A strong narrative backbone of family values and the innocence of childhood makes this Hollywood classic feel as fresh as ever.
Meet Me in St. Louis, Vincente Minnelli's perennial Christmas favourite, is like an old friend. You may only meet them once a year, but within five minutes of reuniting you remember just why you cherish them so fondly.
Tracing the ups and downs of the Smith family from St Louis, specifically daughters Rose (Lucille Bremer), Esther (Judy Garland), Agnes (Joan Carroll) and 'Tootie' (Margaret O'Brien), the film samples the seasons in the year leading up to the 1904 World's Fair. When father Alonzo (Leon Ames) decides to take up the offer of a job in New York, his family's reaction to the news makes him think again, and focus on what's really important in life.
Made when Garland was still riding the crest of the wave from the phenomenal success of 1939's The Wizard of Oz, on which she met Minnelli, her future husband, MMISL is very much a product of its time. Yet where other films of Hollywood's golden age seem twee and stilted to modern audiences spoonfed a strict diet of big budget glitz and crass commerciality, MMISL feels remarkably fresh for a film well into its sixties.
Though no expense was spared – the film cost over $1.7 million to make (which was hardly skimping it in 1945) – and while George J Folsey's cinematography and the vibrancy of Technicolor makes the costumes and scenery jump from the screen in an almost artificial way, the film works as a whole because of its strong narrative backbone of family values and the innocence of childhood (elements that transcend time and which we all like to think we still believe in deep down, especially at this time of year).
There is also an inherent cleverness missing from much of today's cinema. Take the word play in Irving Brecher and Fred F Finklehoffe's exquisite screenplay, for instance. When Esther returns from visiting John, the boy next door (played with an all-American, Varsity skip by Tom Drake), her mother informs her that the ice cream that has been waiting for her is melting, to which she wistfully replies "isn't it", implying that John is well on his way to thawing her icy demeanour. The script is laden with such subtle double meanings, all of which work wonderfully within the more innocent early twentieth century setting.
But the film really belongs to Garland and O'Brien. They make each scene they share pure magic, exuding an effortless confidence which lights up the screen, with the rest of the cast reduced to mere bystanders. Garland, in numbers like the famous 'Trolley Song' (which legend has it was shot single take), and O'Brien (who was given a special child Oscar for her performance), show why they were both considered Hollywood idols.
Meet Me in St. Louis was made at a time when America, not to mention the rest of the world, was emerging from a devastating war. But, though many years of austerity still lay ahead, songs such as 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas', the film's most famous and achingly sentimental ballad, gave audiences the hope that tomorrow would be brighter and all their troubles would, indeed, seem "far away".
Meeting old friends is always fun.
Even the oldest friends produce surprises.
Old friends die hard.