"Just when St. Louis was going to be the center of attention of the entire universe..."
Clang, clang, clang went the trolley
Ding, ding, ding went the bell
Zing, zing, zing went my heartstrings
As we started for Huntington Dell.
— "The Trolley Song"
A classic 1944 musical adapted from the stories of Sally Benson, Meet Me in St. Louis was directed by Vincente Minelli and starred his future wife, Judy Garland. It follows the lives of the Smith family, who live in St Louis during the turn of the century. In particular, it follows the second-eldest daughter, Esther, her youngest sister Tootie, and Esther's crush, John. Everyone is excited with the coming of the 1904 World's fair; however, that all changes when Mr. Smith announces that the family might be uprooted to New York.
Ambiguous Innocence: Tootie and Agnes, the youngest of the Smith family, certainly qualify. When Katie, the family's cook, tells Agnes that she kicked her cat down the cellar stairs, Agnes cries, "If you've killed her, I'll kill you! I'll stab you to death in your sleep and tie you to two wild horses 'til you're pulled apart!" It's obvious that she would never actually attempt this, but while she is a sweet and mostly ordinary girl, she seems to have a keen interest in gore and graphic violence, and it's rather troubling at times. She even hopes aloud that Rose got her a hunting knife for Christmas. Tootie, meanwhile, loves to play with her dolls like any normal child, but she also likes to say that they have "four fatal diseases" so that they can "die" and she can give them "beautiful funerals" and bury them in the graveyard. When Mr. Smith announces that they'll be moving, she comments, "It'll take a week to dig up all my dolls from the cemetery!" She also apparently has a plan to dig a tunnel into a neighbour's yard just so that she can grab her legs when she's walking past. Their mischievousness crosses into the territory of Enfant Terrible when they stuff a dress to make it look like a body and put it on the streetcar tracks to see what will happen. Tootie gets injured when Esther's crush, John, tries to hide her and Agnes from the police. Then Tootie even tries a Wounded Gazelle Gambit to get out of trouble, claiming that John tried to kill her. Even when the family discovers what really happened from Agnes, both the girls get off scot-free. Tootie doesn't even get punished for lying about John. Their behaviour and interests are a bit unsettling even by today's standards, so considering that this takes place over a century ago, it's a little surreal that their family doesn't seem at all concerned by it.
Anachronism Stew: While mostly faithful to its 1903-1904 setting, the hairstyles are very 1940s, and the title song (which the characters sing in 1903) was written in 1904.
Betty and Veronica: Subverted. While she certainly is "alluring and exotic", Lucille turns out to be a nice and mature person — arguably the most mature of the group — and lets Rose have Warren because she knows it's her he's interested in.
It really doesn't hurt that Lucille herself is much more interested in Rose's brother Lon.
Christmas Songs: Introduced that standard, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."
Crappy Holidays: The Smiths' Christmas is under a pall due to the family's imminent move to New York. Ultimately subverted when Mr. Smith announces they're staying in St. Louis after all, followed by Warren proposing to Rose.
Girl Next Door: Inverted, as the girl is the main character and sings about "The Boy Next Door."
Have a Gay Old Time: The line Make the Yuletide gay, from "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas".
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Mr. Smith. He can be, as he puts it, "a little bombastic" when things aren't going his way. But it's also shown very clearly that he genuinely loves every member of his family, and this scene reveals what a softie he can be:
Mr. Smith: Anna, I'm curious — just when was I voted out of this family? Mrs. Smith: Oh, Lon, really now. Mr. Smith: What else am I to think? My eldest daughter is practically on her honeymoon and everybody knows about it but me! In view of this family's refusal to let me in on their little intrigues, I'll handle the telephone in my own way! From now on, I'll take all incoming calls! [telephone rings] [beat] Mr. Smith: ...Rose, you answer that.
Karma Houdini: Neither Tootie nor Agnes receive any punishment whatsoever for almost causing a streetcar accident on purpose, and anyone with the least bit of sense would've severely punished Tootie for falsely claiming that John Truitt tried to kill her — especially when he in fact had tried to help her; but she doesn't get so much as a spanking because everyone decides it's funny. Because reckless endangerment and defamation are hilarious.
What's worse is that Rose even defends Tootie when Esther gets mad at her for lying. "After all, she was good about her lip and didn't cry!" Not to mention that earlier in the scene, when Rose says to Agnes, "You might have killed dozens of people!", Agnes replies, "Oh, Rose! You're so stuck-up!" Apparently the film agrees, since Rose ends up just laughing about it with them, leading to some Values Dissonance.
Love at First Sight: "The moment I saw him smile, I knew he was just my style / My only regret is we've never met, though I dream of him all the while..."
Love Triangle: Between Rose, Warren, and Lucille (as well as between Warren, Lucille, and Alonzo Jr). It doesn't last long, though.
Lyrical Dissonance: Subverted for "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas;" the original lyrics were quite depressing as per the slow song it is. The song-writer later said it was written with a eye to the soldiers fighting in WW2. The opening lines where: Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas / It might be your last.'
Agnes: Katie, where's my cat? Where is she? Katie: I don't know...a little while ago she got in my way so I kicked her down the cellar steps. I could hear her spine hit on every step! Agnes:[horrified] Oh! If you've killed her, I'll kill you! I'll stab you to death in your sleep and tie you to two wild horses 'til you're pulled apart! Katie: Oh, wouldn't that be terrible now? [pointing at a chair where the cat sits unharmed] There's your cat.
Mr. Smith: Katie, I'm sorry I couldn't eat an hour earlier. Katie: Don't blame me if the corned beef's an hour tougher!
Esther asks Katie to tell "a little white lie" to get Mrs. Smith to agree to having dinner an hour early, so that the family won't be listening in when Warren calls Rose long-distance from New York. Mrs. Smith either overhears or figures out for herself what the real reason for eating early is. In fact, everyone except Mr. Smith ends up knowing before dinner what's going on* Tootie: "Everyone knows but Papa?" Grandpa: "Your papa's not supposed to know. It's enough that we're letting him work hard every day to support the whole flock of us. He can't have everything.". Then Mr. Smith comes home stressed from work, and refuses to eat an hour early since he was planning on soaking in the cool bath for an hour. Then when they do have dinner, they try to get it over with quickly, but Mr. Smith, whose mood has much improved, suggests they enjoy "a nice, leisurely meal", and resists all attempts to steamroll through dinner. When the phone rings, he answers it, and when asked about a call from New York, says he's "not calling New York", and the operator hangs up.
Despite The Plan saves the day and Rose gets her call (though Warren doesn't propose as everyone expected).
Esther and Rose's plan to ruin Lucille Ballard's evening would have worked beautifully if not for the fact that Lucille turned out to be arguably the most mature of the group, insisting Warren spend the night with Rose because he spends all his time talking about her anyway, leaving them no choice but to cancel the plan.
Seeing as Grandpa seemed to have figured out what was going on even before the plan was botched, he might have ended up intervening if they hadn't called it off on their own, so it may have been doomed either way.
What Happened to the Mouse?: There's never any answer given for how John got a tuxedo for the Christmas dance. Maybe he found that tailor?