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WANER

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Vincente Minnelli
Cast:
Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien, Mary Astor, Lucille Bremer, Leon Ames, Tom Drake, Marjorie Main, Harry Davenport
Writing Credits:
Irving Brecher, Fred F. Finklehoffe, Sally Benson (based on the book by)

Tagline:
A cast of favorites in the Charming ... Romantic ... Tuneful Love Story of the Early 1900s!

Synopsis:
One of the finest American musicals, this 1944 film by Vincente Minnelli is an intentionally self-contained story set in 1903, in which a happy St. Louis family is shaken to their roots by the prospect of moving to New York, where the father has a better job pending. Judy Garland heads the cast in what amounts to a splendid, end-of-an-era story that nicely rhymes with the onset of the 20th century. The film is extraordinarily alive, the characters strong, and the musical numbers are so splendidly part of the storytelling that you don't feel the film has stopped for an interlude.

Box Office:
Budget
$1.707 million.
Domestic Gross
$7.566 million.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA 5.0
Spanish Monaural
French Monaural
Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English

Runtime: 113 min.
Price: $35.99
Release Date: 12/13/2011

Bonus:
• Introduction by Liza Minnelli
• Audio Commentary With Biographer John Fricke, Composer Hugh Martin, Screenwriter Irving Brecher, Producer’s Daughter Barbara Freed-Saltzman and Actors June Lockhart and Margaret O’Brien
• “The Making of An American Classic” Documentary
• “Hollywood: The Dream Factory” Documentary
• “Becoming Attractions: Judy Garland” Documentary
• 1966 TV Pilot
• “Bubbles” Short Subject
• “Skip to My Lou” Short Subject
• Outtake
• 12/2/1946 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast
• Music-Only Track
• Trailer
• Hardcover Book
• CD Soundtrack Sampler


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Meet Me In St. Louis [Blu-Ray Book] (1944)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 2, 2011)

Question of the day: is 1944’s Meet Me in St. Louis a holiday film? It appears to be regarded as one, though only a small section of the flick actually takes place during the Yuletide period. However, the movie boasts a classic song via “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, and that appears to trump logic – a holiday picture it is!

A holiday picture that doesn’t sniff a holiday until it’s half-over – and even then the holiday in question is Halloween. The action launches in the summer of 1903 and we follow the adventures of the Smith family of St. Louis, with a particular focus on two high school age daughters. Esther (Judy Garland) develops a crush on John Truett (Tom Drake), the new to town literal “boy next door”. Rose (Lucille Bremer) hopes for a long-distance proposal from Warren Sheffield (Robert Sully), but she receives only disappointment during an awkward phone call. We mainly follow the Esther/John romance, with other family issues a lesser consideration.

And by “lesser consideration”, I mean they really don’t matter. Heck, in terms of plot, even the Esther/John story doesn’t boast much value. It becomes the closest thing Meet has to an actual narrative, but it’s more of a running theme than anything else; for all intents and purposes, Meet lacks a plot.

Instead, it’s a collection of little vignettes that occasionally revolve around various songs – and the promise of the ginormous 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, which gets everyone agog well in advance. Man, was life in 1903 so dull that no one had any reason to live other than a months-away fair? I guess, as it sure doesn’t seem like anyone here has much to do other than worry if boys like them and what they’ll wear to the big dance.

Meet displays an idealized middle America, the sort that Walt Disney embraced and the company continues to propagate at its parks. At Disney World and Disneyland, Main Street is attractive but dull, and that’s a pretty good summary for Meet: while the film has some charm and appeal, it tends to be a slow-moving snoozer.

The lack of a plot really does it harm. I don’t demand that every movie I see boast a clear, tight A-to-B narrative, but I’d like something a little more involving than this. Meet goes for exceedingly long stretches in which it feels like nothing happens. Yes, we do see a progression at work here; by the end, both of the Smith daughters are paired with their beaus, and a family crisis involving a potential move gets averted.

However, the film ekes precious little drama out of these events. We’re never particularly sure why a move to New York is such an awful thing, though I suspect we’re supposed to view the Big City as a threat to the Smith family’s Thoroughly Decent Ideals; perhaps we’re supposed to believe they’ll become corrupted within seconds of entry into the Big Apple. Anyway, it’s not much of a plot progression, as basically they’re going and then they’re not.

The various romances don’t seem much more complicated, especially in terms of Rose. After all, she's a supporting character, so the film dedicates precious little time to her exploration or development; she gets the bare minimum time on screen.

Since Garland acts as the film’s star, she dominates, but that doesn’t mean Esther displays real personality or character movement. She falls in love with John because… I don’t know. They become a couple because… I don’t know. They agree to marry because… I don’t know.

Actually, I guess I do know: because this is a romantic musical that demands such escapades. It’d just be nice if the story gave the characters more detail and motivation. The tale is skimpy and threadbare to an extreme.

Granted, many movie musicals are light on plot, so why pick on Meet? Because it’s regarded as a classic and I don’t think it compares to the standards set by many other so-called great musicals. Even some that I dislike – such as Gigi and An American in Paris - offer some semblance of a narrative and events to propel the characters somewhere. This one just never feels like it takes us on a journey.

That said, Meet does muster some charm along the way. Everyone involved seems pretty peppy and likable – well, except perhaps for annoying overacting of Margaret O’Brien, as she grates – and the movie’s warm view of Americana can delight. It may be absurdly unrealistic, but I think it provides some fantasy pleasure as it shows a world in which doors are never locked and no one ever seems particularly perturbed about much.

The tunes? Ehh. We get a few well-known numbers like “The Trolley Song”, the title track and the aforementioned “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, but others seem less notable – and often appear downright forgettable, to be honest.

I was surprised that this musical didn’t include more performance sequences as well, especially given the lack of much dramatic action. I could understand the film’s failure to provide much narrative thrust if it came packed with song and dance numbers, but they’re relatively rare.

That leaves Meet as a minor diversion at best. For all its occasional charms, it’s just too slow and pointless to become anything special. With some actual story and character development, it could’ve been good, but a film this loose and meandering doesn’t succeed.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio C+/ Bonus A-

Meet Me in St. Louis appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Despite a few small concerns, the movie mostly looked excellent and transcended it age-related origins.

Some of the minor problems connected to sharpness. While most of the film appeared nicely distinct and detailed, occasional issues popped up in that domain. Some shots came across as moderately ill defined and soft. The concerns weren’t enormous, though, and they were typical for Technicolor flicks of the period. No signs of jagged edges or shimmering showed up, and the movie also seemed to be free of edge enhancement. Source flaws were also a non-factor.

A Technicolor extravaganza, the film’s hues provided some of the transfer’s strongest elements. Skin tones looked a bit brownish at times, but these concerns were overshadowed by the image’s positives. The movie enjoyed a warm palette, and the colors came across as vibrant and dynamic at all times. Black levels were dense and deep, and low-light shots appeared appropriately concise and clear. Overall, I felt pretty impressed with the transfer of Meet.

I felt less pleased with the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.0 soundtrack, though it was acceptable. The audio took the flick’s original monaural material and gave it a modest reorientation, but the soundfield remained fairly heavily anchored to the center channel. The side speakers added modest breadth to the imaging at times, mainly via the musical numbers heard throughout the film. Stereo separation didn’t seem especially strong, but the tunes and score spread adequately from the center.

Effects also showed moderate extension to the right and left. This mostly provided ambient audio, but some decent localization occurred at times, such as when a phone rang on the left side of the screen. Speech was usually focused in the center, though it occasionally leaned a bit together the right. Surround usage was light to non-existent; this was essentially glorified mono.

Audio quality seemed erratic but generally acceptable for a film of this era. Dialogue tended to be a bit thin and flat, but the lines were average for their age and always remained easily intelligible. Music seemed a little distant but also seemed acceptable, and effects fell into the same range; they didn’t impress but they never disappointed, either.

As a multichannel remix, this one was perfectly adequate, but I question its need to exist – at least without the addition of the original mono track as well. A chatty, song-heavy movie like Meet doesn’t appear to be a great candidate for an active soundscape; it could broaden music – which it does – but what’s the point when the songs and score can’t be given a true stereo presentation? I think the audio’s listenable but feel disappointed that WB didn’t include the original mono mix as well.

Adapted from an earlier DVD release, the Blu-ray comes packed with extras. An Introduction by Liza Minnelli goes for four minutes, 59 seconds. The daughter of both the movie’s director and its star, Minnelli gives us an appreciation for the flick and a few anecdotes. She offers a decent lead-in to the movie.

After this we find an audio commentary with biographer John Fricke, composer Hugh Martin, screenwriter Irving Brecher, producer’s daughter Barbara Freed-Saltzman and actors June Lockhart and Margaret O’Brien. Fricke introduces the piece and acts as a host; he provides a running, screen-specific discussion into which the others’ remarks have been edited. We learn about the project's origins and development, story/character topics and deleted scenes, production design and sets, cast and crew notes, music and choreography, and the film’s reception and legacy.

Although I referred to Fricke as the track’s “host”, he’s really the star attraction. For all intents and purposes, this is Fricke’s commentary; we get occasional remarks from the other participants but I’d estimate that a good 90 percent of the material comes straight from Fricke.

And that’s fine, for he offers a strong overview of the project. Granted, he peters out a bit as the commentary progresses – and we hit one long dead spot along the way – but Fricke usually digs into the film well. He combines with the archival statements to make this a solid examination of the flick.

Narrated by Roddy McDowall, The Making of An American Classic goes for 30 minutes, 47 seconds and features O’Brien, Freed-Saltzman, Minnelli, Martin, director Vincente Minnelli, and actors Lucille Bremer and Dorothy Raye. The show discusses the project’s origins and development, cast, characters and performances, story and script, music and choreography, sets, costumes and production design, and the flick’s release.

“Classic” repeats some information from the commentary, but it usually stays with exclusive material, and it gives us some different perspectives. Though it never becomes the most in-depth piece, it has some good moments, especially when we hear two sides to a story about how O’Brien cried on screen. We get a breezy and enjoyable show here.

Another documentary arrives via the 50-minute, 31-second Hollywood: The Dream Factory”. Created in 1972, narrator Dick Cavett provides all the information as we trace the history of Hollywood during the “Golden Era”, with an emphasis on MGM. We hear a little about the films and participants as we watch a lot of movie clips.

And I do mean a lot, as those snippets comprise the vast majority of the show’s running time. That’s not a bad thing objectively, but unfortunately, we don’t usually get much context for these clips, so they’re left to stand alone. “Dream” has some good moments but acts too much like a compendium of vaguely-connected film snippets and too little like a real examination of the period.

Becoming Attractions: Judy Garland lasts 46 minutes, 10 seconds and provides narration from Robert Osborne. He leads us into a collection of Garland trailers: we find ads for 1938’s Everybody Sing and Love Finds Andy Hardy, 1939’s Babes in Arms and The Wizard of Oz, 1942’s For Me and My Gal, 1943’s Presenting Lily Mars, 1944’s Meet Me in St. Louis, 1945’s The Clock, 1948’s The Pirate and Easter Parade, 1950’s Summer Stock, 1954’s A Star Is Born, and 1963’s I Could Go On Singing. It’s fun to check out all these promos, and Osborne adds good perspective to them.

For something unusual, we get a 1966 TV Pilot. It goes for 26 minutes, 35 seconds and features Shelley Fabares as Esther and Celeste Holm as the mother. It’s not a musical; instead, it treats the tale mostly as a sitcom. This doesn’t mean it bothers with a plot - like the movie, it focuses on the love life of the lead actress – but at least it’s over more quickly. It ain’t good, but it ain’t a disaster – at least Fabares was a babe!

Two relevant short subjects follow. Bubbles (7:54) appears because the 1930 reel shows an eight-year-old Garland with her sisters, while 1941’s Skip to My Lou (3:11) lets us hear Meet songwriters Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane sing “Skip to My Lou” with a group called the Martins. Neither is what you’d call “entertaining”, but they’re both interesting for historical reasons – and in a redeeming factor ala the TV pilot, the two female “Martins” are pretty hot.

An Outtake goes for three minutes, 37 seconds. It shows “Boys and Girls Like You and Me”, a deleted song. We see photos to accompany the vocal performance from Garland. It’s too bad the film footage no longer exists, but this offers a good compromise to give fans a sense of the number.

An archival piece appears with a 12/2/1946 Lux Radio Theater Broadcast. It runs 57 minutes, 12 seconds and brings back Judy Garland, Tom Drake and Margaret O’Brien to reprise their movie roles. Given the film’s lack of plot, it doesn’t have to drop much from the flick’s narrative, though it does eliminate the Agnes character and alters some events; for instance, the radio show’s Mr. Braukoff is nicer and less threatening than the film’s. Nothing here delivers much entertainment, but it’s still a fun addition.

By the way, the listed air date perplexes me. We hear that Meet is currently in movie theaters, but December 1946 came more than two years after its premiere. Was it still on the screens so long after its debut? I know films ran theatrically longer back in those pre-TV/video days, but this still seems like an awfully long exhibition. I’m not sure if the radio broadcast occurred earlier than 12/2/1946 or if the flick just played forever.

In addition to the film’s trailer, the Blu-ray presents a Music-Only Track. As expected, this multichannel presentation lets you hear the movie’s score and songs without other elements. It’s a nice bonus.

Two non-disc-based components appear. We find a CD sampler with four tunes: “Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis”, “The Boy Next Door”, “The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.

We also find a Hardcover Book. This comes as part of the package; open up the disc’s casing and the book appears on the left half. It features a mix of components. It presents notes/trivia about the film, a few biographies, some song lyrics, and photos. It’s a nice way to wrap up the package.

After nearly 60 years, Meet Me in St. Louis continues to earn consideration as a classic movie musical, but I must admit it does little for me. While it displays enough charm to keep it from flopping, it’s too slow and meandering to be enjoyable. The Blu-ray displays very good picture and supplements as well as decent audio. Although I don’t care for Meet, the film’s fans will embrace this fine presentation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 5 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main