Wednesday, November 30, 2011
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.