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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best family musical ever!, 11 May 2004
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This review is from: Meet Me In St Louis [DVD] [1944] (DVD)
This special edition of ‘Meet Me in St Louis’ will not disappoint those who have been eagerly awaiting its first release on DVD. The quality of the restoration is truly magnificent … and the extra disc of bonus material is a delight.
The first disc has a personal introduction by Liza Minelli; highly appropriate, as her mother was the film’s star and her father was the director. As soon as the film starts, you know you’re in for a treat. In 1944 Technicolor was in its infancy, so whenever a colour movie was filmed, every effort was made to make it as vibrant as possible. The rich jewel colours and sumptuous detail of both the interiors and costumes almost give the illusion of watching an oil painting come to life!
The film is set in the 12 months immediately prior to the opening of Louisiana Purchase Exposition (A.K.A. the World’s Fair) in 1904, and charts the life of the Smith family (Father, mother, 4 sisters, 1 brother, grandpa and Katie the maid). The script was initially based on a series of short stories by Sally Benson, telling the true story of her childhood at 5135 Kensington Avenue. The stories were so popular that Sally later added further chapters turning them into a novel, first published the same year as the film’s original theatrical release. Sally Benson remained on hand throughout the preparation of the film’s interior sets, ensuring that every detail of her childhood home was faithfully recreated. As a result, the finished product is one of those rare instances when an adapted film truly reflects the author’s written work.
The plot is a simple one … and the better for it. Like the book, it is little more than a series of domestic family incidents with a romantic sub-plot (divided into 4 seasons rather than the 12 months of the original novel). It is a charming insight into the totally different world of exactly 100 years ago … a time when: telephones were a modern contrivance and a long distance call was a momentous event; nice girls didn’t let a man kiss them until after they were engaged; homes were lit by gas; and ‘Hell’ was swearing … polite people merely said ‘H’ instead!
For possibly the first time, the musical numbers fitted seamlessly into the plot … rather than everything stopping for a contrived song and dance. It seems perfectly natural for Esther to sing to her distraught younger sister in an attempt to comfort her, or for them to perform an impromptu cakewalk for their guests at a supper party. Or, after a family rift, Mrs Smith plays the piano for her husband, and as he sings a sentimental old ballad, the family reunite, sensing that whatever their problems they still have each other. Add to these show-stoppers like ‘The Trolley Song' and the inevitable result is a family musical without equal.
Although this is arguably Judy Garland’s finest performance, ‘Meet Me in St Louis’ is a true ensemble piece … and every role is cast and played to perfection (if you can trace a rare copy of Benson’s original book, you’ll see what I mean). Six year-old Margaret O’Brien won an Oscar for her portrayal of Tootie, the Smith’s youngest yet most eccentric daughter; her heart-rending scene with the snow-people is perhaps the best child performance of all time. Hearing her own reminiscences of filming (on the director’s commentary) is one of the things that really makes this special edition so special!
The bonus material on the second disc is well worth having: a ‘behind the scenes making-of’ documentary; a pilot episode of a television spin-off; a 1946 radio broadcast of an abridged version of the film … and much, much more.
Apart from one minor gripe (this isn't a wide-screen edition), I cannot recommend this DVD enough! If you’re already a fan of this wonderful musical, I also recommend the BFI Film Classics book by Gerald Kaufman, also available from Amazon. It’s full of great photos, many more behind-the-scenes stories and explores in detail Vincent Minelli’s contribution as director.
Add this fantastic DVD to your collection now – you won’t be sorry!
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