Turn on the radio at this time of year, you’re bound to hear “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Sung by Judy Garland, it’s from the 1944 MGM movie “Meet Me in St. Louis,” a movie generally considered one of the high points of Hollywood’s studio era.


 

Turn on the radio at this time of year, you’re bound to hear “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Sung by Judy Garland, it’s from the 1944 MGM movie “Meet Me in St. Louis,” a movie generally considered one of the high points of Hollywood’s studio era.

Not so coincidentally, it’s been released in a deluxe Blu-ray package this month, just in time for Christmas giving. I’d never seen it before (though, believe me, I’ve seen the “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” scene more times than I can count), so I figured I’d give it a spin. Holiday song, classic movie, big studio — what could be more appropriate for a jolly Christmas Eve column from the Movie Man?

There’s only one problem: I didn’t like the movie.

Admittedly, I’m not exactly the target audience. For one thing, I was born 23 years after it was released. What’s more, I’m not much of a fan of musicals. But the biggest problem for me was the fact that the much-lauded studio muscle behind “Meet Me in St. Louis” drained all the life out of it.

Sure, it’s beautifully filmed, and the colors leap off the screen — especially on the new Blu-ray. But the whole movie has a feeling of being too pristine, with every single detail perfected and polished within an inch of its life. An MGM portrayal of one year in a family’s life in turn-of-the-century St. Louis has to look good, obviously, and the performances need to be top-notch. But, if you ask me, if a movie is going to be rambling and plotless — and those aren’t necessarily bad things — it needs to do more than be pretty. It needs to breathe. And though our heroes, the Smiths of St. Louis, sing and dance and otherwise emote, they never quite come to life.

There were a couple great moments, though. There’s a reason that clip of Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is so popular, and it’s not just because of the song itself. She’s singing it to her little sister, Tootie (Margaret O’Brien), as they stare out the window at the snowmen they’ll have to leave behind when they leave for New York. Despite the title, it’s not a “merry” song at all — it’s full of regret and fear of the future, about how they’ll “have to muddle through somehow.” It must’ve been heart-wrenching in 1944, when World War II still had another year to go — and many Americans had no choice but to “muddle through somehow.”

The best part of the movie, though, comes on Halloween and doesn’t feature Judy Garland. Instead, it shines a spooky spotlight on Tootie, who is trying to impress the big kids in the neighborhood by vowing to “kill” the mean guy who lives down the street. “Kill” in this case means “toss a bag of flour in his face,” so it’s not a violent scene, but thanks to Vincent Minnelli’s direction and the lush lighting, it’s loaded with Halloween atmosphere.

The new Warner Bros. Blu-ray comes in one of those swanky books, with information on the movie and its stars, plus a CD with four songs from the film. Perfect for your movie shelf — or under your tree.

Meet Andy Hardy

Before she was headlining musicals, Judy Garland was playing supporting roles in one of the most successful series in MGM history. The Andy Hardy films focused on an all-American family led by wise Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone) and led astray by mischievous (but good-hearted) Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney). Released between 1937 and 1946, they were more than just insanely popular — they were what MGM chief Louis B. Mayer thought America was — or at least should strive to be.

Of course now, seven or so decades later, the Andy Hardy movies are obviously far-fetched fantasies of an America that never was. The fictional town of Carvel is so squeaky clean it makes Beaver Cleaver’s Mayfield look like Sodom and/or Gomorrah. Everything works out, everyone learns a lesson, and even if Andy briefly—very briefly—strays from the straight and narrow, he jumps right back on the path before the end credits roll.

Still, even with all that pomp and purity, the Andy Hardy movies are entertaining in a way “Meet Me in St. Louis” never manages to be — and that’s thanks to the always chaotic presence of Mickey Rooney. Even playing an all-American boy like Andy, Rooney is wild and crazy, unable to keep his natural energy under wraps for long. He can be exhausting to watch, but he’s never boring.

If you’d like to visit Carvel, Warner Archives has released a six-movie boxed set of Andy Hardy films. It’s not every movie — MGM really milked that premise! — but it’s a nice sampling of the series.

Read Will Pfeifer's Movie Man blog at wpfeifer //www.rrstar.com/blogs/willpfeifer/ or email him at wpfeifer@rrstar.com