Older musicals just seem to be fun no matter how ridiculous any given one is or how bad it is. The good one’s have various reasons for being good, but that only makes the viewing experience even better!
The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film “Meet Me in St. Louis”, is definitely silly, but I can’t rule out the idea (or fact?) that it is good. There’s got to be a reason I jump at every opportunity to see it, right?
This musical comedy stars Judy Garland (“Judgement at Nuremberg”, “A Star is Born (1955)”), Margaret O’Brien (“Elf Sparkle and the Special Red Dress”, “Sunset After Dark”), Mary Astor (“Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte”, “The Great Lie”), Lucille Bremer (“Behind Locked Doors”, “Ruthless”), Tom Drake (“The Streets of San Francisco”, “Marcus Welby, M.D.”), Leon Ames (“Peggy Sue Got Married”, “Jake Speed”), Marjorie Main (“The Egg and I”, “Friendly Persuasion”), Harry Davenport (“Riding High”, “Tell It to the Judge”), June Lockhart (“Zombie Hamlet”, “Wesley”), and Joan Carroll (“The Bells of St. Mary’s”, “The Clock”).
The film was directed by Vincente Minnelli (“Gigi”, “An American in Paris”) and written by Irving Brecher (“Bye Bye Birdie”, “Somebody Loves Me”) and Fred F. Finklehoffe (“My Boys Are Good Boys”, “At War with the Army”).
The film originally opened on Nov. 28, 1944. It would go on to be nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one for O’Brien for Juvenile Award.
On to the next film in my shuffled viewing of Turner Classic Movie’s (TCM) “31 Days of Oscar” festival! It’s one I’ve pretty much grown up watching, and haven’t been able to stop whenever it’s on. This time around, I find that it’s a bit more special, which sounds strange given that the film hasn’t changed at all. Regardless, this time around, I found myself grappling with a few things about what brings this film together. Mainly, is this film really all that good? I just can’t ever find myself truly over the moon about it, even though I enjoy watching it, and seldom get bored. Yes, it’s possible, but then I usually just turn away as I know there’s no point in continuing. Let’s take a look.
This film is both good and bad. It’s weird in some ways, and that’s what hurts it. While I love that this film is told over the course of a year, picking up over the course of several days during the different seasons, it’s because of this that I find there’s nothing that truly connects one set of events to the next. There’s too much randomness to it all and at some point I found myself uninterested in some of what went on, and in one moment, completely bored. I wanted it to be over. Alas, no such luck, and things just went on and I was able to enjoy some of the next bits of story being told.
The performances are good, you know, for this time and the standard considered good. It’s this alone that I believe I can stand this film time and again. I’ve seen other musicals, and films from this time, that just plain suck, and acting is usually to blame for my dislike of the entire thing. Maybe it’s the setting of this film, Missouri, or that these actors were the few that actually had talent, but I don’t think they ever had a problem bringing these characters to life. Mind you, none of what these actors had to contend with was all that demanding. This time around I really noticed how uninteresting the character’s lives were. They never did anything that screamed exciting or worth caring a lot about. I’m amazed I didn’t simply get bored from this. Well, in a way I did. When O’Brien and the other youngest sister were out on Halloween, I really didn’t care. Somehow they got on my nerves and had a storyline that came out of nowhere. It also went on for too long.
That being said, one of the biggest things this film managed, quite well, other than comedy, is the family dynamic. I absolutely love the family dynamics that come out of this, and the individual stories, even though a lot of them are a bit dull and makes me wonder what the writers were thinking. I guess this is what passed for interesting and fun in the ‘40s and in 1903. But, again, the lives these characters lived didn’t scream exciting. They never seemed to leave the house. But when you did get these scenes with the whole family, or a few of the members, it was always believable and showcased what a great family unit they were. Granted, this is also another product of the time. Still this family was instrumental. There was something to latch onto than just Garland’s character, who really wasn’t even the center of the film. That’s what’s interesting. More people remember this as a Garland film, but she’s not even truly the star, even though she’s billed first. I have to give the writers some credit for this. In some ways, it makes this film better.
The musical numbers are still quite infectious! I don’t like all of them, but when viewing the film as a whole, they’re all easy to enjoy in the moment. They’re just fun. And some even manage to really push the story forward, as they should. “The Trolley Song”, and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” are just two of the songs that have since become standards, and loved by so many people. It’s not hard to see why. Not only do they live on independently, but they achieve the desired effect in a musical. They help to lighten things and make the moment, and overall experience, even more fun and tell the more of the story. In this film, it kept with the general comedy theme as there wasn’t much drama in this film. Even while some of these songs do seem a bit silly, there’s no way to avoid them, unless, of course, you fast forward or something. Did I mention they’re infectious? Catchy too.
Somehow, in all these viewings, over many, many years, I’ve never put much thought into the fact that this film is a period film. The film itself tells you this between each season, but I think I just ignored them. It’s the setting and the costumes that told me that this is set in a certain time. It’s set in the Summer of 1903 until the Spring of 1904 and certainly looks it. Everything about this film just radiates off the screen. The costumes, the sets and decorations, even the props! It’s all so alive, and not just because I think the creatives involved in this film took great care and actually did a good job, but because this film may have been restored. When watching it I couldn’t help but marvel at the color and how vibrant it still was and just how the film didn’t carry with it this older film look that some take on. Certainly made a big difference. However, and this surprised me a bit, there was something also off with the way the costumes came across. I know these costumes would still look like this even if the film had been made today, or in the last 20 years, but somehow I feel that the quality would be drastically different. I guess this is just an issue with craftsmanship and techniques that have changed since 1944. It’s slight, but it’s a bit noticeable and just interesting to note.
Classical musicals are remembered and well loved for a variety of reasons. No one musical is going to have the same effect on a viewer. Some are just better constructed than others and can hold up over the years. Maybe the reason why some of these classic films can still be fun is because they never tried to be much more than that. Not many people can say no to light hearted comedy and singing.