Classic movie site with rare images, original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
Search Index Here

Monday, December 19, 2011

Part Two of Meet Me In St. Louis

My greatest pleasure in St. Louis' Halloween section has always been the Braukoffs, having grown up in a neighborhood with latter-day counterparts in abundance. An all-time fave-for-me shot is Tootie’s first glimpse through their window (seated Mrs. Braukoff is a particularly frightful image). I grew up near several houses as forbidding and might readily have imagined certain of my neighbors with boxes of dead cats. The Braukoffs seem less sinister than people who just want to be left alone. Ann and I talked a lot about them after watching Meet Me In St. Louis. She felt they were more sinned against than sinning, and might have been more sociable had the community not ostracized them so.

As it is, we get the impression that the Braukoffs have run out of patience with Kensington Avenue youth well before Tootie comes knocking at their door. In view of the couple's standing among neighbors, it probably comes as no surprise to Mr. Braukoff that she would throw flour in his face. For characters that appear so fleetingly, I’ve expended more thought on the Braukoffs than anyone else in Meet Me In St. Louis, maybe just for having encountered so many ominous (and maybe misunderstood?) figures like them.

Vincente Minnelli Directing The Halloween Sequence

Halloween concludes with a nicely disturbing segment wherein Tootie accuses John Truett of tearing open her lip. Meet Me In St. Louis at this point seems to be spiraling toward dark direction as the child recounts what sounds like a molestation by a boy next door we’re still not quite sure about (after all, he’s made no move to kiss Esther, despite her invitation). John’s exoneration is slow in coming. We spend nearly a reel imagining the worst. For having caused the mess, Tootie becomes herself a reasonable candidate for intervention. Such hysterical behavior and subsequent tearful business as knocking down snow people would today be addressed by way of Lithium or Zoloft regimen, putting paid to talk of doll cemeteries and rivers filled with dead bodies. Result: a twenty-first century Tootie neatly lobotomized and no further cause for family alarm.

I’m still not past this business of Rose dating her brother to the Christmas dance. The way it’s set up is distinctly creep-inducing. Did these actors realize their characters were siblings? Henry H. Daniels plays Lon. This was his first film. There wouldn’t be many more, and few of those saw him credited. Daniel’s line readings are weirdly fey. When he’s finally persuaded to ask his sister to the prom, they both play it way too boy-girl for comfort. It’s always fun watching first-time viewers squirm a little during all this. Then there’s the added fill-up of Esther being fitted for her corset in the next scene. Turn off the picture and just listen to the sound next time. It’s as close as you’ll get to a moment of Judy ecstasy beyond what she conveyed singing on stage and screen.

Why couldn’t John simply borrow Grandpa’s tuxedo? That would have been too cruel, I know, but the thought always occurs to me. As it is, the old man has the number of every geek and social outcast in St. Louis. Clinton Badger, Hugo Borvis, Sydney Gorcey. Everyone’s a perfect horror, says Rose (another reason I find her largely unsympathetic). Actually, there are several Clinton Badgers in Meet Me In St. Louis. Some wear glasses and all are adjudged not good enough to dance with the Smith girls (one is unbilled Our Gang alumna Joe Cobb). Esther rigs nemesis Lucille Ballard’s dance card so that she’ll be stuck with the three pariahs. There’s a shot of them looking on with approval, from vantage point of the wallflower’s section, as Esther waltzes off happily with late-arriving John Truett. A follow-up to Meet Me In St. Louis might profitably have explored the lives of Clinton, Hugo, and Sydney, as I’ve no doubt many audience members would have more readily identified with them.

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas as sung by Judy makes me a little weepy even when I hear it in the car. As lead-up to the big emotional meltdown and cathartic finish of Meet Me In St. Louis, this is the song remembered best from the film. That it’s become a Yule standard helps too. Part of my enduring sentiment for MMISL comes of having lucked into a brand new 16mm print in late autumn of 1976. To own such a blockbuster was as intoxicating as Christmas morning itself, especially as we scarcely had St. Louis on the syndicated tube around here. There was a space heater I ran while projecting it that glowed fireplace red. Having Meet Me In St. Louis around the house enhanced a lot of Christmases. If there was ever justification for collecting film in those days, this one supplied it. Warners' new Blu-Ray looks better than most any print, but there’s no duplicating the exhilaration of threading up a rarity seemingly unavailable to anyone else at the time. I wonder if CBS ever considered leasing St. Louis for possible Christmas runs after their 1956 success with The Wizard Of Oz. Trade press at the time doubted any oldie could do perennial duty like Oz. Nothing else was in its class, they said. Still, there might be evergreen status to this day for Meet Me In St. Louis had one of the networks elected to play it yearly for the holidays.

MGM's St. Louis street would serve as backlot shrine and setting for nostalgic themes explored by filmmakers to come. One of them was Rod Serling, who walked down Kensington and saw visions of his own Binghamton, NY upbringing. How many others responded similarly? Serling would translate his sentiment to a Twilight Zone episode called Walking Distance, wherein ad exec Gig Young reclaims simplicity of youth via time travel back to "Homewood," which could stand in for nearly anyplace one was raised during the first half of the 20th Century, being perhaps best represented by familiar street and sets that bred Meet Me In St. Louis (Young's character points out John Truett's MMISL house as the one he grew up in). The culture has changed enough by 2011 for that to no longer be the case, but for many Twilight Zone viewers in 1959 at least, there was, in those St. Louis false-fronts, cherished link back to lives of their own.


Blogger Mike Cline said...

Referring to the pic of the Braukoffs and their dog, I couldn't help but notice how much this shot resembles the shot in GONE WITH THE WIND with the ladies sitting in Mrs. Meade's parlor, while the men are out skirmishing on Decatur Road.

Re: The Twilight Zone

Much of the episode "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" takes place in Andy Hardy's front yard.

8:59 AM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

This is another one that I know I should watch but have a hard time getting past my general hatred of musicals. Always tempted, though, back since an 80s article on John Carpenter referred to the opening of Halloween as a syntheses of the Psycho and the snowman scene in this.

12:37 PM  
Anonymous Paul Duca said...

Presumably, kids are growing up in that same geographic place today...the MGM backlot was developed into condominiums.

1:25 PM  
Anonymous Bob said...

Always loved this movie ... but it was always an oddly love-hate relationship. I really like Leon Ames (poor Mary Astor is wasted), but I had the feeling that the internal dramatics were driven by some teenage girls I didn't like very much...

I interview Margaret O'Brien onstages years ago at a film convention. I thought she was slightly ... unhinged!

4:30 PM  
Anonymous DBenson said...

Always did wonder about that tuxedo business. I just assumed I was missing some nuance that rendered it logical. Now I'm guessing somebody came up with the scene of Judy "magically" changing partners and they hacked together a few lines of dialogue to set it up.

At times it seems the film is all about finding false alarms for poor Judy to be upset and then relieved about: Boyfriend misses the trolley (but catches up); is accused of slugging kid sister (but cleared); bails on dance (but shows up). Then there's the central issue of moving away. Dad simply calls it off with no evident consequences.

It's almost like a series of old sitcom episodes, where every minor confusion ends with everybody happy and exactly where they were before, ready for the next episode. Then again, maybe that's by design. During the war there must have been a hunger for such a safe, predictable world.

5:15 PM  
Blogger Tom Ruegger said...

Margaret O'Brien steals this movie. I think she what makes this film special and lasting.

11:15 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer shares some further thoughts on MMISL:

"Meet Me in St. Louis" is a very special movie musical because it doesn’t try to create a spun candy sort of world. The turn of the century must have seemed an intensely nostalgic period for a country entering the last months of World War II, a time of peace and plenty. Everywhere, the Axis powers were in retreat, but the war was still hard going at home and abroad. The Battle of the Bulge and the invasion of the Phillippines were just a month away when the movie was released, and the battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa would be fought early the following year. It would have been tempting to go for some “laffs,” as so many pictures were during this period, but Vincente Minnelli understood that the gaiety people sought was in the midst of uncertainty and darkness. He also understood that if this was especially pronounced at that particular time, still, there was never any other time entirely without it.To acknowledge this aspect of life would make the characters deeper and more affecting and the hopeful denouement more real, as indeed, it did. “Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas,” wasn’t in the style of the music of 1903, but the sentiment is timeless. Always, it seems, we have to struggle through somehow, and find that happiness we sought not now, but at another time and, finally, when time itself is no more.

The film is also remarkable for the character of “Tootie” and the way Margaret O’Brien plays her. It seems so rare to find a child or adolescent in pictures of the time who is really like a child or an adolescent. So often they seem like little dolls, without lives or fears, or even worse, like small adults. Andy Hardy might have been an amusing character, but he was a comedian who never saw his father cry. Tootie, however, dwelled within that strange realm between her imagination and a world she was just beginning to learn about, between the comfort of a warm kitchen or the embrace of a loving mother or sister, and the darkness filled with ghoulies and ghastlies and things that go bump in the night. "Curse of the Cat People" had been released just a few months before with its own melancholic take on childhood. It would be interesting to know if that small picture intended for quick play dates and double-billing had an affect on this much more prestigous one. Margaret O’Brien is so touching, however, that much credit must go both to her, for the instrument she was, and for the way in which Minnelli used her. She is emotionally transparent, with every eddy or disturbance immediately apparent and true to her character. There are performances to compare to it— Joan Fontaine’s superb realization of Tessa in "The Constant Nymph," Ann Carter in "Curse of the Cat People," and Peggy Ann Garner in "Jane Eyre" — but few others.


8:09 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Had to look at today's MARNIE masthead twice and ask myself, "Who are these people?"

9:29 AM  
Blogger Linwood said...

Margaret O'Brien was not especially pretty (like Judy), so perhaps she had to be a better actor than most of her "doll-like" contemporaries. Despite my aversion to most musicals, your observations have convinced me that I'll have to take another look at this one, for it's dark side.

8:42 AM  
Blogger Tom Ruegger said...

Thanks, Dan Mercer, for your beautiful analysis of Margaret O'Brien's performance in MMISL. I think her Tootie makes it into the top five kid performances in the history of Hollywood. They got more than a great performance from her -- they got a genuine kid living in the moment -- on film. Miraculous.

8:00 PM  
Anonymous heather said...

Thanks for your posts! I really enjoyed them. I've always been fascinated by--and mostly felt sorry for--the Braukoffs too, so it's nice to see that somebody else felt similarly.

Tootie's darkness is what makes this movie, in my opinion. Without it, it would have been very easy for the whole thing to get too cloyingly sweet or (due to the Garland/Bremer plots) lightweight, but her wonderful weirdness balances out the rest of it, and grounds it a little bit. It's a perfect recipe.

4:04 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019
  • May 2019
  • June 2019
  • July 2019
  • August 2019
  • September 2019
  • October 2019
  • November 2019
  • December 2019
  • January 2020
  • February 2020
  • March 2020
  • April 2020
  • May 2020
  • June 2020
  • July 2020
  • August 2020
  • September 2020
  • October 2020
  • November 2020
  • December 2020
  • January 2021
  • February 2021
  • March 2021
  • April 2021