Meet Me in St. Louis grew out of a series of decidedly undramatic stories by Sally Benson about her midwestern childhood that were first published in The New Yorker magazine. MGM screenwriters labored to create a plot until Arthur Freed, the head of MGM's famed musical production unit, decided the film should be a vehicle for former child star Judy Garland. In the film, Garland plays Esther, a daughter in the Smith family of St. Louis, who sings her way through the seasons from summer 1903 to spring 1904, as the city prepares for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Among her many tunes, Esther sings "The Trolley Song," discovering the clang, clang, clang of her heartbeat because she is in love. Minnelli highlighted the simplicity and naturalness of her acting and singing, which captivated audiences.
Following his success in the 1930s as a director and designer for the Broadway theater, Minnelli moved on to Hollywood as a member of Freed's unit at MGM, bringing to this popular genre a fresh approach. Whereas others were reluctant to use Technicolor, Minnelli understood and embraced the new process, showing off the dazzling brightness of its colors. He became one of Hollywood's most accomplished colorists and a master of cinematic musical comedy. Minnelli set a new standard for the genre, smoothly inserting dance numbers into the narrative in a blend of naturalism and fantasy, as realistic characters discover and declare their hopes, fears, or loves. He simultaneously hid and revealed the darker side of domestic America, the fragility of its structure and the terror of possible change.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 209.