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Film / Meet Me in St. Louis

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"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 film adapted from the stories of Sally Benson, Meet Me in St. Louis was directed by Vincente Minnelli and starred his future wife, Judy Garland, along with Mary Astor, Margaret O'Brien, Leon Ames, Lucille Bremer, Tom Drake, and Marjorie Main.

The film follows a year in the lives of the Smith family, who live in St. Louis at the turn of the 20th century. In particular, it follows the second-eldest daughter, Esther (Garland); her youngest sister, Tootie (O'Brien); and Esther's crush, John Truitt (Drake). Everyone is excited about the coming of the 1904 World's Fair; however, that all changes when Mr. Smith (Ames) announces that the family might be uprooted to New York.

Remade in 1959 as a live television production on CBS, starring Tab Hunter, Jane Powell, Walter Pidgeon, Jeanne Crain, Reta Shaw, Ed Wynn, Myrna Loy, and Patty Duke. A Screen-to-Stage Adaptation went to Broadway in 1989.

This film features examples of:

  • Adorably Precocious Child: Tootie is only five and has a strange obsession with play-acting that her dolls die of fatal diseases and holding funerals for them. She also apparently buries them in the cemetery.
  • All There in the Manual: According to the script (and a line at the Winter Ball), Grandpa's last name is Prophater, making him Anna's father and not Alonso's.
  • 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.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Having finally made up his mind about his feelings for Rose, Warren decides to make them known by bursting into her house after midnight on Christmas morning and loudly declaring in front of her entire family that "We are to be married at the earliest opportunity and I don't want to hear any argument about it!" Rose is overjoyed, but doesn't get to say a single word in reply before Warren storms back out.
  • Anti-Christmas Song: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" was written for the climax, where Esther tries to comfort her Tootie over the fact that this will be the family's last Christmas at home before moving to New York. Lyrics originally included lines like "Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last,/Next year we may all be living in the past" or "Faithful friends who were dear to us, will be near to us no more." Judy Garland absolutely refused to perform the song until the lyrics were changed to something that wouldn't make her seem like a total monster. The film was released in 1944, during World War II, when everyone in the audience knew men serving overseas, and knew that it was likely that this merry little Christmas would be the last for some of them. Even the toned-down version thus had an emotional resonance that we today cannot fully appreciate.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: According to Tootie, Mr. Braukoff poisons cats, beats his wife with a red hot poker and leaves empty whiskey bottles in his cellar.
  • Artistic Licence - Geography:
    • Mountains can occasionally be seen in some shots. St Louis is on the prairie and does not have any mountains.
    • "The Trolley Song" gives the World's Fair location as Huntington Park. It was actually Forest Park.
  • Artistic Licence – History:
    • The film takes place in 1903 and opens with several characters singing the song "Meet Me in St Louis", which wasn't written until 1904.
    • Tootie likewise sings a bit of the hymn "Brighten the Corner Where You Are", which wasn't written until 1913.
    • John says that he and Esther are "almost" the legal age to marry without their parents' consent. They are seventeen, but in Missouri at the time, the marrying age was fifteen.
  • Best Friends-in-Law: The ending hints that Rose, Esther, and Lucille become this, as Lucille is implied to marry Rose and Esther's brother Lon and is present with the rest of the family at the fair. Lucille is very warm with the rest of the family and gets along great with them.
  • 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.
  • Big Sister Instinct: When Esther thinks that John attacked Tootie, she goes over to his house and physically attacks him.
  • Broken Tears: At Christmas, while Esther is singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", Tootie realizes how much she's going to miss St. Louis, and has a full-blown meltdown where she runs out of the house in tears and starts destroying all the snow people they had made, because she can't take them with her to New York.
  • Bully Bulldog: Subverted in the Halloween sequence. When Tootie has to "Kill the Braukoffs," another child protests, "The Braukoffs have a fierce bulldog! She'll be torn to pieces!" After Tootie throws flour into Mr. Braukoff's face to "kill" him, the bulldog is seen quietly and unconcernedly snuffling up the flour rather than noticing Tootie at all.
  • Christmas Episode: The "Winter 1903" segment takes place on Christmas Eve.
  • Christmas Songs: This film introduced "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", which has become a much-recorded holiday standard.
  • Cool Old Guy: Grandpa. He sings (and dances!) along to "Meet Me In St. Louis", he's more cheerful and optimistic than his son-in-law, he knows how to comfort Esther when she doesn't have a date to the dance, he's fun-loving, gives the younger girls advice on how to make the flour stick to their trick-or-treat victims, and he is more tolerant and willing to humor his grandchildren than their father is.
  • Costume Porn: A lot of lavish dresses, particularly on Esther and Rose. In the scene of the World's Fair, Agnes and Tootie get to be dressed up in plenty of frills and bows as well.
  • 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.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Almost everybody gets some snark in at least once.
    • Grandpa uses it very effectively to comment on the entire family keeping a secret from Mr. Smith alone:
      "Your papa's not supposed to know. It's enough we're letting him work hard every day to support the whole flock of us. He can't have everything."
    • Katie gets in on the Deadpan Snarker game frequently. (See Servile Snarker.)
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Subverted. Esther attacks John when she thinks he attacked Tootie. When she discovers Tootie lied, she's incredibly guilty and apologises, and John shows her all the injuries she caused. It's glossed over after that scene though.
  • Easily Forgiven: Downplayed with Esther and John after Esther attacks John due to a misunderstanding. Esther was genuinely laboring under a misunderstanding, didn't really hurt him badly, and immediately returned to apologize when she realized she was in the wrong; but it's still rather remarkable how good-natured John was about it, and how quickly and easily he forgave her. Most people would be upset for at least a little while and need time to cool off.
    • Tootie, after endangering a streetcar, and then lying about John trying to kill her, leading to the above misunderstanding. She is neither punished nor made to apologize to anyone, and everyone laughs it off.
  • Fiery Redhead: Esther, with her reddish-blonde hair, is a bit tomboyish, very protective of her sisters (to the point of beating up her crush because she thought he hurt one of them) and very spirited.
  • Girl Next Door: Inverted, as the girl is the main character and sings about "The Boy Next Door."
  • Guile Heroine: Esther is a sweet girl, but she isn't afraid to use her charms and cunning to get what she wants, in particular John. Likewise both she and Rose go on to plan ruining Lon's crush and Rose's supposed romantic rival, Lucille Ballard, after she turns Lon down for Warren as her escort at the Christmas Ball. It backfires in Esther's face, when Lucille turns out to be a perfectly lovely young woman who only went to the Ball with Warren as a friend, and both she and Warren really wanted to go with Lon and Rose respectively.
  • Halloween Episode: There's a whole Halloween scene for the "Autumn 1903" bit.
  • Halloween Trickery: Tootie throws flour at one of the cranky old neighbours so she can partake in a bonfire for burning furniture.
  • Happily Married: Lon and Anna Smith, played by Leon Ames and Mary Astor. They share an incredibly lovely duet called "You and I" just to drive the point home.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The line Make the Yuletide gay, from "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas".
  • Hollywood Costuming: Although the costumes themselves are fairly accurate to the time period, Rose and Esther wear their hair down at a lot of social gatherings when young women of their age (18-20 and 17 respectively) would surely have worn it up, as pretty much every other woman in the film does. Amusingly, in the lyrics of "The Trolley Song," Esther describes herself as having a period-correct hairdo ("my hair piled high upon my head") despite her not actually wearing her hair like that.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Rose is not pleased with Esther drawing attention to her relationship with Warren by trying to make sure everybody's out of the room when he calls, and haughtily declares, "When you get to be my age, you'll realize that there are more important things in life than boys!" This becomes amusing in hindsight, as it becomes clear that Rose is by far the more boy-crazy one. She also claims she doesn't care about Warren's phone call, but then starts crying when it seems that she's missed it.
  • Informed Poverty: Despite the family's apparent affluence, when Agnes asks why they wouldn't be living in a house in New York, Rose replies, "Rich people live in houses. People like us live in flats," implying that they're considered middle class at best. Of course, Rose may have only meant that they're not rich compared to people who can afford houses in New York.
  • Irrelevant Act Opener: In some versions, the housekeeper sings "A Touch of the Irish", a song about women-men relationships and how Irish women handle them.
  • "I Want" Song: Esther just adores the boy next door. Her only regret is they've never met.
  • 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]
    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.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Esther has a mild case after she beats up John for hurting Tootie, only to realize that John was innocent, and in fact did what he could to protect Tootie.
    • Mr. Smith also has his moment when he witnesses Tootie's startling meltdown over the prospect of moving out of St. Louis. This inspires him to change his mind and call off the move.
  • Nice Guy: John Truitt. He is friendly, polite, and kind. He also turns out to be quite selfless; later in the film he drags Tootie away from an accident she caused so that she wouldn't get in trouble, despite the risk of getting in trouble himself. Then, when Esther thinks he hurt Tootie and beats him up over it, he forgives her almost immediately when she returns to apologize, and even initiates their First Kiss moments later.
  • No Antagonist: All of the conflict in the movie comes from disappointments and misunderstandings. It isn't until more than halfway through the movie that Mr. Smith announces the family's impending move, which threatens to upset everyone else's lives, and he calls it off as soon as he realizes how heartbroken they truly are over it.
  • No Social Skills: Esther's crush, John Truitt. He's an exceptionally nice and well-mannered young man, but he tends to be a bit awkward, or accidentally put his foot in his mouth. His first time alone with Esther, he compliments her perfume, and when she tells him what it is, he remarks "Exactly the kind my grandmother uses!" When they shake hands as he's leaving, his awkward parting words are, "You've got a mighty strong grip, for a girl!"
  • Not Listening to Me, Are You?: After John kisses Esther, she says something stupid and wanders back to her house in a daze with an idiotic grin on her face. When her mother says, "Your ice cream is melting," Esther dreamily responds, "Isn't it?" Then when her mother asks if there's something wrong with her, Esther thoughtlessly replies, "Yes, Mama," and then goes to say something, but stops. It takes her two youngest sisters mocking her to snap her out of it.
  • Of Corset Hurts: One scene features Rose lacing a reluctant and complaining Esther into a corset in preparation for a party.
    Rose: You look grand, simply elegant.
    Esther: I feel elegant, but I can't breathe!
  • Of Corsets Sexy: The same sequence above continues for a while with Esther and Rose in the corsets to provide mild Fanservice.
  • Old Maid: Esther acts as if Rose is this, when she appears to be eighteen or nineteen.
    Esther: The truth is, she's not getting any younger.
    The girls squeal as Rose arrives home.
    Katie: There's the poor old maid now.
  • Pair the Spares: Unusually, two separate love triangles are resolved in one stroke: Rose/Warren/Lucille and Warren/Lucille/Lon Jr are both neatly dealt with by making Rose/Warren and Lucille/Lon the Official Couples.
  • Post-Kiss Catatonia: Esther is hit hard with this after her First Kiss with John. All she can say in reply is "You've got a mighty strong grip for a boy." She then saunters away in a dreamlike state, and is still out of it when she makes her way into her house and sits at the dining room table.
    Mrs. Smith: Esther, your ice cream is melting.
    Esther: [dreamily] Isn't it?
  • Public Secret Message: Rose to Esther: "The plans have changed."
  • Random Events Plot: The film is mostly a series of vignettes; the main conflict of the movie, about whether to move to New York, isn't introduced until the movie is almost over.
  • Redhead In Green: Rose has redder hair than Esther and wears a green evening dress to the Christmas party.
  • Romantic Wingman: Grandpa for Esther at the ball, especially when he whisks her away from one of the guys on her dance card, and then hands her off to John when he unexpectedly arrives.
    Grandpa: Pardon me, young man, but in the great country of China, when a stranger admires one of your possessions, it's common courtesy to offer it to him.
    Kid at the ball: That's very interesting…
    Grandpa: Yes. Well I spent many years in China, and if you want to make me feel thoroughly at home, you might offer me your partner.
    Kid at the ball: Huh?
    Grandpa: Spoken like a gentleman.
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: A stock version appeared in the 1960s, and a somewhat different version reached Broadway in 1989.
  • Servile Snarker: Katie is wonderful.
    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!
  • Shown Their Work: The entire cast and crew were immediately impressed with Vincente Minnelli's attention to detail in every shot. He had consulted author Sally Benson on how the interiors of the Smith home should look, and she had provided a wealth of firsthand information. As a result, the look of each set was near perfection according to the time period. Not only did its novelist, Benson, give explicit directions as to the decor of her family's home down to the last detail, but the movie's costume designer also took inspiration for many of the movies costumes right out of the Sears & Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, and Marshall Fields catalogs from the time period. According to Mary Astor, "The only anachronisms were the girls' long-swinging hairdos. Girls 'put their hair up' as soon as they got out of pigtails, the first instant they were allowed to by reluctant parents. It was a symbol, like the first long pants for boys".
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Esther falls for John Truitt, who is friendly, kind, soft-spoken, and caring.
  • Take Our Word for It: Although much of the plot surrounds the family attending The World's Fair and they do eventually go by the end of the film, ultimately, we never actually see the event itself.
  • Tears of Joy: Esther is crying these after John proposes to her.
  • Time to Move: This is the primary conflict of the film. At Halloween, Mr. Smith announces that they're moving to New York, because he's being transferred there for his work. Of course, as per the definition of the trope, he calls it off in the end.
  • Titled After the Song: The title tune was written well before the film.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: This happens to two plans, one at the film's opening, and one near the end:
    • 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. 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.
  • Visible Boom Mic: A boom mic shadow is visible on the carriage when the family is leaving to go to the fair.
  • 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?
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Tootie tries this to avoid admitting how she hurt herself and getting in trouble.


Video Example(s):


Esther Smith's all tied up

Esther Smith is tightly corseted by her sister Rose, to get a figure ready for the Christmas Ball.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / OfCorsetHurts

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