"Wasn't I lucky to be born in my favorite city?" The titular tune makes its way through the Smith household in the spirited prelude, the brother hums it in the kitchen and the sneezy little sister warbles it as she clomps upstairs, the grandfather ventures a step or two in the hall before Judy Garland arrives in the buggy. (She later leads the official rendition with Lucille Bremer on the piano until Papa comes home to plead for an end to the gilded earworm.) "Happy golden days of yore" from summer back to spring, turn-of-the-century Americana from the vantage point of wartime MGM is a marzipan gift box preserved under glass—Vincente Minnelli catalogs the many artifices and neuroses that comprise the lustrous image of harmony. The swirling hoedown of "Skip to My Lou" follows the still yearning of "The Boy Next Door," the extended gaslight seduction with Tom Drake offers auburn-tinted Garland in a Greuze close-up for "Over the Bannister." Homemade ketchup and bonfires and slaughtered snowmen and the sheer devastation of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," four seasons of familial cakewalk. Sauntering through it all is Margaret O'Brien and her graveyard of dollies, the knee-level reverse track guiding the morbid tyke to the scary neighbor's porch goes beyond To Kill a Mockingbird and into Carpenter's Halloween. Technicolor nostalgia has its pitfalls and Minnelli is aware of them ("I feel elegant, but I can't breathe!"): his canvases and lithographs hum with uneasy edges, even cramped trolley seats are transformed by the choreography of torsos, hats, straphangers. (Father of the Bride picks up on the incestuous undertow, so does La Caduta degli Dei.) "Isn't it breathtaking!" "I liked it better when it was a swamp." A light show caps the perfection of the family portrait, the only thing to do afterwards is to investigate the fissures (Home from the Hill, The Courtship of Eddie's Father). Cinematography by George Folsey. With Mary Astor, Leon Ames, Marjorie Main, Harry Davenport, June Lockhart, Henry H. Daniels Jr., Joan Carroll, Hugh Marlowe, and Chill Wills.
--- Fernando F. Croce