Richard J. Leskosky | The latest entry in the NG movie series, a 1940s movie staple | Cinema-television

If you find solace in nostalgia, you can get double the help in this month’s News-Gazette film series offering, “Meet Me in St. Louis,” starring Judy Garland, scheduled for 1:00 p.m. and 7 p.m. on November 21 at the Virginia Theater in downtown Champagne.

Not only does the 1944 film take you back to the heyday of MGM color musicals, it also takes a loving look at the period of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, better known as St. Louis World’s Fair.

In fact, there is very little of the fair itself in the film (and nothing at all of the Olympics being held in St. Louis at the same time). Most of the story takes place during the summer, fall and winter of 1903 in and around the Smith family home.

People are talking about the preparations for the fair, but the main concerns revolve around the two eldest daughters Smith, Mary (Lucille Bremer) and Esther (Judy Garland), who are actively seeking husbands and the decision of their father, Alonzo (Leon Ames). , to move the family to New York (thus endangering the immediate marital projects of his daughters).

The eldest offspring Lon (Henry H. Daniels Jr.) also experiences romantic complications, and the Halloween and Christmas scenes involve the youngest daughter of the family, Tootie (Margaret O’Brien), in bizarre adventures that introduce eerily dark undertones in the otherwise sunny film. .

The nostalgia factor hangs over the stages of tech and society in transition, which many in his 1944 audience would have remembered 40 years earlier.

The Smiths and their friends travel in horse-drawn carriages, but electric carts and a few automobiles also ply the streets. The family home has electric and gas lights (even in the same chandelier).

And the family are trying to have an early dinner when Rose’s beau plans to call her at length from New York in the evening; they assume that because long distance is so expensive, it will surely come up.

Nostalgic musicals were a staple of 1940s film entertainment, reminiscent of times better and earlier, as World War II darkened the present. This genre of period family comedy (which gave our men in uniform a sentimental portrayal of what they stood for) was already familiar to viewers of popular plays such as “Life with the Father.”

“Meet Me in St. Louis” is based on Sally Benson’s autobiographical short story series from The New Yorker and the 1942 novel that followed. Benson was the original of the 5-year-old Tootie movie, although his older sister Agnes was the actual perpetrator of some of Tootie’s actions.

Benson didn’t script this adaptation, but she wrote some memorable screenplays herself, including a darker take on middle-class American family life in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt” (1943) and very different kinds of musicals in “Viva Las Vegas” (1964), with Elvis Presley, and “The Singing Nun” (1966). His screenplay for “Anna and the King of Siam” was nominated for an Oscar.

Judy Garland sings several songs, some of which have become signatures during her live concerts.

“The Trolley Song” won an Oscar nomination for Best Song, and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” became an overall seasonal favorite; both are on the American Film Institute’s Top One Hundred Movie Songs list, in 26th and 76th place, respectively.

Director Vincent Minnelli (born and raised in this great Italian city of Chicago as Lester Minnelli) had previously directed musicals on Broadway, but had only started making films the year before with the whimsical musical. “Cabin in the Sky”. Yet he has already demonstrated complete mastery of his new medium. Minnelli worked in various genres, but was most famous for his success with musicals (including “An American in Paris”, “The Band Wagon” and “Gigi”).

Garland had already appeared in more than 25 films by this time, including “The Wizard of Oz”, and really shines in this role. (The following year, she and Minnelli got married, him for the first time and she for the second.)

“Meet Me in St. Louis” received Oscar nominations for screenplay, color cinematography, song and score for a musical. He won none, but is still better known and appreciated than the presidential biopic “Wilson”, which won five Oscars that year. As an evocation of the idealized family life of the Midwestern middle class of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it has no parallel.

Of course, its importance as a film has led to adaptations in other media. A remake appeared on live television in 1959 with Jane Powell as Esther, Walter Pidgeon and Myrna Loy as her parents and Tab Hunter as her beau.

A non-musical television pilot with a script by Benson that aired in 1966 but was not picked up as a series. A Broadway musical based on the film won Tony nominations in 1989 for Best Musical, Book of a Musical, Original Score, and Choreography.

Richard J. Leskosky taught media and film studies at the University of Illinois and reviewed films for over 30 years. He can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter (@RichardLeskosky).

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