Mød mig i St. Louis
No doubt this is one of the CLASSIC film musicals. The fact that I had not seen it before must be ascribed to my general ignorance and my only recent affinity for musicals. Probably everybody else on the planet has seen “Meet me in St. Louis” before.
As with most musicals its asset is the music and in that respect “Meet me in St. Louis” is quite overwhelming. The catchy tunes and evergreens are stacked very high and even the lesser known songs still rummage in the back of my head. “The Trolley Song”, “Meet me in st. Louis, Louis”, “Skip to M y Lou” and of course, the biggest of them all, “Wish You a Very Merry Christmas” and that is just an extract. It is not just that these songs are catchy; they are performed with an exuberance of emotion (usually happiness) which is absolutely contagious. You are happy with the happy songs and sad with the sad songs and always emotionally involved.
The assets extents to the cast and the set. A film with Judy Garland and Mary Astor (Hail Mary!) is already a film I must see. Garland is as iconic to this film as she was to “The Wizard of Oz”, though Astor is a bit more anonymous as the mother of the family. It is however the youngest of the daughters of the family that I will remember when all else has faded from memory. Margaret O’Brien as little Tootsie is a gem. She is a firecracker, a disaster zone, a bandit and the cutest little girl you can imagine. She reminds me of Calvin of the “Calvin and Hobbs” cartoons. In a film where everybody are tied to their type and role she is the maverick who really says what she thinks, does what she want and express her emotions in an entirely unpretentious manner. Not surprisingly she got a special Oscar for that achievement. I want to adopt her right there.
The set is another highlight. This is a reconstruction of 1903 St. Louis filtered with cozy-cozy filters. There are so many details from cloth to furniture to buildings that I never tire of looking at all the stuff there. “Meet me in St. Louis” is in Technicolor and it is so elegantly done that all these many details stand out, not glaringly like in the Wizard or Robin Hood, but smoothly and friendly like a painting. It is a pleasure to look at.
Unfortunately this is also more or less where my endorsement ends.
“Meet Me in St. Louis” is a girl’s movie in my book. That is not meant as some evil stamp or disqualifying quality, but simply mean that I do not understand it. I feel it is not aimed at me and often it fails to generate the feelings or sympathies it is fishing for while I believe that women in general and the nostalgic minded in particular would be far more receptive to it.
Let me try to explain. This is a family of five children. The only boy is quickly shipped off to college only to return near the end, leaving us with four girls. While the two youngest are too young it seems that the lives of everyone else including mother, maid and grandfather revolves around prospective husbands. That is all there is really. The women all wear these grand costumes, which only get slightly more practical when working in the kitchen, their single diversion from finding, evaluating, luring and dreaming of men. Truly these are princesses and they live on their beautiful castle, their house is no less than that. They speak and act like princesses and, it seems to me, live in a bubble disconnected to the real world. The anchor to reality is their father (Leon Ames), the working husband who has to pay for the menagerie. He is the “king”, yet the women, obviously thinking that his earthly ways is an interruption, frequently keep him out of the loop in the family. He is accepted but ignored. Symptomatic his news of his promotion, added wealth and opportunity for the family is met with rejection and hostility. He should not touch their world and the fact that he is the one that makes it all possible is flatly ignored. The movie itself has chosen side here. We are with the women and supposed to feel that moving away, indeed any change from this paradise on earth is a grave mistake and disaster, which makes this the crisis of the film. I know this is a feel-good musical, but a crisis that I do not even consider a crisis, but an opportunity, is hardly enough to cause drama.
This is a movie that celebrates the home, the old ways, the rosy dreams of marriage and family in an age where everything was better and less confusing, much like modern films use the fifties as the ideal time to have a family. That is all very nice, but it tends to get a little too sweet at times and outside of Christmas season I am not sure I could stomach this again.
The backdrop of “Meet me in St. Louis is the Second World War. This is 1944 and the war is raging all over the world. Women are working in factories. Men are overseas. The future is very uncertain and whatever else it will definitely be different. No wonder in such an environment it is wonderful to bury yourself in the fantasy of a better, simpler and more beautiful age. That I can surely understand
If I could just get the music, the scenery and little Tootsie I would be just fine. That I do not mind at all. Tootsie rules.