The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest English-Language Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
Vincente Minnelli’s musical Meet Me in St. Louis chronicles the Smith family through one seasonal cycle at the turn of the century. The most emotionally rich and turbulent of all his films (including the melodramas), it juxtaposes stability and flux—the things in our life, such as family, that appear to be rooted but are at constant risk for change, and the things, such as romance, that seem too fragile not to dissolve but which become the repository of our future hopes.
We never do discover whether Esther Smith (Judy Garland, glorious) marries her boyfriend. Uncertainty, anxiety, the inability of the strongest human emotions to stabilize our lives in the powerful current of time’s passage: Minnelli has staked out a tremendous theme. Moreover, he explores its most problematic material. Lon, Esther’s brother, and John, her boyfriend, resemble one another; their names rhyme. What is “the boy next door,” after all, but a brother with an extra wall in between? Indeed, the inwardness of American family life, incestuous nostalgia, and the appetite of family to incorporate non-family all come together in a phenomenal set-piece. John is unable to take Esther to a Christmas ball because his tuxedo is locked up at the cleaner’s; so her grandfather steps in as her escort, telling her how much she resembles his late wife. We see the dancing couple disappear behind the enormous pagan Christmas tree, but, when they emerge from behind it, Esther is no longer in her grandfather’s arms. Miraculously, John, in the correct attire, has replaced him. Turn your mind around all the ramifications of that!
There is a reverse traveling shot to die for in the thrilling Halloween passage, and the songs are wonderful, especially “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” with its profound melancholy.
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