Vincente Minnelli's "Meet Me in St. Louis"

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That stunner of a poster up there (or maybe it's a trade ad?) comes from Greenbriar Picture Shows, a blog dedicated primarily (but not exclusively) to Hollywood's golden age. Once or twice a week, John McElwee presents a batch of gorgeous reproductions of movie memorabilia bordered by essays on the production back stories and — this is what makes his angle unique — tales of the distribution and the immediate reception (critically as well as at the box office) of films from the mid-20th century: hits that'd soon be forgotten, flops that'd somehow make their way into the canon, and the perennials, such as Vincente Minnelli's Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). He'll be giving this one an extra-thorough treatment; yesterday's entry is just the first part of a series. It's also a tad more personal than others: "I hesitate calling Meet Me in St. Louis my favorite picture of all time, but then I can't really think of one that's better."

As it happens, Meet Me in St. Louis is being re-released in the UK today as part of the BFI Southbank retrospective Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! The MGM Musical and, of course, you'll find hearty recommendations, however brief, in the British press. "The Christmas Cracker, par excellence," declares Anthony Quinn in the Independent. "If there is a more touching Christmas song, or one more tenderly observed, than Judy Garland singing 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' to her sister (Margaret O'Brien), I haven't heard it."

The most melancholy of Christmas tunes is brought on by the prospect of the family leaving their beloved St. Louis for New York, where the sisters' father (Leon Ames) will be taking on a job promotion. Another storyline reminds the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw of "a Michael Haneke nightmare": "An earnest young woman in smalltown America, sweet on the boy next door, finds her kid sister has been bashed — apparently by this boy — and the victim still has a handful of his hair in her clenched fist. Later, this is all straightened out, but only when the family learns that little sis had herself planned a prank: to leave a dressed-up dummy on the tram lines, causing possible derailment and death!"

David Jenkins in Time Out London: "Framed as a sepia-tinted postcard come to life, Minnelli's panoramic city symphony examines the meanings of nostalgia and memory while offering a sweetly ironic depiction of Middle American conservatism where sex is taboo, dinner is at six, money is evil and father knows best. A heavenly slice of brassy Hollywood romanticism that'll still have you swooning all the way to the trolley stop."

A few days ago, Dave Kehr recommended Warner's new Blu-ray in the New York Times, and now he's got a lively discussion going on at his own site.

Update, 12/18: "It was the first truly great movie from the Freed unit, the MGM department specializing in musicals and headed since 1940 by Arthur Freed, who wrote some of the best songs of the 1920s and 30s and produced several of the finest films of the 20th century," writes Philip French in the Observer. "He assembled the writers, composers, designers and cast, including the virtually unknown Vincente Minnelli, and told studio boss Louis B Mayer: "I want to make this into the most delightful piece of Americana ever." He achieved his aim with a movie that defines perfection, as it captures the spirit of hope and anxiety that informed the last years of the second world war, when it was made…. When fellow MGM executives demanded to know the source of the film's dramatic conflict, Freed replied: 'Where is the villain? Well, the villain is New York!'"

Update, 12/19: John McElwee's posted the second part of his series, this on focusing on the Halloween and Christmas sequences.

Related reading: A month-long roundup on "The Complete Vincente Minnelli." For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.

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