Welcome to The Twelve Ways of Christmas, where we discuss holiday films you’ve already seen or never plan on watching. And why not, right? Every other damn movie site’s doing it, and since when does giving in to peer pressure put you on the naughty list?
With little rhyme or reason, check in from now until The Day That Must Not Be Named for a new entry. And Happy Kwanzaa.
Despite beginning mid-summer in 1904, Vincente Minnelli’s Meet Me in St. Louis feels like a Christmas movie because of its narrow emphasis on a single family: Having long enjoyed the pleasures of cushy middle-class St. Louis, the Smiths must deal with an impending move to New York, away from friends, suitors, and the home they’ve grown to love. It’s that problem that forms the core of this 1944 musical, but the disruption doesn’t actually occur until nearly halfway through. So much of Meet Me in St. Louis simply glides past day-to-day goings on. Eldest daughter Rose (Lucille Bremer) can’t seem to tie the know while Esther (Judy Garland) aggressively pursues bachelor neighbor John Truett (Tom Drake) with little regard for adhering to courting norms. The youngest, Tootie (Margaret O’Brien), is trying to fit in with the other kids still, pulling risky pranks on Halloween on the chance that it gets everyone to forget her morbid habit of burying her dolls.
Tensions escalate when Tootie comes home badly injured, (mistakenly) claiming John Truett ran her over, and Esther storms next door and confronts him. Even for the film’s most passionate character surrounded by corsets and 20th century temperance, it’s a fiery moment, but this is a picture that never gorges on its musical numbers. Minnelli plays with shot blocking and frames in moments of change — a long track on Tootie or a push in on Master Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames) — but Roger Edens’ arrangements are provided static treatments. The Smiths’ living room breaks into song at a neighborhood party, with bodies hustling and bustling about to “Skip to My Lou,” but the frame remains largely unchanged, as if Minnelli wants this Missouri clan to contain just how much they are a part of their place.
The same holds true for Garland’s famous rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which Esther sings to comfort an upset Tootie on Christmas Eve. Minnelli strips down the elements in his frame to basics, relying on nothing more than a two-shot and Garland’s vocal chords to do the lifting. It’s a wise gamble, as Garland wraps the holiday tune in a palpable sadness. Although the Smith family’s move to New York promises fresh beginnings and new opportunities, they’ll still be “miles away” from St. Louis. It’s a somber and reflective moment in a film often filled with poppier ditties like the jaunty, fun “Trolley Song.” The Smith family may sing together, but it’s Garland’s solo number that reinforces their familial bonds — even in the midst of displacement, especially around the holidays.
Way #2: The Nightmare Before Christmas
Way #3: Jack Frost (1997)
Way #4: Jack Frost (1998)
Way #5: Jingle All the Way
Way #6: Santa’s Slay
Way #7: Scrooged
Way #8: The Ref
Way #10: Rare Exports