75 Years of Film: 1944–Meet Me In St. Louis

This is a continuing series where my wife and I watch a movie from each film year and discuss changing cinema and history. For a brief introduction and list of all movies so far, click here. Please voice your thoughts at the bottom!

After watching a couple movies influenced by World War II, it seemed nice to find a movie that had nothing to do with it. Enter Judy Garland in the famous musical Meet Me In St. Louis. Not only is Judy Garland iconic for this time period, but my wife and I are originally from St. Louis, so we thought it would be fun to watch a movie set in our fair city. Was it? Well…

THE PLOT:
The Smith family lives in a nice house in St. Louis in 1903. Everybody is anticipating the coming World’s Fair in a few months. The older three children, including Esther (Garland), are falling in love while the younger two are so devious I’m positive they’ll literally end up in jail. But the father gets a job that will take him to New York, so the family tries to deal with this change and the losses they’ll incur. With music.

IS IT ANY GOOD?
Uh, no. Not really, no. The plot is pretty thin and the film doesn’t devote enough time to any of the main characters for me to really invest in their struggles. Thus, when the father announced that the family was moving, I felt nothing. Instead, the film likes to sing songs that do little to nothing for the story, like the “Trolley Song” or “You and I”.

I don’t often fast-forward through a first run of a movie for fear I’ll miss something. I hit the button three times because nothing was happening. And you know what? I still understood everything.

But the worst crime in my eyes? The film spends a fair bit of time talking about how great St. Louis is, and how it’s a home to the family that they’ll all be sorry to leave. You know what we don’t see? St. Louis. 99% of the film takes place in or around a single house that could exist anywhere. We only see St. Louis, partially, for about 3 minutes. It should have been called “Meet Me in My House.”

IMPRESSIONS:
As I said, Judy Garland is an icon of these old musicals, which drew my wife and I to watch this one. Can I be honest? I’m not a fan of Ms. Garland. I’ve heard wonders of her beauty, acting, and singing, but I was not impressed. She’s okay-looking, but her face is about ten years older than her body and her hair in this movie is horrid. She is a fine actor, I’ll give her that, but singing? It’s okay. Not bad, but I don’t see the appeal.

However, that could be another sign of 1944: the musical style. Those old musicals had a certain sound. A sort of choir crooning with a lot of vibrato and violins. Add in the sound systems they had back then and that old warble will take you back to record days.

Sadly, I am not a big fan of that style. I can’t stay that it’s bad, but it’s just not my preference. Granted, I do like the classical style that’s been sadly traded for pop these days, but the music and the singing alike never wowed me. And like I said, a few songs tend to waste time in this particular flick.

What about you? Do you like old musicals?

However, one song did make my heart melt: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. I had no idea that this was the song’s origin, but it makes sense in the context. It’s a phenomenal song that deserves its classic status. Originally, it was a sad song (and according to Wikipedia, it was downright depressing before the filmmakers had their say), and it was Frank Sinatra who made it more of a warm-hearted melody (more on him in 1945).

On a final note, this was the first color movie we’ve watched on our journey. Movies had already been in color (The Wizard of Oz had come out five years prior) but it seems they weren’t terribly popular yet. In fact, To Kill a Mockingbird, which came out in 1962, was in black and white.

I suppose that’s why so many old films say “Technicolor” in big letters (like on this movie’s poster). It was a special thing back then. But that’s part of the fun of this journey: seeing changes in cinema as they happen.

MAJOR EVENTS IN 1944 (source): 
Jan 2–First use of helicopters in war.
Feb 20–“Batman and Robin” comic strip appears in newspapers.
Jun 4–Allies march into Rome and liberate it from fascist armies.
June 6–D-Day; Allied forces invade Normandy.
Jun 20–Nazis begin mass extermination of Jews at Auschwitz.
Jul 4–Famous photograph, raising the American Flag near Iwo Jima.
Aug 1–Anne Frank’s last diary entry.
Aug 25–Paris freed from Nazi occupation.
Nov 7–U.S. President FDR wins unprecedented 4th term, longest ever.
Nov 29–First surgery on a human to fix blue baby syndrome performed by Alfred Blalock (that last name is close enough to mine for me to squee. Plus he was played by Alan Rickman in the movie).
Dec 3–Civil war breaks out in Greece.

Once again I left out the many, many battles and events of World War II and the continued Holocaust. Sad times, but the war was turning in the Allies’ favor.

OTHER MOVIES RELEASED IN 1944:
Double Indemnity
Gaslight
Disney’s The Three Caballeros
Captain America (It was 1944. SOMEONE had to punch Hitler in the face.)

PREVIOUS: 1943–The More the Merrier

NEXT: 1945–Anchors Aweigh

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