On November 22, 1944, MGM unveiled Meet Me in St. Louis at its premiere in its namesake city. The film went on to nab four Oscar nominations — for cinematography, screenplay, score and “The Trolley Song” track — at the 17th Academy Awards. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
It is a bit difficult to classify Meet Me in St. Louis. It isn’t exactly a musical, although it has some outstanding musical numbers in it. It isn’t exactly a comedy, although there is a vast deal of comedy in it. Nor is it exactly drama, although it has moving dramatic passages. However, there is no difficulty at all in describing it. Meet Me in St. Louis is completely delightful, homey, warmly human entertainment which has captured a nostalgic charm rarely if ever equalled on the screen. It is even less difficult to predict its future. It is going to do a tremendous business. In addition to its intrinsic high quality, it has Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien, especially Margaret O’Brien, all any picture needs for a box office gold rush.
Its story is the essence of simplicity. There is no complicated plot, no plot of any kind for that matter, no wildly exciting events. This is just about a family living in St. Louis at the time of the World’s Fair there in 1904. The family’s name most properly is Smith. Presented is a series of events in the lives of the members of the Smith family, the kind of things which happen every day in every average family. In fact, one of the great charms of the picture is that everyone in every audience can look at it and say, “That’s just like us.” There isn’t a heavy in the entire length of the film.
The daughters of the family have the usual trouble with their romances. The father is a lawyer who wins some cases, loses others. The youngest daughter is a little hellion with a vivid imagination which runs to blood and gore. Sally Benson, who wrote the book upon which the picture is based, has confessed that she herself is the original of this slaughter-minded enfant-terrible. The closest the picture comes to plot is that the father is offered a promotion to New York, but finally turns it down when he sees how the whole idea of leaving St. Louis distresses every member of his family.
Excellent performances are the rule in Meet Me in St. Louis, but there is no question that Margaret O’Brien calmly walks away with the show. This child is so versatile it is a little terrifying, for once more she ventures into a type of role different from her previous efforts and she tosses it off with the same uncanny skill and complete winsomeness she has displayed in everything else. Judy Garland is delightful, plays her role with easy conviction, and is in exceptionally good voice. The picture is also noteworthy as marking the debut of Lucille Bremer, who scores solidly. She is beautiful, has a charming personality, and she can act, a combination which opens a very pleasant vista for her.
One of the top portrayals of the film is that of the father by Leon Ames, a finely etched characterization which stands out. As the grandfather, Harry Davenport gives the kind of performance one expects of him; that is, perfect. Mary Astor is pleasantly effective as the mother. Tom Drake does another bang-up job as Judy’s beau, with Henry H. Daniels, Jr. and Robert Sully taking good care of the other young swain roles. Lesser roles are handled capably by June Lockhart, Marjorie Main, Joan Carroll, Hugh Marlowe and Chill Wills.
Vincente Minnelli gave the picture exceptional direction, particularly notable for its multitude of effective detail touches. For Arthur Freed, the film is top production credit. Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane provided four song numbers, including the already popular “Trolley Song,” which is given an extraordinarily fine presentation and becomes the top number of the picture. Also excellent are Miss Garland’s two solos, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “The Boy Next Door.” Charles Walters did an outstanding job of staging the old time dances. George Stoll’s musical direction is up to his high standard. The costuming by Sharaff under Irene’s supervision is also noteworthy. George Folsey provided excellent Technicolor photography. — Staff review, originally published on November 1, 1944.