Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

meetmeinstlouis_2Starring Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Mary Astor, Lucille Bremer, Leon Ames, Tom Drake, Marjorie Main, Harry Davenport, June Lockhart, Henry H. Daniels Jr., Joan Carroll, Hugh Marlowe, Robert Sully

Directed by Vincente Minnelli

Expectations: High.

threestar


Meet Me in St. Louis chronicles one year in the life of the Smith family (1903 if we’re being exact). The story begins one year before the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (AKA the St. Louis World’s Fair), and the Smith family is suitably excited for this amazing development to come to their city. But the World’s Fair is merely the backdrop to the family’s tale, although it does end up reinforcing the themes that the rest of the film brings up. Anyway, the important thing to take away from the beginning of the film is that the Smith family is a strong family unit in love with St. Louis, and the potential it shows in the run-up to the World’s Fair.

Esther (Judy Garland) and Rose Smith (Lucille Bremer) are probably more excited about the prospect of future husbands, though. The girls are both still in high school, but yet Rose is “getting older” and in fear of becoming an old maid. Rose has an older suitor at college in New York on the hook, but he has yet to propose or really make any definitive statement about how he feels for Rose. Esther, however, has her sights on the boy who just moved in next door, John Truett (Tom Drake). She’s so smitten with him that she vows to make him kiss her at an upcoming house party, on the first night they formally meet face-to-face.

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Double Indemnity (1944)

doubleindemnity_6Starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Porter Hall, Jean Heather, Tom Powers, Byron Barr, Richard Gaines, Fortunio Bonanova, John Philliber

Directed by Billy Wilder

Expectations: Very high. I love this one.

fourstar


Double Indemnity is the film noir genre at the top of its game. Fred MacMurray stars as Walter Neff, an insurance salesman, and the film opens as he staggers into his office in the middle of the night. He sits down at his desk, grabs the Dictaphone mic and begins to record his tale for the benefit of his boss, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). This “opening at the ending” trick is always a good one, and the framing bits in Double Indemnity are among the best that cinema has to offer. As Neff’s story begins, he’s out on a routine policy renewal for the auto insurance of a Mr. Dietrichson. But he’s not home, so Neff deals with Dietrichson’s wife, Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck). After some quick banter and a ton of sexual energy centered around Phyllis’s anklet, the film is off to a juicy start, unfolding its engaging plot at a flawless, even pace that never dulls.

Adapted from a James M. Cain novel, Double Indemnity‘s script is a thing of beauty. Written by Billy Wilder and detective novelist Raymond Chandler, the dialogue zings off the page at a 100 mph. This isn’t quite the rapid-fire of His Girl Friday, but the sleazy, double-crossing characters knock witty lines back and forth as effortlessly as a couple of tennis pros. There are moments when the dialogue does feel a bit overwritten, but when the acting is as superb as it is here, little things like that just fall by the wayside.

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