(On Cable TV, September 2018) MGM’s extraordinary success in producing what we think of as the quintessential musical comedy films arguably began with Meet me in Saint-Louis. Not that it was the first musical—the form had been popular for fifteen years by that point. But it’s in this film that MGM put together the ingredients that ensured its continued success for the decade-and-a-half to come: Colour cinematography, distinct memorable songs, a nostalgic depiction of a slightly earlier era, limpid plotting and very charming actors all explain why the film was an immediate hit and still plays superbly well into the twenty-first century. Meet me in Saint-Louis is headlined by Judy Garland, and I have to say that despite my overall ambivalence about her later work, she is adorable as a doll here—old enough to escape being a child actor, but not yet damaged by a life of substance abuse. (It’s on this movie that she met director Vincente Minnelli, with whom she’d marry in 1945 and have Liza Minnelli in 1946.) The episodic structure of the film—adapted from a series of short stories—seems odd at first, but soon becomes a comfortable and heartwarming depiction of a year in the life of an upper-middle-class family, complete with holiday-themed episodes and a final act that sums up the year’s narrative threads. Some of the film’s songs have since become classics, especially “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Meet me in Saint-Louis remains a great film to watch, no matter the time of the year.
(On TV, December 2017) There are movies that seem to exist outside their own running time, movies that everybody knows through quotes, call-backs, references, parodies and (now) memes, quite independently from actually being seen. I’m not sure I’d seen The Wizard of Oz completely from beginning to end until now, but that hardly seemed to matter in a world where its quotes are clichés, its characters iconic and at least two novels (which I’ve read) are directly based on it. It’s become a cornerstone of American fantasy fiction, and actually watching it only reinforces why: Even in 1939, The Wizard of Oz is a dynamic, literally colourful example of how to deliver a fantasy movie. It’s got invention (although this may not be as clear to contemporary audiences force-fed decades of imitators), a certain amount of wit, a vivacious performance by Judy Garland, and a tremendous amount of competence in delivering a slick escapist fantasy story by way of a movie musical. It simply doesn’t feel like a film from the thirties. While its rhythm is unequal and some section of the film feel role by sheer virtue of having become clichés, The Wizard of Oz is still must-see cinema—see it to understand why it’s become such a cultural mainstay.