discusses the film with his trademark flair, and introduces archival recordings of actress Margaret O'Brien, screenwriter Irving Brecher, composer Hugh Martin, Barbara Freed-Saltzman (producer Arthur Freed's daughter), and actress June Lockhart, all of whom reminisce about their first-hand experience with the production. The unique format robs the discussion of spontaneity, but the fascinating information eclipses the formal tone. As always, Fricke's enthusiasm for all things Garland is infectious, and his meticulous research yields fresh nuggets that will enlighten even the most rabid Judy know-it-alls. Reminiscent of the scholarly commentaries by historian Rudy Behlmer, Fricke offers background on cast members and production personnel, historical perspective, and discusses many deleted scenes, which sadly no longer exist. This is a terrific track for anyone interested in Hollywood history, movie musicals, and film trivia.
- Documentary: "'Meet Me in St. Louis': The Making of an American Classic" (SD, 31 minutes) – A holdover from the film's 50th anniversary VHS release in 1994, this interesting but superficial look back at the musical's production history is narrated by actor Roddy McDowell and includes reminiscences from Margaret O'Brien, Lucille Bremer, Vincente Minnelli, composer Hugh Martin, and Barbara Freed-Saltzman. The documentary addresses Garland's initial reluctance to portray the teenage Esther, her love affair with Minnelli during filming (which would result in marriage the following year), the evolution of the script, and construction of the musical score, which seamlessly blends original songs with period standards. Fans of Hollywood lore will especially enjoy hearing O'Brien reveal the real motivation behind her tears during the 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' sequence — and it has nothing to do with canine abuse! Archival photographs of the real Smith family and the 1904 World's Fair, as well as footage of O'Brien accepting her special Oscar for Best Juvenile Performance, are also included.
- Documentary: "Hollywood: The Dream Factory" (SD, 50 minutes) – This 1972 documentary focuses on Tinseltown in general and MGM in particular as it cogently examines the culture and mechanics of manufacturing celluloid fantasy. Dick Cavett narrates this insightful, entertaining film that looks at the moguls, stars, and day-to-day business of moviemaking, with sequences devoted to Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, censorship issues, and tobacco use. A precursor of sorts to 'That's Entertainment!' (using the theme song and several clips that would also turn up in the 1974 documentary), 'Hollywood: The Dream Factory' includes a brief segment on the Garland-Mickey Rooney "let's put on a show" films, as well as a lengthy clip from 'St. Louis' during its hall-of-fame finale. Most definitely a worthwhile view.
- TCM Special: "Becoming Attractions: Judy Garland" (SD, 46 minutes) – Much more than a compendium of Garland movie trailers, this program puts those previews in perspective, providing a cursory overview of Garland's career, personal problems, and the psychology of Hollywood marketing. Hosted by Robert Osborne, this Turner Classic Movies production from 1996 (part of an original series) presents 13 Garland trailers (all in surprisingly spry condition) for such classics as 'The Wizard of Oz,' 'Babes in Arms,' 'Easter Parade,' and 'A Star Is Born.' Through the seemingly innocuous, even disposable medium of trailers, this involving and informative collection examines the breadth and scope of Garland's talent and career, as we see her progress from awkward teen to young starlet to superstar and mature woman.
- TV Pilot: "Meet Me in St. Louis" (SD, 26 minutes) – Back in 1966, MGM tried to peddle 'Meet Me in St. Louis' to network executives as a TV series, and filmed a pilot episode written by Sally Benson and starring Shelley Fabares as Esther, Celeste Holm as Mrs. Smith, Wesley Addy (Holm's real-life husband) as Mr. Smith, and Reta Shaw as the irrepressible maid Katie. (The producers deleted the character of older sister Rose.) The 26-minute installment (shot in brilliant color) is beautifully preserved and flaunts the same lush period feel as the original film. The inserted laugh track is a bit off-putting at first, and the performances are much more stilted and shallow than their film counterparts (Fabares, of course, is no Garland), but the effort is mildly successful and remains faithful to the tone and themes of the musical version.
- Vintage Short: 'Bubbles' (SD, 8 minutes) – Judy Garland started performing at the tender age of 2, so by age 7 she was a seasoned professional, and this 1930 Vitaphone short, which showcases a motley array of child prodigies known as The Meglin Kiddies, offers some of the earliest surviving evidence of her blossoming musical abilities. Although the performance quality ranks only a notch or two above any local grammar school talent show, it's a delight to catch a glimpse of Garland singing with her two older siblings (The Gumm Sisters) in this novelty. What she lacks in polish, young Baby Gumm makes up for in power, and in her sparkling eyes her love of performing is clearly evident.
- Vintage Short: 'Skip to My Lou' (SD, 3 minutes) – Speaking of novelties, 'Skip to My Lou' is about as rare as they come. This 1941 "Soundie" short features 'St. Louis' songwriters Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane (as part of a quartet called The Martins) singing the exact same arrangement of the traditional dance number that would appear in Minnelli's film three years later. Dressed in overalls, plaid shirts, and straw hats, the pair is flanked by two unidentified brunettes and they all perform a sprightly rendition of the standard.
- Audio Vault – The movie's Music-Only Track resides here, along with an outtake of a song Rodgers and Hammerstein originally wrote for (and deleted from) 'Oklahoma!,' 'Boys and Girls Like You.' This lilting ballad was purchased by producer Arthur Freed for inclusion in 'Meet Me in St. Louis,' and was supposed to shortly follow 'The Trolley Song' in the film. A random collection of stills featuring Garland and Tom Drake from various stages of the movie accompany Garland's four-minute vocal. The other vault entry is the Lux Radio Theater adaptation of 'Meet Me in St. Louis,' broadcast on December 2, 1946, with Garland, O'Brien, and Drake reprising their film roles. (In this version, middle sister Agnes has been scrapped and Gale Gordon portrays Mr. Smith.) Although the players inject plenty of spirit into their line readings, the lack of visuals severely hampers the story, and we quickly appreciate the patented "Minnelli touch" even more. The emotion and sentiment still shine through, but many of the film's notable scenes (the Halloween sequence especially) translate poorly to the audio medium. Garland's renditions of 'The Boy Next Door,' 'The Trolley Song,' and 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' are typically strong, and some charming (albeit scripted) patter between the three stars nicely closes the 57-minute program.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 minutes) – The 1955 reissue preview for 'Meet Me in St. Louis' is also included on the disc.
- CD Sampler – A second disc features four soundtrack songs: 'Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis,' sung by Garland and Lucille Bremer; 'The Boy Next Door,' sung by Garland; 'The Trolley Song,' sung by Garland and chorus; and 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,' sung by Garland.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
There are no high-def exclusives.
Musical lovers, rejoice! Warner honors one of Hollywood's finest with a top-notch digibook edition that features superb video, excellent audio, and a huge array of first-class supplements. 'Meet Me in St. Louis' is the quintessential family musical, and its relatable story and characters, enduring songs (performed with heartbreaking warmth and irrepressible verve by the unforgettable Garland), and gorgeous Technicolor photography make it a time-honored classic that continues to entertain and delight audiences of all ages. So hop aboard the trolley and revel in the magic of Garland, Minnelli, and MGM. Highly recommended, even for those who generally shy away from the genre.
- Blu-ray Digibook
- BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc
- CD Sampler
- Two-Disc Set
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 Surround
- French Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
- Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
- English SDH
- French Subtitles
- Spanish Subtitles
- English SDH
- French Subtitles
- Spanish Subtitles
- Introduction by Liza Minnelli
- Audio Commentary
- TV Pilot
- Vintage Shorts
- Audio Vault
- CD Sampler
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