Plot: Rose Smith (Lucille Bremer) is supposed to receive a phone call tonight, a long distance call, no less. This impending call has the Smith household up in arms, as it is thought that Rose will be proposed to, so everyone is abuzz. Well, everyone except for patriarch Alonzo (Leon Ames), who has been kept in the dark and refuses to move his dinner time, which means Rose will have to field the call in front of her entire family at the dinner table. But Rose isn’t alone in her potential for romance, as sister Esther (Judy Garland) pines for the boy next door, though her not so subtle attempts at making her interest known seem to be misread. The Smith house is also preparing for oldest son Lon to head to college, while the two youngest sisters Agnes and Tootie are constantly stirring up trouble of some kind. In the midst of all the chaos in the house, can Rose and Esther find the love interests they so badly desire and when drastic change knocks at the door, what will become of the Smiths?
Entertainment Value: Meet Me in St. Louis is a musical, but it is one that even those who don’t often tour the genre should find interesting. This is not a big, song and dance set piece type musical, but more of a casual, singing in the moment kind of experience. The movie does have a couple dance numbers, but they’re small scale and feel natural within the scope of the narrative. Not to mention several of these songs have remained beloved favorites over the decades since it was released, so Meet Me in St. Louis has a timeless appeal in that regard. The music doesn’t come at the cost of the story or characters either, it bolsters those elements, such as when we watch Esther and Tootie bond over the musical elements. The songs are great fun, but the movie has a lot to offer beyond the music, such as sharp dialogue and some colorful characters. The Smith household is packed with big personalities and the movie ensures they all get a chance to shine, perhaps none as brightly as young Tootie. As played by Margaret O’Brien, she is a constantly entertaining and endearing character, to the point she won a special Oscar for her performance here. The rest of the cast is fun as well, especially the Smith clan, who have terrific chemistry and some wild exchanges. Judy Garland, Leon Ames, Mary Astor, Lucille Bremer, and the others work so well off each other, it puts forth a believable family dynamic that really enhances the movie. I know musicals tend to alienate even some film buffs, but Meet Me in St. Louis is not a stuffy, mechanically staged musical, not even close. This is a warm, sharp, and often hilarious look inside a family ripe with love, drama, and dysfunction.
No nakedness. No blood. Tootie makes up some wild stories about death and injuries, but no violence unfolds beyond a tantrum by Garland in which she tries to rough up the boy next door. The dialogue in this one is fantastic, as the movie is loaded with great lines, offbeat moments, and colorful characters. This is not a dusty, polite type of family, instead we have sly humor, passive aggressive antics, and a special, loving brand of dysfunction. Few conversations in the Smith household are straight forward, most involve wild stories or veiled drama, sometimes even unveiled melodrama, so the dialogue is never dull in the least. The interactions between family members are often openly hostile and confrontational, but in affectionate ways, but the characters outside the family also get some great lines. Hugh Marlowe has a show stopping appearance late in the movie, while Garland and Tom Drake have several memorable exchanges over the course of the film. This might not seem like a movie that would bring the craziness, but the plethora of drama and colorful dysfunction is high, so the movie has a rather offbeat tone at times. Tootie’s obsession with death, the bizarre Halloween segment, general melodrama, and the hilarious, often awkward family exchanges all make sure this one earns some points.
Overall Insanity: 4/10