I have a handful of genres or moment in film history where in I find myself rather certain that I will like everything from the are, whether it be New Korean Cinema, German Expressionism or Italian Realism, however, if you were to ask me four or so years ago when my love for cinema was initially burgeoning, I would never have even thought to guess that one of my favorite films genres would prove to be the technicolor musical, yet me deep affinity for Guys and Dolls, as well as a considerable admiration for Singin' In The Rain, it has come to my attention that, in fact, I do very much enjoy this particular time in musicals, although I can certainly name ones from the surrounding eras of which I love. As such, it should not have come to a surprise that I too would enjoy Meet Me In St. Louis, which is a dazzling bit of music oriented cinema, one with some catchy, all be it simplistic songs, a segment of an unusual creepiness, not to mention one of the single greatest deliveries of the word "what" in the history of film. However, what proved to be the greatest and most welcome revelation in the film was none other than Judy Garland, who like Marilyn Monroe was initially somebody I had boxed into a corner of Hollywood disaster icon, however, as I have done more film theory reading, particularly that related to feminist theory it has led me to appreciate certain performers in a new light, for Monroe it is her ability to perform against her objectification, while with Judy Garland I have come, within a single viewing of Meet Me In St. Louis, to understand what has allowed for her to become one of the most stalwart of icons for the gay community. Her surprising amount of androgyny, personal life plagued by societal scorn as her constant desire for some form of comfort within her films explodes in a way very real and pertinent to the struggles of many gay individuals, males in specific. Meet Me In St. Louis, in particular, shows viewers a Judy Garland that is clearly a little uncertain in her own body, but, nonetheless, embraces it in a manner so rich and rewarding that I could rewatch the film countless times only for her incomparable crooning...I am talking a Bing Crosby level of mastery.
Meet Me In St. Louis is a film centered on the Smith family, which is headed by the cantankerous father figure Alonzo (Leon Ames) whose desire for his family to attain middle class respectability and conservative normalcy affects every interaction, whether it be his eldest daughter Anna (Mary Astor) and her desire to be proposed to by a high school sweetheart, or the passing of his masculine privilege on to his son Lon (Henry H. Daniels Jr.), or simply trying to find a reasonable course of action for his daughter Esther (Judy Garland) who appears to be moving through her teenage years with a bit of confusion and uncertainty, although it is rather apparent that she has taken a considerable liking to the neighbor's son John Truett (Tom Drake). It is precisely when a realization is made to Esther's feelings for John that big news shifts the household, it is realized that Alonzo will be required to move to New York in order to pursue a hefty promotion within his job, although this is much to the chagrin of the family who has worked so very hard to solidify their place in the ever growing St. Louis. The narrative then focuses on the family preparing for their inevitable move, particularly Esther who must ween herself away from the loving John, in order, to assure her happiness in New York, void of her boyfriend. It is during Christmas night when Alonzo hears Esther sadly singing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas that he realizes his mistake in forcing his family on an exodus to the unwelcoming and bustling Big Apple. At the last moment, before realizing that her father has changed her mind, Esther accepts a marriage proposal from John, although she warns him of the woes their engagement will face with a long distance factor, fortunately, they realize that changes allow them to pursue a life together within the city limits of St. Louis, ending spectacularly with the family, including their newest members enjoying the spectacle and wonderment of the World's Fair, which they all strongly believe serves as the moment to place the city on the world map.
So one could bemoan the problematics relating to the nuclear family as it relates to this film, just as easily as one could critique the film for embracing a clearly pro-middle class ideology and certainly these critiques would not be ungrounded. However, I really want to consider the performance of Judy Garland in this film, one that is dressed and acted in androgynous manner. While one could certainly chalk her specific look up to cinematographers and costumers/makeup artists adapting to technicolor, it is really quite hard to overlook the masculine features inherent to Garland in this film, whether it be her define jawline, or her unusually butch makeup. Similarly, her singing in the film is notably deeper then her female counterparts, and often serves as a definably masculine aspect of herself within a feminine context. Her appropriation of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, certainly hearkens back to Bing Crosby, as I noted earlier, adding yet another layer of androgynous performance. It is also no accident that the two youngest daughters in the family perform cross-dressing for Halloween, not to mention Anna's tie dress, almost as if to add a layer of support to Esther and her divergent performance of femininity. In an active sense, Esther also challenges traditional femininity in first her demand within her relationship to have a voice, one that discredits John's demand for an instantaneous marriage, not to mention disregards the lesser of male suitors, a decidedly unfeminine act for the era. Ultimately, Judy Garland's performance within Meet Me In St. Louis is certainly not the most revolutionary ever enacted upon screen, but something is to be said about its divergences, if only to serve as a groundwork for her assured icon status within in the gay culture for decades to follow.
Key Scene: The Trolly Song was a blast visually and aurally and well worth watching as a solo piece, although when Lon delivers a "what" in relationship to a bizarre proposition by Esther I could not stop laughing for the remainder of the film and well into the next day.
Buy this movie it is a cinematic gem, I plan to upgrade to bluray soon as the technicolor seriously drips of the screen at times.