Today is the eleventh day of “The Twelve Days of Christmas with the Code.” There is only one more day after this before the Epiphany! In the traditional song, the gift for today would be “eleven lords a-leaping;” in my Yuletide activity here at PEPS, the gift for today is Meet Me in St. Louis from 1944. This lovely MGM period musical shows the Smith family’s life from summer of 1903 to spring of 1904. Two important holidays during that year are Halloween and, of course, Christmas.
The movie begins on a hot summer day, when Mrs. Anna Smith (Mary Astor) and her disgruntled old maid, Katie (Marjorie Main), are making ketchup. As every member of the household expresses his opinion on the quality of the ketchup, we meet the whole family. There is Grandpa (Harry Davenport), the lovable oldest member of the family, Lon, Jr. (Henry H. Daniels, Jr.), the oldest son who is smitten with an Eastern girl, Rose (Lucille Bremer), the refined and elegant seventeen year old daughter, Esther (Judy Garland), her romantic and impulsive sixteen year old sister, Agnes (Joan Carroll), the violent ten year old daughter, and Tootie (Margaret O’Brien), the morbid five-year old baby of the family. Esther persuades her mother and Katie to have dinner an hour earlier that evening, since she knows that Rose is supposed to receive a very important telephone call from Warren Sheffield (Robert Sully), her beau who is away at college. Esther is sure that her older sister is going to receive a proposal, so she doesn’t want the whole family to be in the same room, listening to the whole conversation. Rose claims that she has more important things than boys on her mind, but Esther doesn’t believe her. Es is also busy looking for her own husband. She is enamored of the “boy next door,” John Truett (Tom Drake), but he hasn’t noticed her sitting conspicuously on the front porch so far. When Mr. Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames), the father of the household who is a lawyer, comes home that afternoon, he is tired and depressed. He lost his case that day, and he frustratedly tells his daughter to stop singing “Meet Me in St. Louis.” He grumbles that the World’s Fair won’t be open for nine months; he just wants everyone to go to the fair and leave him alone! Anna tries to tell Alonzo that dinner is in a few minutes, but he refuses to have his meal an hour early. He is uninterested in her story about Katie needing to go be with her sister. He demands his right to take a cool bath before dinner. Because of this, the family has dinner at the regular time. Everyone does his part to make the meal go faster, but Mr. Smith won’t be rushed. When the telephone rings, he answers it and quickly hangs up, since he isn’t expecting a long distance call from New York. His wife informs him that other people get calls, too; she tells him that the call is for Rose. He is angry that no one told him about it, but he lets Rose answer the telephone when it rings again. Warren asks Rose how she is, how St. Louis is, and how the weather is. He doesn’t say anything definite; he just makes small talk. After Rose has hung up, Esther concludes that there aren’t any other girls in St. Louis who receive long distance calls from college men who just want to inquire about their health! At a party a few weeks later, Esther is introduced to John Truett by her brother. The young people enjoy a wholesome, merry time. They sing, dance, and have old-fashioned fun. Later in the evening, the two younger sisters, Agnes and Tootie, come down the stairs and say that the noise woke them up. The guests encourage them to stay, and Tootie wants to sing. She naughtily sings “I Was Drunk Last Night, Dear Mother,” then she and Esther do a cakewalk song and dance number together. After the mischievous girls have gone to bed and most of the guests have departed, Esther asks John to accompany her as she turns off the lights throughout the house, saying that she’s afraid of mice. As they walk through the increasingly dark house, Esther is trying to fascinate John. He isn’t very romantic, though; he compliments her perfume, but he says that it reminds him of his grandmother. Before he leaves, Esther sings “Over the Banister” in a beautifully dim light. John seems to be getting sentimental until he aggressively shakes her hand and says, “You’ve got a mighty strong grip for a girl!” He leaves, and Esther turns the lights up in exasperation. Next, you see Esther taking the special trolley ride which is going through the swamp that is becoming the fair grounds for the World’s Fair that everyone is excitedly anticipating. Es is concerned because John has not shown up yet, since he said that basketball practice might make him late. The trolley leaves without him, and she is dismayed. However, she soon sees him running to catch the trolley. She happily sings “The Trolley Song.” By the end of the song, he has come and sat next to her to enjoy the tour. The next scene is Halloween. The two rascally Smith girls are dressed up in ghoulish ghost outfits for the children’s sinister celebration. They grotesquely describe their characters’ deaths to their grandfather. Their mother isn’t very concerned about their evil plans for the evening; she just tells them not to throw too much flour in their victims’ faces and to be home in time for ice cream and cake. The somewhat frightened girls go to the vacant lot which is the center of the skulduggery in town. The center of the mischief is a huge bonfire which the children are feeding with broken furniture. The boys are dressed like women with drawn-on mustaches, and the girls are dressed like boys. Different children are assigned to “kill” certain people, which they accomplish by throwing flour in their faces and saying that they hate them. Tootie wants to help, but the other children say she is too little. She decides to prove her bravery by “killing” an old man they call mean old Mr. Bronkhoff. She is terrified as she walks toward his house. She manages to keep her nerve as she rings the doorbell, says she hates him, and throws flour in the poor man’s face before running away. When she gets back to the bonfire, all the children praise her as the hero, saying that she is “the most horrible.” Tootie is thrilled by this great honor. Later in the evening, Rose and Esther hear a scream outside. Rose carries a crying Tootie into the house. They call the doctor, thinking that the streetcar hit her. She says that it wasn’t the streetcar; it was John Truett. “He tried to kill me,” she sobs over and over. The doctor finds that she has a badly cut lip which requires stitches; a clump of hair in her fist reveals the fact that she was in quite a struggle. Esther is furious that John hurt her sister. She runs next door and beats him up by kicking, punching, and biting him. He is confused and defenseless, since he doesn’t know why she’s calling him a bully. When she returns to her house, she proudly reports that she bit him. Just then, Agnes enters, and she reveals the fact that she and Tootie stuffed an old dress and placed it on the streetcar track. They were hoping that the streetcar would go off the tracks. John Truett saw what they did, so he grabbed Tootie and dragged her to the woodshed so the policeman wouldn’t catch her. In the process, her lip got cut. Esther is furious when she realizes that her sister lied to her. She rushes next door and apologizes to John. He forgives her, since he liked the attention despite the pain. When Mr. Smith comes home that evening, he reveals the fact that he has accepted a job transfer to New York City. They all are going to move right after Christmas. Every member of the family is dismayed, concerned, and horrified by this news. Everyone becomes very emotional; they leave the room one by one. Anna remains with Alonzo, and she finally says that they will move if he wants them to. She starts playing the piano while he sings “You and I.” Gradually, the family members return to the room and begin eating cake. The next scene is in winter. The children are building snowmen while Katie hangs up laundry. The three oldest children discuss the Christmas Eve dance. Esther is going with John Truett, but Rose and Lon say that they don’t want to go. Rose is upset that Warren Sheffield didn’t ask her, and Lon is upset that his girl, Lucille Ballard (June Lockhart), is going with Warren. Esther says that she won’t go if they don’t go, so Lon decides to take Rose to the dance. On the evening of the ball, John comes over while Es is getting ready and dismally says that he won’t be able to take her to the dance, since his tuxedo is still in the tailor’s shop, and he doesn’t know where the tailor lives. He is very sorry, and Esther is devastated. Her grandfather hears her crying in her room, and he tells her that he would love to take her to the dance. She happily accepts his offer. At the dance, Rose and Esther have filled Lucille Ballard’s dance card with perfectly horrible men to get revenge on her for spurning their brother. While Esther is elsewhere, Warren and Lucille approach Lon and Rose. Lucille turns out to be a very sweet girl. She says that they are all mature, so they should be honest about the fact that Warren wants to be with Rose while she wants to be with Lon. When Esther comes over, Rose tells her that the plans have been changed. Since Lucille turned out to be a kind person, Esther says she made a mistake and gives her her dance card of nice men. She takes the card full of horrors. After several dances with awkward, gawky, clumsy, and ridiculous partners, her grandfather cuts in. She says that he’s the first human being with whom she’s danced all night. As she sobs on his shoulder that this is their last dance in St. Louis, he waltzes her behind the huge Christmas tree. When they emerge from the other side, Esther’s partner is John! Don’t ask me how he got a tuxedo; that isn’t explained. The important thing is that he is at the dance with Es. Later that evening, John asks Esther to marry him. She accepts through tears, and they suggest several plans about how they could be together. The fact that she is leaving St. Louis complicates things, but they vow to find a way. When she goes inside, Tootie is awake, waiting for Santa Claus. They talk about all the things they’re going to bring with them to New York. Esther promises that they’ll bring everything except their snowpeople, since they’d look pretty silly trying to get them on a train. She winds up Tootie’s music box and sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to her. As she finishes the song, Tootie runs out of the room. Esther follows her outside, calling her name. Crying violently, Tootie begins demolishing the snowpeople with a stick, saying that no one will have them if they can’t have them. Esther runs into the snow and tries to comfort her hysterical sister, saying how lucky they are to be going to New York and that everything will be alright as long as they are together. Mr. Smith watches the scene from inside the dark house. He observes unseen as Esther leads Tootie back to bed. Will they be able to be happy in New York? Will they miss the World’s Fair after living in St. Louis for years? Will Mr. Smith realize the mistake they are making before it’s too late? Watch the movie to find out!
This beautiful Technicolor movie is filled with lovable, memorable songs. Judy Garland sings “The Boy Next Door,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Under the Bamboo Tree,” and the iconic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” She looks beautiful in the Christmas Eve scene in a red velvet gown with a sparkly white wrap. This movie introduced the famous song which would become a Christmas standard. Although the song is supposed to be sung at Christmas of 1903, it was very poignant in 1944. Since America was in the midst of World War II, there were many people who could easily identify with the lyrics which speak of enjoying a holiday during sad times. I’m sure the song was extremely significant to soldiers and their families at the time. Isn’t it interesting how historical pieces could be significant for the times in which they were released?
This movie has one of the only sinister Halloween scenes of which I can think in a Breen film. The Halloween sequence is very strange. My family dislikes it so much that for years we just fastforwarded through it. The children’s fun and games on that night seem extraordinarily wicked for decent children in 1903. The strangest part is that Mrs. Smith, who seems like a concerned and efficient mother, has no problem with what her children are doing. She doesn’t even have the excuse of ignorance, since she definitely tells the girls not to throw too much flour in people’s faces. In fact, she gives them the flour! While it is not a definite Code violation, this scene shows obvious bad parenting. As a matter of fact, the two younger characters in general seem to be terribly unruly and undisciplined. While the older three Smith children are refined and polite, the two girls are a couple of hoodlums! They are violent and morbid. Agnes vows to kill Katie if she hurt her cat, and Tootie buries her dolls after she pretends that they have died of several fatal diseases. They are a strange pair.
The acting is excellent in this picture. Judy Garland is very good in the part of Esther, and she looks beautiful in the period costumes. While the role is a little grotesque, Margaret O’Brien gives an excellent performance as Tootie. This is my favorite role for Mary Astor. She is so sweet, refined, and different from her loose pre-Code characters. As in On Moonlight Bay and By the Light of the Silvery Moon, Leon Ames is excellent as a frustrated father from a by-gone era. Lucille Bremer is very reserved and beautiful as Rose. The rest of the cast is excellent, too. The dialogue is clever, and the direction is good. Plus, it has Joseph Breen’s seal of approval. What more can you want?
Please come back tomorrow for the final day of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.” After that, I’ll have a finale for the Epiphany and an encore for Russian Christmas. Thank you so much for your support. Happy Holidays!
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