Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Film Review


Release Date: 28 November, 1944

Studio: MGM

Director: Vincente Minnelli

Cast: Judy Garland, Mary Astor, Leon Ames, Tom Drake, Margaret O’Brien, Lucille Bremer

Writers: Irving Brecher, Fred F. Finklehoffe, screenplay; Sally Bensen, novel

Cinematography: George J. Folsey


A year in the life of the Smith family of St Louis starts in the heat of summer, 1903. Esther Smith (Garland), 16 yrs old, dreams about meeting John Truett (Drake), the boy-next door. Rose (Bremer), Esther’s older sister, is expecting a call from Warren Sheffield, her beau, who is at Yale. The only phone is in the dining room, and Rose will have to speak to Warren in front of her family. Esther tries to change dinner to an earlier time and her mother Anna (Astor) tells Alonzo (Ames), her husband, that to accommodate the maid they will have dinner early. However, he is tired and wants a bath and refuses to change dinner time. During dinner, the entire family listens quietly as Rose talks to Warren.

Later that evening, Rose invites John Truett to a farewell party for their brother, Lon Jr, who is leaving for Princeton. At the party, Esther and Tootie (O’Brien) entertain with a song and dance. After the party, Esther asks John to help her put out the lights. They flirt, but the shy John only shakes her hand as he leaves. Esther invites John to come with their friends to the fair grounds being prepared for the St Louis Centennial Exposition.

Several days later, at the trolley station, Esther waits excitedly for John, but the trolley starts, and she thinks he missed it. John boards just in time, and Esther expresses her happiness by singing “The Trolley Song.”

At Halloween, Tootie and her older sister Agnes dress as goblins and go out to join the other neighborhood children at a bonfire in the street. The children dare Tootie to knock on the door of Mr. Braukoff who everyone agrees is the scariest man on the street. Tootie shakily goes up to the door and knocks. When Mr Braukoff answers, she throws flour on him and declares, “I hate you Mr Braukoff”. She runs off as Mr Braukoff wipes himself in amusement. Tootie exalts and declares herself “the most horrible.” Later, Tootie comes home crying, bruised and cut. She claims that John Truett hit her. She has a bunch of hair in her hand. Esther storms over to John’s house and accuses him of being a bully and beats and bites him. Later Tootie and Agnes confess the truth, John saved them from being arrested after they nearly caused an accident on the trolley tracks. Esther rushes back to apologize, and John accepts her apology, pointing out where she bit him.

Later that evening, Lon Sr, returns with the announcement that his firm is transferring him to New York, and they will move in January. Lon is enthusiastic about his promotion and the move, but his family is upset and unhappy at the thought of leaving St Louis. Anna, loyally, agrees that if he wants to move, they will move. As Lon and Anna celebrate their love and togetherness, the children accept the future move to New York that their father wishes.

On Christmas Eve, Rose is distressed because Warren has invited Lucille Ballad, a visiting Easterner, to the Christmas dance. Lon Jr, home for Christmas, is also perturbed; he wanted Lucille to go to the dance with him. With no one else to go with, Lon Jr and Rose end up going together, although they are not happy about it. Esther is upset because John will not be able to take her to the dance; he did not make it to the tailor’s in time to pick up his tuxedo. Esther goes with her Grandfather. At the dance, Rose and Esther fill out Lucille’s dance card with the names of all the most boring and clumsy young men. The plan backfires when Lucille turns out to be sweet and understanding. She suggests that Rose pair with Warren, and she will partner with Lon Jr. Esther cannot let Lucille dance with the men listed on the card, and she takes the dance card herself and bravely dances with all the dolts. Toward the end of the dance, John arrives and dances with her. In the garden under the moon, John and Esther kiss, and John proposes. He plans to leave college and get a job to support her. However, Esther realizes that they are too young to marry; he must finish college before marriage.

At home, Tootie rushes out to destroy the snow people she has made, crying that so no else will have them after the family moves to New York. Esther comforts her, and they look forward to Christmas. Lon Sr, watching from the window, sees his daughters in the snow, and realizes how much they want to stay in St Louis. He assembles his family and tells them that he has changed his mind, they will not move.

In the spring, the family, dressed in their finest, go to the Exposition. All the young couples are happy. Everyone is thrilled that the Exposition is in their own home town.


This colorful musical ranks among the finest films of the 1940s. Its an almost perfect example of Americana, the idealization of the life of middle class Americans in a small city around the turn of the century. The lives of the members of the Smith family in the year before the opening of the St Louis Fair of 1904 are appealingly sweet and sentimental. Technicolor photography flatters the actors, especially the women in their colorful dresses, and enhances the beautiful settings. Vincent Minelli, the director, guided the production with special attention to achieving the ambience and charm of the period.

Judy Garland sings two songs that were immediate hits of 1944, the "Trolley Song" sung to Tom Drake and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" sung to Margaret O’Brien. Garland also sings and dances the novelty song, "Under the Bamboo Tree" (1902), with O’Brien. Leon Ames and Mary Astor have a sentimental duet, "You and I", (the voices were dubbed). The fair’s own hit song, "Meet Me in St Louis, Louis" (1904), is sung briefly by Garland and Bremer and reprised throughout the movie. The turn of the century feeling is further reinforced by the inclusion of eight or nine early 20th century songs.

The film presents an idyllic picture of a family, consisting of parents, a college-age son, two teenage daughters, two young daughters, and Grandpa. The 16 year old daughter (Garland) and the youngest child (7-year old O’Brien) are the focus of the film. The concerns of the family members are simple and innocent. The love and comradeship of their parents model success in life. Ames, the father, represents the upper middle-class businessman who supports his contented family, including his wife’s father, in a modern, well-appointed home,. The aspirations of the older sisters involve forming romantic relationships with young men. Garland dreams about the handsome and shy boy next door. Bremer’s beau is in college. The son, in his first year of college, also has a sweetheart.

The yearnings of these young people are in keeping with the social standards of the time. The young women yearn for romance, a husband, and their own home. The young men, of the upper middle class, aspire to graduate from college and become lawyers or businessmen. After graduation, they will marry, buy a home, and start a family. The most serious event in their lives is the proposed move from St Louis to New York.

Child star Margaret O’Brien had a whimsical demeanor, charm, bright eyes, and a pleasant, chirpy little-girl’s voice. An outstanding child actress, she had a great emotional range for a child and was known for her ability to cry on demand. The reviewer of Collier’s magazine (11-28-42) wrote about her performance in Journey for Margaret (1942) that she “tears at your heart-stings like a miniature Duse,” (referring to the Italian actress (1858-1924) famous for her emotional acting).

At age 5, O’Brien had a highly successful debut in Journey for Margaret, a story of the London blitz. She quickly became a major star and a Top Ten Box Office attraction in 1945 and 1946. Her studio, MGM, paired O’Brien with strong older men. O’Brien’s appealing and determined personality matched well with the screen presences of experienced actors Charles Laughton (Canterville Ghost [1944]), Edward G Robinson (Our Vines Have Tender Grapes [1945]), Wallace Beery (Bad Bascomb [1946]), and Lionel Barrymore, Lewis Stone and Thomas Mitchell (Three Wise Fools [1946]). As she advanced toward her teenage years, O’Brien’s appeal waned. Her final films at MGM were based on two well known children’s books Little Women (1949), and The Secret Garden (1949). By 1950, O’Brien, now a teenager rather than an appealing moppet, had lost her attraction for the movie audience. She made two more starring films as a teenager, Her First Romance (1951) and Glory (1956). In adulthood, O'Brien played character roles in a few films, including Heller in Pink Tights (1960), Amy (1981), Dead in Love (2009), but mostly continued her career on television where, during more than 65 years, she has starred in episodes of many series.

At the time of Meet Me in St Louis, O’Brien’s popularity was at the zenith. She delighted audiences with her enthusiasm and shy bravery in the Halloween scene and with her pathetic attempts to destroy her snowman during the Christmas scene. Audiences were enchanted by her singing and dancing with Judy Garland. O’Brien won a Juvenile Academy Award for outstanding child actress for 1945. Bob Hope, Master of Ceremonies at the Awards, playfully called the half-size juvenile statue an Oscarette. The statue was taken from O’Brien’s home in 1954 and disappeared for 40 years. In 1994, it was found at a Pasadena flea market and returned to her.

The Louisiana Purchase Exposition: St Louis World’s Fair (1904) commemorated the centenary of the 1803 purchase, during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, of the vast Louisiana territory stretching from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. St Louis, situated at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, is at the eastern boundary of this territory. One of the largest world’s fairs ever held, the grounds covered 1200 acres and included exhibits from 62 countries and 43 of the 45 states. The fair was a combination of trade show, showplace of technological advances, and cultural monument to the Gilded Age. The last international exhibition before the First World War, the fair was a final tribute to the peace, prosperity, and progress of the late 19th century world order, a world order that was broken by the war.


Catching Up With Margaret O’Brien on the 70th Anniversary of Meet Me in St Louis. by Patrick Monahan. Vanity Fair. December 25, 2014

Lousiana Purchase Exhibition: The 1904 St Louis World’s Fair. Missouri Digital Heritage. University of Missouri. Columbus