Once again I have to call this a classic because it is. One of my favorite musicals and favorite Judy Garland movies of all time, released in 1944; this might be her second best known work after Wizard of Oz. I’ll even tell you the best time to watch this film is around Christmas, which I will go into later. As always spoilers ahead.
Beginning in the summer of 1903 we are on a journey with the Smiths, a family living in St. Louis: Father Alonzo (Leon Ames), Mother Anna (Mary Astor), one son Lon Jr.(Henry H. Daniels Jr.) and four daughters Rose (Lucille Bremer), Esther (Garland), Agnes (Joan Carroll) and Tootie (Margaret O’Brien) along with a house keeper Katie (Marjorie Main) and Grandpa (Harry Davenport.) The World’s Fair is a year away and the family is excited, Mr. Smith is questionable. Rose and Esther are struggling with their romantic lives; Rose is expecting her boyfriend Warren Sheffield (Robert Sully) to propose but he has yet to do so and Esther is hopelessly in love with the boy next door John Truett (Tom Drake). When Mr. Smith announces the family will move to New York, the family is devastated because their whole lives are in St. Louis and they will miss the Fair. I cannot go too far without giving away the rest of the movie, you just have to watch it.
This is a film consistently listed as one of the best musicals of all time, and I completely agree. Garland is one of the best actresses ever on film, and she shines just as bright in this film as her other work. However it takes a great ensemble and when it comes to musicals this cast is hard to beat. I also love the stories and how intertwined they are, at first it won’t make sense but give it a few moments and it will. Meanwhile the soundtrack has some of the best songs in a musical. Here are some of my favorites: “The Trolley Song” sung by a chorus of teenagers about the St. Louis trolley and Garland as she imagines about John and “The Boy Next Door” an almost single camera shot with Garland as she expresses her love for John. However there is a song from this film more famous than the film itself, and why you should watch it at Christmas. That song is called “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Yes, one of the most famous and beloved Christmas songs of all time came from this film. Just a heads up the lyrics for this film are different than other versions, you can thank Frank Sinatra for that, but nonetheless hearing Garland sing this song to Margaret O’Brien in this film is hauntingly beautiful. If you are not going to watch this film, although I’d put it on a must watch list, listen to the soundtrack. I promise you will not be disappointed.