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Meet Me In St Louis
MGM/Warner Home Video . R4 . COLOR . 108 mins . Warner Home Video . PAL

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Here's another classic from the MGM dream-factory -- Vincent Minnelli directing his future wife Judy Garland in the delicious tear-jerker Meet Me In St Louis.

You may think you've seen this movie, which features the famous, wonderfully zestful 'Trolley Song' sequence, before. Well, you ain't seen nothing yet. This transfer, another in Warner Brothers' unrivalled series of dubs from classic Technicolor productions, glows with luminous beauty as if it was shot not yesterday, but this morning.

The whole movie -- its meticulous turn-of-the-century setting setting, its costuming, the radiant skin tones of its stars -- is an endless source of delight. And it's one of the few movies where Judy Garland is almost upstaged -- in this case, by Margaret O'Brien as Judy's little sister Tootie.

For her stunning performance as the alternately happy and then deeply troubled little girl, Margaret O'Brien won a special junior Academy Oscarette, a feat not repeated until Hayley Mills came along many years later in The Parent Trap. It's alleged that to win from Margaret a particularly strong bit of emotional acting, Minnelli whispered to her just before cameras rolled that someone had taken and was killing her dog.....

The story concerns the Smith family of St Louis. Father Alonzo (Leon Ames) has just been promoted to a posting in New York. The family will have to move, right on the eve of the St Louis World's Fair. And Esther Smith (Judy Garland) will have to leave behind the boy next door John Truett (Tom Drake). The entire family is devastated, from mother (Mary Astor) right down to maid (Marjorie Main). But father does, after all, know best.

The cast is solid. Leon Ames is just perfect as the rigid but basically very decent and loving father, and Mary Astor is the consummate mother of that era. And in my opinion Margaret O'Brien committed to film only one better performance -- her starring role a few years later as Mary Lennox in 1948's The Secret Garden (still inexplicably missing from DVD!).

Judy Garland is of course wonderful, and never more so than in The Trolley Song, and in her strangely melancholic lullaby to Tootie, Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas.

Great score, great actors, in a story of perennial delight. Yes, it's been seen on television ad-nauseum, but never like this. This quality of presentation is what DVD is all about.

  Video
  Audio
  Extras
Contract

This is a brilliant transfer, one of Warner's finest. Colours are deep and radiant, glowing with warmth. Minnelli uses a palette geared towards richness and dark shadows, and his subtle colorisation is rendered to perfection. Audio has been upped from mono to 5.1 Surround, to excellent effect. There's no attempt to pretend this is a stereo movie; the Surround just adds a touch of warmth and ambience.

Where this edition misses out is in the superb package of extras which accompanied the two-disc American special edition.

While there's lots missing, we do receive a fine audio commentary from Garland biographer John Fricke, with contributions from Margaret O'Brien, screenwriter Irving Brecher, songwriter Hugh Martin and Bargara Freed-Saltzman, who is the daughter of famed musicals producer Arthur Freed.

There's a half-hour Making Of doco, Meet Me in St Louis: The Making of An American Classic narrated by Roddy McDowell, and a very painful short film of the movie's songwriters Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane performing Skip to My Lou as part of a singing group, The Martins. This, filmed in 1941, shows only that some people can put a song across ... others can't.

The theatrical trailer rounds out an extras pack of some worth, but one which pales besides the US equivalent.

Missing in action are an outstanding Emmy-winning 50-minute documentary from 1972, Hollywood, The Dream Factory, along with a 47-minute feature, Becoming Attractions: The Films of Judy Garland, which takes us on a tour through Garland's career via trailers for her movies.

Missing also is Bubbles, a fascinatingly repulsive WB short-feature from 1930 which gives us a glimpse of Judy aged seven, a 26-minute pilot for a 1966 televisions series based on the movie, an outtake of 'Boys And Girls Like Me and You' reconstructed from stills, a 1942 Lux Radio Broadcast of Meet Me In St Louis, and a stills gallery. That pretty well wraps up what we're not getting.

So we have the movie, with a reasonable 'making of' doco and audio commmentary. It's up to you whether you want just turkey for Christmas this year, or all the trimmings as well.


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  •   And I quote...
    "Relatively bare-bones release of Garland classic presents the musical better than you've ever seen it before. "
    - Anthony Clarke
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