The Similarities Between “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “Little Women”
Meet Me in St. Louis (a 1944 musical set in 1903) and Little Women (the 1949 version, set in 1861) are two of my favourite feel-good movies. The fact that I like them both so much may be due to their surprisingly many similarities!
Both movies revolve around individual families residing in the leafy suburbs of American cities. The family in Meet Me in St. Louis lives in St. Louis, Missouri (surprise!), while the family in Little Women lives in Concord, Massachusetts.
The family in Meet Me in St. Louis consists of father Mr. Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames), mother Mrs. Anna Smith (Mary Astor), son Lon, Jr. (Henry H. Daniels, Jr.), and daughters (in order of descending age): Rose (Lucille Bremer), Esther (Judy Garland), Agnes (Joan Carroll) and “Tootie” (Margaret O'Brien). The family in Little Women consists of father Mr. March (Leon Ames), mother Marmee (Mary Astor), and daughters (in order of descending age): Meg (Janet Leigh), Jo (June Allyson), Amy (Elizabeth Taylor), and Beth (Margaret O'Brien).
As you may have already spotted from the family descriptions above, the father, mother, and youngest daughter in both movies are played by the same actors. Another actor in both movies is Harry Davenport. He plays “Grandpa” in Meet Me in St. Louis and Dr. Barnes in Little Women.
The movies have similar transitions between the credits and the opening scene. In Meet Me in St. Louis, an ornately framed sepia-toned picture of the house (5135 Kensington Avenue) in summer and the words “Summer 1903” are shown. In Little Women, a picturesque winter scene of the house of the March family (Orchard House) and that of their neighbours is shown as an embroidered picture. In both cases, the movies start as these static pictures fade into real moving footage. In the case of Meet Me in St. Louis, to help the viewer realise the passage of time, the use of a static seasonal picture of the house continues every three months until Spring 1904, the time of the famous World's Fair in St. Louis.
In both films, we see all but the youngest daughters (Agnes, Tootie, and Beth) fall in love. Coincidentally, both Esther (of Meet Me in St. Louis) and Jo (and later Amy) (of Little Women) fall in love with the wholesome boy-next-door who they don't know at the start of the movie because he has just moved into town. Neither Esther nor Jo wants to wait to be formally introduced to these boys!
Both movies include the Christmas period. The families in both films have reason to be upset at that particular Christmas. In the case of Little Women, the family is missing their father, who is away serving the Union Army during the Civil War. For Christmas, the girls are each given a dollar by their Aunt March (Lucile Watson). Although they first buy themselves Christmas presents with the money, they soon decide to take the presents back to the store and spend the money on their mother instead. Their mother discovers the presents under their Christmas tree and is very touched. On Christmas day, the family decide to give much of their Christmas food to their poor friends. In Meet Me in St. Louis, the family's Christmas is saddened by the fact that their father has planned for them to move to New York right after Christmas due to his work. On Christmas Eve, at the end of a Christmas ball, boy-next-door John (Tom Drake) proposes to Esther because he can't bear the thought of her leaving. Although this is what she had been longing for, she instantly has doubts about marrying him because she realises how upset she would be to part from her family. Later that night, when Tootie is sad about leaving, Esther tries to cheer her up by singing the famous song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, which was written for this movie. When the father realises just how upset everyone is by his decision, he gives them the greatest Christmas gift they could ask for by changing his mind about the move. The Christmas spirit and beautiful wintery snow scenes shown in both films make them ideal holiday viewing!
Both films seem to have a similar appearance artistically. For instance, the films have particularly rich colours and beautiful sets, making them very enjoyable to watch. They also take full advantage of the different seasons experienced in North America. Both movies feature houses with a grand wooden staircase and an ornate, plant-filled conservatory. At one point in each film, the two youngest daughters are caught spying at the festivities from behind the rails of these staircases.
Apart from the fact that the movies were made around the same time (1944 and 1949), the similarities mentioned above may be related to the following credit connections. Sally Benson, who wrote the original novel Meet Me in St. Louis (most of this novel was published earlier in parts as the “Kensington Stories” in the magazine The New Yorker), wrote the movie adaptation for this version of Louisa May Alcott's “Little Women”. The movies also shared the same set decorator (Edwin B. Willis), art direction team member (Cedric Gibbons), makeup department member (Jack Dawn), associate (Technicolor) colour director (Henri Jaffa), Technicolor advisor (Natalie Kalmus), and sound recording director (Douglas Shearer).
I hope that you enjoy watching these charming films as much as I have. Maybe you will be able to spot some more similarities!