2020 Blind Spot Series: Meet Me In St. Louis/Summer Stock


What I knew going in: The famous songs.

IMDB sums up Meet Me In St. Louis up best. "In the year leading up to the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, the four Smith daughters learn lessons of life and love, even as they prepare for a reluctant move to New York." The majority of the film follows Esther Smith (Judy Garland) as she tries to get her new neighbor Jon Pruitt (Tom Drake) to notice her. Esther also has an older love sick sister Rose (Lucille Bremer) and two mischievous little sisters, Agnes and Tootie (Joan Carroll and Margaret O'Brien) 

I realized, embarrassingly that I'm not very well versed in the late, great Judy Garland's filmography. I knew plenty about the drama surrounding her life, but I had only seen two of her films. This year I decided to right that wrong and I figured Meet Me In St. Louis was a good place to start.

This movie was delightful and just what I needed after a long, depressing week of another needless killing of a black man by a police officer in America. (You're reading this in August, but I'm typing this review on May 31st. Hopefully people have started to listen to the protesters more by now) It lifted my spirits for a short while, and for that I'm very thankful.

Judy is wonderful and her voice is just something else. The films is so bright and colorful and she radiates joy throughout. The Smith family was fun to watch and it was nice to get all the context behind the musical numbers I was familiar with. I wish Joan Carroll would've gotten more to do though. She opens the movie singing the title song briefly, then she's really just background noise to Margaret O'Brien, who had the juicer role of the two younger sisters. 

Grade: A

Memorable Quote: "Oh I don't hate you, I just hate basketball." - Esther (Judy Garland)

Now onto Summer Stock, in this film Judy plays Jane, a down on her luck farmer whose sister Abigail (Gloria DeHaven) shows up one day with about 20 actors in tow and has promised them the barn for the show. Jane beings to butt heads, then fall for the show's director and star, Joe. (Gene Kelly)

I love me some Gene Kelly but everyone in this movie aside from Jane, Joe, and Esme (Marjorie Main) is too dumb for words. That made it a little hard to watch at times, but the dance numbers were so much fun that I would forget it about briefly. I read a lot about the backstage drama surrounding this film. How Judy was at the height of her drug addiction, and performance wise you never would've guessed. She's good here too and Kelly is an absolute delight.

As you probably can tell, I liked Meet Me In St. Louis far more, but don't sleep on Summer Stock. It's enjoyable enough, plot contrivances aside.

Grade: B

Memorable Quote: "We're trying to tell a story with music and song and dance." - Joe (Gene Kelly)

Comments

  1. This is a very sweet film with some great song like the To.ley Song and the Christmas classic”Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The kid hugged me a bit but that’s about it. I love the colours, the music and Judy is wonderful in it. This is when she met Vincent’s Minnelli and, at first, they didn’t get along but that changed. Unfortunately, I think Minnelli was not strong enough to handle the huge personality of Garland nor her addictions.

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    1. Meet Me in St. Louis is my favorite thing I've watched on my Blind Spots this year. Lovely film

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  2. OK, Judy Garland is a big hole in my film viewing that I need to fill as I've only seen her in The Wizard of Oz as I'm glad to see that there's a few films for me to watch aside from A Star is Born which I keep putting off because my DVR hard drive never had enough room.

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    1. At least I know I'm not alone in doing something I probably should've done years ago.

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  3. Ziegfeld Girl (1941) and Judgment At Nuremberg (1961) are two movies worth checking out to discover Judy Garland in varied roles.

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    1. I've seen Judgment At Nuremberg, which I really enjoyed! I never would've thought of her casting wise for that role.

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  4. So glad you watched these two!!

    Meet Me in St. Louis is a lovingly nostalgic salute to that period in time with meticulous attention to detail. Judy originally was reluctant to do the film because of Esther’s age. She had been playing adult roles in her last few films and felt it was a step backwards to be seen as a high school student. But she was prevailed upon to accept and after a few weeks she warmed to the role in part because the film never asked her to act childishly and except in passing references school never entered into the narrative that much.

    Judy’s definitely the anchor of the film but she is surrounded by some great costars. Mary Astor plays the mother just right, patient and calm but able to rein her kids and her husband in with a few well-chosen words. I have a soft spot for both Leon Ames (Papa) and Harry Davenport (Grandpa)-his small scene with Esther just before the dance is so tenderly done. Marjorie Main is fantastic as always as the acerbic Katie….And I LOVE Agnes!!! She’s wasted, her saying “Oh Rose you’re so stuck up.” makes me laugh every time I hear it. Everyone always goes crazy over Tootie but I’ve always found her a deeply disturbing character. Let’s face it the kid has all the earmarks of a future serial killer! She is great in the Halloween segment (such a dark sequence in an otherwise sunny entertainment) but other than that she worked my nerves.

    The music is wonderful, I’m sure you’ve read that Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas was written specifically for Judy but in its original form the lyric "Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight" was "It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past" and Judy said that she couldn’t sing that to a weeping child, people would think she was a monster and insisted on the change. It’s a great number but “The Trolley Song” is my favorite in the film. It’s a fun little tune that Judy really makes work with her delivery. She’s at her peak in that moment.

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    1. You're absolutely right about Tootie lol. I would've rather seen more of Agnes. I liked her. I love both those musical moments. I can see why the Trolley Song is still so popular cinematically.

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  5. On to Summer Stock. It isn’t in the same league but I love the film almost entirely (that dog number though could have ended up on the cutting room floor with zero loss!) Orville is a dunce, Abigail a thoughtless bitch, she sings well though, and a little Phil Silvers goes a very long way but all of them are off on the sidelines so I can ignore them.

    Judy is a breezy delight but the way her weight noticeably fluctuates from scene to scene is an indicator of the troubles she was experiencing. The film was supposed to shoot in six weeks and all told took six months! The tractor sequence “Howdy Neighbor!” took three weeks alone and they finally had to piece it together from what usable footage they had.

    Gene Kelly’s first film was “For Me and My Gal” costarring with Judy, she took him under her wing and taught him all about filming. They were fast friends from that point on and so when approached with something that would have at any other time ended up in his wastepaper basket he accepted his part out of loyalty to Judy.

    Even if it isn’t in the top tier of either’s filmography the picture contains some lovely segments.

    Gene dancing with the newspaper is one and the pair’s challenge dance another. I think that number shows what an expert dancer Judy could be, something she did in several films but was never noted for. But my favorite song in the entire picture is the lovely “Friendly Star” and her gentle somewhat mournful rendition is so delicate.

    The famous “Get Happy” number was filmed several weeks after the movie’s production had wrapped and she’s lost 20 pounds in the interim. She’s so vivid in it and spry but her demons overwhelmed her soon after and she was unable to work. This was the last thing she performed at MGM.

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    1. I read that about Get Happy and her weight fluctuation. I always tend to read the IMDb trivia after or before I watch a film. I think I check that site daily. The newspaper dance was my favorite because I imagine that would be infuriating to do over and over.

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  6. Having broken the ice with these two (I’m guessing one of the previous two you’ve seen was Wizard of Oz but what’s the other?) I can offer some recommendations of where to go next in Judy’s films.

    Her “A Star is Born” is essential-a word of warning after it premiered Warner Brothers hacked it up to allow for more showings a day and some of the footage was lost though during its restoration the entire soundtrack was found. So in the first hour or so there are several instances where the soundtrack plays over photos from the lost sequences. It’s a bit distracting at first but better if you are aware it’s coming. The film is her absolute pinnacle. She was nominated for Best Actress and should have won but didn’t.

    Otherwise I’d say “Listen Darling” (where Mary Astor first played her mother), “Strike Up the Band” and “Ziegfeld Girl” from her early films, “For Me and My Gal”, “Presenting Lily Mars” and “The Clock” (it’s a straight romance where she doesn’t sing) from her middle period, and “The Harvey Girls” and “Easter Parade” from her adult MGM phase though any of her Metro films are worth your time.

    She was Oscar nominated again for Judgement at Nuremberg but in support. Her role as a German woman who was sterilized by the Nazis is small and the film is a tough watch but she’s excellent.

    Her final film “I Could Go On Singing” is another essential. It’s not the greatest film but it is in many ways autobiographical and during her musical numbers (and her prep before going on stage) you get probably the closest sense of what it was like to see her in person.

    Sorry I went on so but being a fan and having seen all her films it’s nice to be able to do something with the information!

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    1. Don't apologize! I love your long comments. :)

      Judgement at Nuremberg is the other one I've seen. I do plan on watching her version of A Star is Born, I didn't love the Lady Gaga version, I actually had some pretty big problems with the relationship, but maybe the older setting will make it a bit less distracting for me. Strike Up The Band is another one I plan on watching.

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    2. I didn't love the latest version either. The Gaga one was based more on the Barbra Streisand remake atrocity (and I say that as a huge Babs fan) that bowdlerized and coarsened what in the Judy version is tender but troubled union.

      James Mason does a much better job with Maine (in the '54 version as well as the earlier non-musical version from the 30's the character's first name is Norman) than Bradley Cooper. But then the character wasn't as much of a selfish jerk in the earlier versions either. More weak and in the thrall of an addiction he was helpless to beat.

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  7. I was also late seeing Meet Me in St Louis, only saw it for the first time a year ago. I was always confused why this was on the Christmas film list when not even half of it happens in that season!

    Now I really want to see Summer Stock!! How have I not heard of this??

    Great post!!

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    1. Oh I know, Christmas season is literally like 10 minutes of screen time. lol

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  8. Glad to see you jump on the Judy train! I echo a lot of joel65913's comments, especially the recommendations of movies to check out next. Despite her personal problems and how MGM treated her, she always gave consummate performances and it's rarely noticeable on-screen.

    I recently re-watched Meet Me In St. Louis, and Tootie and her sister are nastier than I remembered. I couldn't believe they were close to nearly killing a trolly full of people. But Judy is absolutely love - the costumes, music, and production design are gorgeous. And despite how lopsided some parts of Summer Stock is, Judy and Gene are lovely. If I remember correctly, she got a standing ovation after some of her numbers from fans at the theaters because of how much they loved her. It's a shame she couldn't see how much she was admired and struggled with the studios so much.

    If I could recommend something to avoid, it'd be the tv biopic Me and My Shadows by her daughter Lorna Luft. Not only is some of the stories contrary to Liza and Joe's experiences, but it comes across as a hack job more than a biopic. I love Judy Davis, who plays the older iteration of her, but Davis's performance is....yesh. lol

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    1. I'll keep in mind to avoid that one!

      If I were a crew member I'd probably also give Judy a standing O every time she performed. lol

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  9. I'm also light on my Judy Garland. Thanks for encouraging me to take a step in that direction.

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    1. You're welcome! :) I hope you find something you like.

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