Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Meet Me In St. Louis (1944): Have Yourself a Charming Little Movie

You like splashy color? With Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) you got splashy color! You also have one of the most charming, enduring and elegant classic musicals ever put to film. Developed by the MGM musical powerhouse of producer Arthur Freed and director Vincent Minnelli, it showcased the fragile songbird Judy Garland at the height of her fame and talent and became a box office bonanza for the mega studio in the winter of 1944-45.

Set in the Missouri burg of the title in 1903, the film centers on the Smith family, middle class and ready to see and celebrate the coming Louisiana Exposition of 1904 but instead of a straight narrative, St. Louis is really a set of colorful, sentimental vignettes set to some of the catchiest tunes and loveliest melodies to come from Hollywood in the 1940’s, with Garland of course taking on the bulk of the lilting tones. Along with “The Boy Next Door” and “Under the Bamboo Tree” with the precocious moppet Margaret O’Brien, Judy and gang belt out one of the most glorious four minute interludes of musical magic known to the golden age of American cinema with “The Trolley Song”. Written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane, “The Trolley Song” was not only nominated for an Academy Award as the year’s Best Song (it lost out to “Swinging on a Star” from Going My Way) but had several very popular renditions that hit the airwaves during the decade. The most enduring song to come from the St. Louis musical resume however, was Judy’s poignant holiday signature, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. Hauntingly beautiful in its delivery both visually and audibly, “Christmas” has become a standard on Yuletide play lists.


In an auburn wig with very heavy bangs, Garland had shed the “baby fat” much discussed by her studio boss Louis B. Mayer, but her trimmer figure could still pack a vocal wallop and did so. She is handsomely supported by a superlative array of MGM talent including the above mentioned O’Brien, Lucille Bremer, Mary Astor, Leon Ames, Marjorie Main, Harry Davenport and Tom Drake, as the “boy next door”. The entire cast charms its way from scene to scene evoking the feel and sound of turn of the century Americana via the MGM backlot.
Off-screen the film’s star found her own “boy next door” in director Minnelli. A confusing and tumultuous relationship, the two were married and begat Liza with a Z. However, whatever problems their future held, the two created a film musical masterpiece and the biggest financial hit MGM released since Gone With The Wind. There were many nostalgic period copy cats (Summer Holiday and Fox’s Centennial Summer) but none even came close to this jewel.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"May the Merry Bells Keep Ringing; Happy Holidays to You"

It’s here again. The Christmas season in all its excitement, majesty and frivolity has made its way around the calendar yet again and for the classic movie fan, it is usually a time which is filled with film viewing options. Whether it’s a night at home watching your all time holiday favorites or receiving the latest ‘deluxe’ version dvd in your stocking by the fire, Christmas can offer a plethora of great movie choices with wonderful classic stars, such as the lovely Jeanne Crain (right). In the next few weeks, Classic Movies Digest will spotlight some of filmdom's festive favorites, several viewed since childhood, conjuring memories of cold December afternoons at a grandparent’s house with delicious smells of baking and plenty of hot chocolate to boot. If you haven’t seen some of the movies showcased here, maybe it will peak your interest to do so and if you have, it might tempt you to revisit a treasured time. Merry Christmas, God Bless Us Everyone.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!: Please, Pass the Yams

Have a safe, happy, healthy and classic Thanksgiving!


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