Song of the Day #4,354: ‘You and I’ – Leon Ames and Mary Astor

Of all the classic musicals I’ve watched as part of my quarantine project, the one that most surprised and delighted me is 1944’s Meet Me in St. Louis, directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Judy Garland. The two met on the set of this film and later married.

Meet Me in St. Louis is based on a series of short stories written by Sally Benson and published in The New Yorker. The film follows a year in the life of a St. Louis family, the Smiths, during the run-up to the 1904 World’s Fair.

It’s a heartfelt helping of warm nostalgia, like a scene from Disney’s Carousel of Progress come to life, but it has a compelling dark streak and a hint of sensuality. AFI places it at #10 on their list of the 25 greatest musicals of all time.

The film reminds me a bit of Little Women, in that it follows the exploits of four close sisters (they have a brother, too, but the movie belongs to the women). In fact, the father and mother in this film are played by Leon James and Mary Astor, who portrayed Mr. March and Marmee in the 1949 version of Little Women, and Margaret O’Brien, who plays youngest daughter “Tootie” in St. Louis, portrayed Beth in that film.

This was my first real exposure to Judy Garland in a movie and I found her incredibly captivating. She has a sultry edge that peeks from behind the curtain of the wholesome family tableau. Garland credited the film’s makeup artist, Dotty Ponedel, with refining her look and making her look pretty without the use of prosthetics she’d been previously asked to wear on her nose and teeth.

Garland shines performing ‘The Boy Next Door,’ ‘The Trolley Song,’ and especially ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,’ a song originally written for this film and absurdly overlooked by the Motion Picture Academy. ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ is one of my all-time favorite songs, and Garland’s melancholy delivery is perfection.

Seven-year-old O’Brien received an Academy Juvenile Award for her performance as “Tootie,” a sharp, funny and mildly psychotic little girl. A surreal Halloween sequence featuring her playing a prank on a feared neighbor is a highlight, draping a veil of danger and menace over this depiction of genteel suburban life.

Meet Me in St. Louis is full of surprises like that. It’s a movie released during World War II and set at the turn of the century, but it feels very much ahead of its time. A lot of movies from this period play rather broadly, but this one settles in to appreciate the small details.

One of my favorite scenes is featured as today’s Song of the Day. Mr. Smith has just told his family he has accepted a promotion requiring the family to leave their beloved St. Louis for New York. The whole family storms upstairs, abandoning a cake they had prepared for Halloween.

Mrs. Smith remains, and moves to the piano to play a duet with her husband. ‘You and I’ is a song about staying together through “dark and fair weather,” and her performance is a signal that they will meet this new challenge as a team. As they sing, the rest of the family slowly comes back downstairs, takes a piece of cake, and listens.

I love the way Astor changes the song’s key to accommodate her husband, and feeds him the first line of the second verse. And the way Garland’s Esther slaps Tootie’s hand away from the cake but then shares forkfuls of the treat with her younger sister. Such a touching portrayal of the familial bond, and the way loved ones support and forgive each other.

Meet Me in St. Louis is funny, weird and heartwarming, full of memorable moments both big and small. I can’t recommend it enough.

[Note: Though I listed Amers and Astor in the title of my post, they do not perform the vocals in this scene. As in many classic Hollywood musicals, the actors’ vocals were dubbed, in this case by Arthur Freed (the song’s co-writer) and D. Markas]

You and I
Together forever
You and I

Through the years
Of dark and fair weather
You and I

From my heart a song of love beseeching
Just for you my longing arms are reaching

Time goes by
But we’ll be together
You and I

From my heart a song of love beseeching
Just for you my longing arms are reaching

Time goes by
But we’ll be together
You and I

6 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,354: ‘You and I’ – Leon Ames and Mary Astor

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    Wow, quite a recommendation! I know a number of the songs from this film, but never gave watching the movie a second (or even first) thought. Based on your review, this may be another one to add to the list.

  2. Peg says:

    Wonderful review! It’s been years since I’ve seen this movie. Time to view it again ❤️

  3. Amy says:

    I watched this film many, many years ago but don’t recall many details of it. When you described the cake scene (which I will watch here, again, in a moment), it immediately came flooding back into my memory. I remember loving the music and liking the film quite a bit, but it not becoming one of my favorite of the “old movies” I was working through at that time. The Hepburn films were the ones that grabbed by heart (everything from Philadelphia Story to Adam’s Rib and Woman of the Year to African Queen – pretty much all things Hepburn 🙂

    Still, I have to ask… how is this your first “real exposure” to Judy Garland in a film? Are you completely discounting The Wizard of Oz?!

    • Clay says:

      As I wrote in Monday’s post about my revisiting old musicals, “I’m not even counting The Wizard of Oz, which I’m sure I’ve seen in full at some point in my life, but certainly not since I was a kid.”

      I actually watched The Wizard of Oz this week, and I think it might have been the first time I’ve seen it all the way through, crazy as that sounds. Or at least, I had no memory at all of much of it.

      • Amy says:

        I read that on Monday, which is why I was baffled when today you said that watching Meet Me in St. Louis was your “first real exposure” to Judy Garland. Certainly the number of times you’ve seen various scenes from the film in the years since seeing it its entirety as a kid count as exposure. I assume most people’s first exposure to Judy Garland is as Dorothy, so I’m guessing you just want to be special. ;P

        • Clay says:

          Well, I’ve certainly seen clips of Dorothy in pop culture through the years, but I mean exposure as a screen presence through a whole movie.

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