Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

2010 #106
Vincente Minnelli | 108 mins | TV | U

Someone (who exactly is long lost to the depths of my memory) once observed that, though a lot of people claim to not like musicals, they’re quite happy to acknowledge their love for The Sound of Music, or Grease, or Disney films, or (these days) Mamma Mia, apparently unaware that all those bits where people start singing make those films musicals. I expect such a person’s defence would run along the lines of affirming they like those musicals, but don’t like musicals on the whole. Despite its occasional fair placing on lists of great musicals — or even great films, sometimes — I think Meet Me in St. Louis would fall into that second group.

The film is based on Sally Benson’s autobiographical stories, collected as 5135 Kensington, though at times it reminded me of Pride & Prejudice — a family of daughters seeking marriage — albeit a version of Pride & Prejudice with much of the dramatic tension removed. For instance, Austen’s tale spends a long time creating a bad impression of Mr Darcy, only to eventually reveal his (mostly) good intentions. St. Louis, on the other hand, manages all of five minutes (if that) in which John Truett (the Darcy-ish character) is suspected of having done something dastardly before the truth is revealed.

Garland and O'BrienJudy Garland is fine in the lead role — still playing a teen, despite being 21, but suitably distant from Dorothy. Margaret O’Brien receives prominent second billing in the role of ‘Tootie’, despite being just seven years old. She was, I learn, something of a star at the time, in spite of her young age, which perhaps explains the (arguably) undue prominence in both the credits and the film itself. That said, she’s a rather good actress, and picked up an Oscar for her performance here (and other roles she played in 1944).

Most of the time Meet Me in St. Louis ambles along agreeably enough, throwing in a few nice songs — including well-known numbers like The Trolley Song and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas — before (spoilers!) everything turns out alright in the end. It’s all perfectly pleasant, but I’m not sure I could offer it any higher praise than that.

3 out of 5

Meet Me in St. Louis is on Film4 today, Wednesday 17th December 2014, at 4:10pm.

Jane Eyre (1944)

2008 #12
Robert Stevenson | 96 mins | download | PG

Jane EyreI was meant to read Jane Eyre in the first year of my degree, but, given a week to attempt what seemed a positively enormous tome (I partly blame the edition) and a coinciding essay deadline, I didn’t even attempt it. Instead I settled for a friend summarising it for me — I tuned out halfway through the very long retelling due to boredom, though whether that was the fault of the novel or its summariser I still don’t know. I finally got through Jane Eyre the year before last — not the novel, though, but the BBC’s apparently-definitive adaptation (has it been that long already!), following numerous extremely positive reviews at the time. That was good — because or in spite of the novel, I do not know.

And so I come to this version, made in the wake of Rebecca (ironically, a novel clearly inspired in part by Jane Eyre) and also starring Joan Fontaine, alongside Orson Welles as the brooding love interest, Rochester. Well, he’s supposed to be brooding, but as played by Welles he comes across as merely gruff, apparently with a slightly unusual fake tan. Despite a suitably dramatic entrance, Welles’ stilted and occasionally overplayed performance, as well as a lack of chemistry with the equally weak Fontaine, does nothing to liven up what is already a rather uninspired production. The first 20 minutes are, at best, a Dickens rip-off, though without the appropriate comeuppance for the villains; in this version, it’s less Dickens and more obscene Christian morality play, complete with flat performances and (obviously) an over-reliance on God.

This section moves slowly… and then so does the rest of the film. Considering I’m primarily comparing this hour-and-a-half version to a four-hour miniseries, that’s quite a feat. The plot’s twists and revelations are all sadly underplayed, removing much of their dramatic effect; the same can be said of the abrupt ending. Perhaps there was an assumption that the audience would already be familiar with them, but true or not their weakening helps ruin this interpretation. And that’s all without mentioning the atrocious French accent of Adele, Rochester’s young ward, which often sounds as much like a bad Welsh accent as a French one.

All round, then, a very poor effort. A handful of redeeming features (the odd nice bit of cinematography, brief flashes of some decent performances) keep it from quite sinking to the lowest mark.

2 out of 5