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Warner Home Video presents
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

"Clang, clang, clang went the trolley,
Ding, ding, ding went the bell,
Zing, zing, zing went my heart strings,
From the moment I saw him I fell..."

- Esther Smith (Judy Garland), singing the immortal "The Trolley Song"

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: April 04, 2004

Stars: Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien, Mary Astor, Lucille Bremer, Tom Drake, Marjorie Main, Leon Ames
Other Stars: Harry Davenport, Henry Daniels, Jr., June Lockhart, Chill Wills, Hugh Marlowe
Director: Vincente Minnelli

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:53m:00s
Release Date: April 06, 2004
UPC: 012569508927
Genre: musical

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ BAA- A+

DVD Review

Judy Garland made more than 30 films in her legendary career, and although The Wizard of Oz will forever top her cinematic résumé, the beloved Garland was never more beautifully photographed or contributed a more natural, winning performance than in Meet Me in St. Louis. One of the all-time classic musicals, this sumptuous slice of Americana continues to warm the heart and thrill the senses 60 years after its initial release. Director Vincente Minnelli artistically weaves together a tender, simple story, melodic and often exhilarating songs, and the glorious Technicolor palette to create an unforgettable musical masterwork.

And considering St. Louis was only Minnelli's third feature film makes his achievement all the more remarkable. Even Garland initially doubted the director's abilities, and with stubborn resolve resisted being cast as 17-year-old Esther Smith, a plucky ingénue who wistfully pines for the boy next door. At age 21, Garland was sick of playing awkward teenagers, and felt St. Louis might sabotage the strides she already had made toward mature roles. Studio pressure, however, forced her to acquiesce, and after a few days of shooting Minnelli won her respect and, shortly after, her love. The two would be married the following year, and Meet Me in St. Louis would become MGM's biggest moneymaker since Gone with the Wind. For Garland, St. Louis was an instant personal triumph, and Esther Smith, along with Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz and Vicki Lester in A Star Is Born, remains one of her most memorable and acclaimed screen roles.

The film chronicles a year in the life of the Smith family and their typical middle-class existence in turn-of-the-century St. Louis. With anticipation at a fever pitch over the upcoming 1904 World's Fair, father Alonzo (Leon Ames) drops a bombshell by announcing he's accepted a promotion that will force the Smiths to move to New York City. The family balks at such upheaval, especially Esther, who's crushed at the prospect of ending her blossoming romance with John Truitt (Tom Drake). But soon everyone accepts the inevitable and prepares to leave idyllic St. Louis.

Although the plot is practically threadbare, writers Irving Brecher and Fred F. Finklehoffe draw us into the story and keep us involved by making the Smiths reflect the dynamics and foibles of a typical American family. It's impossible not to identify with the squabbles and bickering, playful ribbing, and deep sense of loyalty and love that are omnipresent in the Smith household. Such timeless themes of home and family packed a powerful punch during World War II, and still resonate today. (In fact, when Garland earnestly recites the film's last few lines—"I can't believe it. Right here where we live! Right here in St. Louis!"—the sentiment so blatantly echoes The Wizard of Oz, one almost expects Garland to add, "Oh, Auntie Em, there's no place like St. Louis!") Thankfully, the script's light comedic flair keeps sappiness at bay most of the time, and although tears will certainly be shed during the film's climax, the emotions expressed are honest, visceral, and universal.

Such simplicity and grace also pervades the film's score, a combination of period standards and three contemporary songs that Garland would quickly stamp with her inimitable signature. Written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, The Boy Next Door, The Trolley Song and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas are seamlessly woven into the film's fabric, gently moving the story forward and adding emotional subtext. Complimented by Garland's exquisitely rich vocals and Minnelli's impeccable visual sense, the musical sequences tell mini-stories of longing, exuberance, and uncertain hope that far outshine the bloated production numbers of other films.

Dramatically, Garland projects both a winsome charm and spunky self-assurance that make her performance irresistible. Although few actresses could hold their own against the scene-stealing prowess of moppet O'Brien, Garland, with her sincerity and vulnerability, always maintains our focus. O'Brien deservedly captured a special juvenile Oscar for her portrayal of the mischievous Tootie, and her work in the Hitchcockian Halloween scene (brilliantly conceived by Minnelli) is one of the film's highlights, but St. Louis is Garland's picture from start to finish. In addition, Ames, Drake, Mary Astor, Lucille Bremer, the priceless Marjorie Main, and a very young June Lockhart also contribute fine performances.

Acting, script, and music aside, just looking at the film is a joy. From the art direction and costumes to George Folsey's eye-popping cinematography, Minnelli perfectly integrates every element, and his meticulous attention to detail permeates every frame.

Simply said, Meet Me in St. Louis is one beautiful film, a tailor-made showcase for the supreme artistry of Judy Garland and the boundless creativity of MGM craftsmen. As far as musicals go, they don't get much better than this. Meet me at the fair, indeed.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Garland fans have waited for years for Meet Me in St. Louis to make its DVD debut, and they won't be disappointed by Warner's spectacular restoration. Employing the same ultra-resolution process that transformed Singin' in the Rain, St. Louis bursts forth with vibrant Technicolor hues and exceptional clarity. Yet despite the digital makeover, the transfer maintains a wonderful film-like feel, avoiding the over-processed look that sometimes afflicts similar efforts. A fair amount of grain is evident (and should be expected for a film of this vintage), but the print has been scrubbed clean, and only eagle eyes will be able to spot a few errant blemishes. The lush reds, blues, and yellows never bleed, and patterns remain rock solid throughout. The Garland close-ups, so lovingly constructed by Minnelli, are especially gorgeous and suitable for framing. Without a doubt, St. Louis has never looked better, and this transfer ranks up there with Warner's best classic film restorations.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Warner technicians have remastered the soundtrack to DD 5.0, and the results far outshine the original mono (also included on the disc). Full, warm, and robust, the 5.0 mix belies the film's age and provides clear, balanced sound with subtle stereo separation across the front channels. Some very slight hiss still exists, but it's only noticeable during the quietest scenes. Dialogue is always comprehendible and Garland's vocals possess marvelous depth and fidelity. Unfortunately, the musical numbers don't benefit from any added lift, but considering St. Louis was produced before the advent of true stereo, that's not surprising.

The original mono track is flat and dull by comparison and contains more pronounced hiss, but still offers clean, distortion-free sound. An isolated music track is also included for those who wish to more fully appreciate Conrad Salinger's orchestrations.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
19 Other Trailer(s) featuring Father of the Bride, An American in Paris, The Bad and the Beautiful, Brigadoon, Designing Woman, Gigi, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, Everybody Sing, Love Finds Andy Hardy, The Wizard of Oz, Babes in Arms, For Me and My Gal, Presenting Lily Mars, The Clock, The Pirate, Easter Parade, Summer Stock, A Star Is Born, I Could Go On Singing
Isolated Music Score with remote access
2 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Garland historian John Fricke, actress Margaret O'Brien, composer Hugh Martin, screenwriter Irving Brecher, Barbara Freed-Saltzman, and actress June Lockhart
Packaging: Cardboard Tri-Fold
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Introduction by Liza Minnelli
  2. Vintage musical shorts
  3. TV series pilot episode
  4. Becoming Attractions: Judy Garland, original TCM program
  5. Radio show
    Still gallery
Extras Review: Warner rolls out the red carpet once again for this two-disc special edition, serving up a hefty smorgasbord of supplements sure to delight fans of classic film. First up on Disc 1 is a five-minute introduction to the movie, and who better to do the hosting honors than Liza Minnelli? After all, if it wasn't for Meet Me in St. Louis, Liza might never have been born, considering her parents (Garland and director Vincente Minnelli) met and fell in love during production. Now, say what you will about Ms. Minnelli's recent tabloid history and rocky personal life, but her DVD introduction is one of the best I've seen. Seemingly unscripted, and presented with warmth, humor, and natural grace, Liza's preamble whets our appetite for the cinematic feast to come.

An innovative and highly informative audio commentary is well worth a listen, as renowned Garland historian John Fricke discusses the film with his trademark flair, and introduces archival recordings of actress Margaret O'Brien, screenwriter Irving Brecher, composer Hugh Martin, Barbara Freed-Saltzman (producer Arthur Freed's daughter), and actress June Lockhart, all of whom reminisce about their first-hand experience with the production. The unique format robs the commentary of spontaneity, but the fascinating information eclipses the formal tone. As always, Fricke's enthusiasm for all things Garland is infectious, and his meticulous research yields fresh nuggets that will enlighten even the most rabid Judy know-it-alls. Reminiscent of the scholarly commentaries by historian Rudy Behlmer, Fricke offers background on cast members and production personnel, historical perspective, and discusses many deleted scenes, which sadly no longer exist. This is a terrific track for anyone interested in Hollywood history, movie musicals, and film trivia.

Rounding out Disc 1, the Vincente Minnelli Trailer Gallery presents eight beautifully preserved coming attractions (many in anamorphic widescreen) that highlight the director's versatility. One of only a handful of Hollywood directors who could easily flit between musicals, comedies, and melodramas, Minnelli enjoyed box office success and critical acclaim in all three genres, and the trailers for such films as An American in Paris, Father of the Bride, The Bad and the Beautiful, Gigi, and The Courtship of Eddie's Father, among others, provide concrete proof of his ability to adapt while maintaining his trademark artistry.

Disc 2 kicks off with the 30-minute documentary, Meet Me in St. Louis: The Making of an American Classic, a holdover from the film's 50th anniversary VHS release. Narrated by Roddy McDowell, this interesting but superficial look back at the musical's production history includes reminiscences from Margaret O'Brien, Lucille Bremer, Vincente Minnelli, composer Hugh Martin, and Barbara Freed-Saltzman. The documentary addresses Garland's initial reluctance to portray the teenage Esther, her love affair with Minnelli during filming (which would result in marriage the following year), the evolution of the script, and construction of the musical score, which seamlessly blends original songs with period standards. Fans of Hollywood lore will especially enjoy hearing O'Brien reveal the real motivation behind her tears during the Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas sequence—and it has nothing to do with canine abuse! Archival photographs of the real Smith family and the 1904 World's Fair, as well as footage of O'Brien accepting her special Oscar for Best Juvenile Performance, enhance the film.

Another documentary, 1972's Hollywood: The Dream Factory, focuses on Tinseltown in general and MGM in particular as it cogently examines the culture and mechanics of manufacturing celluloid fantasy. Dick Cavett narrates this insightful, entertaining 50-minute film that looks at the moguls, stars, and day-to-day business of moviemaking, with sequences devoted to Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, censorship issues, and tobacco use. A precursor of sorts to That's Entertainment! (using the theme song and several clips that would also turn up in the 1974 documentary), Hollywood: The Dream Factory includes a brief segment on the Garland-Mickey Rooney "let's put on a show" films, as well as a lengthy clip from St. Louis during its hall-of-fame finale. Most definitely a worthwhile view.

Much more than a compendium of Garland movie trailers, Becoming Attractions: Judy Garland puts those previews in perspective, providing a cursory overview of Garland's career, personal problems, and the psychology of Hollywood marketing. Hosted by Robert Osborne, this 46-minute Turner Classic Movies production from 1996 (part of an original series) presents 13 Garland trailers (all in surprisingly spry condition) for such classics as The Wizard of Oz, Babes in Arms, Easter Parade, and A Star Is Born. Through the seemingly innocuous, even disposable medium of trailers, the program shows the breadth and scope of Garland's talent and career, as we see her progress from awkward teen to young starlet to superstar and mature woman. A mere snapshot of Judy's illustrious career, Becoming Attractions is nonetheless involving and informative.

Back in 1965, MGM tried to peddle Meet Me in St. Louis to network executives as a TV series, and filmed a pilot episode written by Sally Benson and starring Shelley Fabares as Esther, Celeste Holm as Mrs. Smith, Wesley Addy (Holm's real-life husband) as Mr. Smith, and Reta Shaw as the irrepressible maid Katie. (The producers deleted the character of older sister Rose.) The 26-minute installment (shot in brilliant color) is beautifully preserved and flaunts the same lush period feel as the original film. The inserted laugh track is a bit off-putting at first, and the performances are much more stilted and shallow than their film counterparts (Fabares, of course, is no Garland), but the effort is mildly successful and remains faithful to the tone and themes of the musical version.

Judy Garland started performing at the tender age of two, so by age seven she was a seasoned professional, and the 1930 Vitaphone short, Bubbles, which showcases a motley array of child prodigies known as The Meglin Kiddies, offers some of the earliest surviving evidence of her blossoming musical abilities. Although the performance quality ranks only a notch or two above any local grammar school talent show, it's a delight to catch a glimpse of Garland singing with her two older siblings (The Gumm Sisters) in this seven-minute novelty. What she lacks in polish, young Baby Gumm makes up for in power, and in her sparkling eyes her love of performing is clearly evident.

And speaking of novelties, Skip to My Lou is about as rare as they come. This 1941 "Soundie" short features St. Louis songwriters Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane (as part of a quartet called The Martins) singing the exact same arrangement of the traditional dance number that would appear in Minnelli's film three years later. Dressed in overalls, plaid shirts, and straw hats, the pair is flanked by two unidentified brunettes and they all perform a sprightly rendition of the standard.

The Audio Vault contains two entries, beginning with Garland's rendition of the deleted Rodgers and Hammerstein song, Boys and Girls Like You. Although the DVD packaging promises a "photo recreation" of the number (which was supposed to shortly follow The Trolley Song in the film), a random collection of stills featuring Garland and Tom Drake from various stages of the movie accompanies the song instead. This sequence was also lifted from the 1994 VHS release of St. Louis.

Also in the vault is the Lux Radio Theater adaptation of Meet Me in St. Louis, broadcast on December 2, 1946, with Garland, O'Brien, and Drake reprising their film roles. (In this version, middle sister Agnes has been scrapped and Gale Gordon portrays Mr. Smith.) Although the players inject plenty of spirit into their line readings, the lack of visuals severely hampers the story, and we quickly appreciate the patented "Minnelli touch" even more. The emotion and sentiment still shine through, but many of the film's notable scenes (the Halloween sequence especially) translate poorly to the audio medium. Garland's renditions of The Boy Next Door, The Trolley Song, and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas are typically strong, and some charming (albeit scripted) patter between the three stars nicely closes the hour-long program.

Finally, a still gallery includes 84 photographs (one in color) that run the gamut from on-set candids to posed publicity and glamour portraits, scene stills, and shots of various sets. Photos of theater marquees and lobby displays prove no expense was spared to promote the film.

Extras Grade: A+


Final Comments

Warner honors one of Hollywood's finest musicals with a top-notch special edition that demands a prominent spot on every film-lover's shelf. The superb video restoration, remastered audio, and comprehensive extras enhance this beloved movie and preserve it for generations to come. So hop aboard the trolley and revel in the enduring magic of Garland, Minnelli, and MGM. Highest recommendation.


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