Maybe it’s just me, but this month seems like a good month for finding movies that are similar to others that I’ve reviewed previously! So, with that in mind, we’re back for another round of “Original Vs. Remake!” This time, we’re focusing on the two classic musicals Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) and On Moonlight Bay (1951)! As tends to be my practice, I will borrow the plot descriptions from my original reviews.
Meet Me In St. Louis: The story of the movie centers on the Smith family. Youngest daughters “Tootie” (Margaret O’Brien) and Agnes (Joan Carroll) are generally up to some mischief, especially on Halloween. Older daughters Esther (Judy Garland) and Rose (Lucille Bremer) are both eagerly looking forward to the upcoming St. Louis World’s Fair, while also trying to gain the attention of the men they are attracted to. Their father, Alonzo “Lon” Smith (Leon Ames), is offered a promotion with his law office that would require the family to move to New York, which he takes them up on, with plans to leave after Christmas.
On Moonlight Bay: It’s 1917, and the Winfield family has just moved into a new home. Most of them are unhappy with the move, as they miss their old friends and neighbors as well as their old house. However, head of the family George Winfield (Leon Ames) likes the new home, with its location closer to the bank he works at, and hopes that his older daughter, Marjorie (Doris Day), will meet some young men. Marjorie is a bit of a tomboy, but she attempts to be more feminine when she meets and takes a liking to her nextdoor neighbor, William “Bill” Sherman (Gordon MacRae). College man Bill, who is home for the summer, develops an interest in Marjorie as well, but his views on life (partially affected by the war raging in Europe) cause strife with Marjorie’s father. As a result, George tries to promote a romance between Marjorie and music teacher Hubert Wakely (Jack Smith), much to Marjorie’s annoyance. Meanwhile, younger son Wesley (Billy Gray) has trouble at school with his teacher, Mary Stevens (Ellen Corby). His tall tales (partially influenced by a movie he saw) get him out of trouble temporarily, but cause problems for his family.
While neither of these movies share the same source material, one can’t help but notice a number of similarities between them. One of the most obvious is the casting of Leon Ames in both films as the father figure. Both movies also feature a very forthright maid, who gets dragged into some of the family’s shenanigans. The younger child(ren) tend to be very mischievous in both instances, as they frequently get themselves into trouble. Even going beyond the stories themselves, we find that they both make use of mostly period music, some of which is handled by one of the respective studios’ bigger female singing stars, who portrays an older sister. We even find that both films take place throughout the year, pausing around Christmastime (with the actresses stopping to sing a holiday tune).
But, it’s hard to deny that these movies certainly do things a bit differently, too. As the father in both films, Leon Ames’ characters do not do things quite the same way. In On Moonlight Bay (OMB), he really interferes in his daughter’s love life, by both rejecting the guy she likes and trying to push somebody else on her that he finds more “acceptable.” In Meet Me In St. Louis (MMIST), he really doesn’t interfere (he threatens to once, but never actually follows through on it). Of course, the number of children varies between the two films, with only two in OMB and five in MMIST. Also, the older daughters in MMIST are quite feminine in nature, whereas Doris Day’s Marjorie in OMB is more of a tomboy (at least, until she tries to be a bit more feminine for her boyfriend). The overall situation and timeframe allows for some differences, as MMIST takes place (mostly) in 1903, with the family mainly looking forward to the upcoming World’s Fair in St. Louis, while the prospect of the first World War looms over OMB (with Gordon MacRae’s Bill Sherman eventually joining the armed forces).
Ultimately, when you get right down to it, I would take Meet Me In St. Louis over On Moonlight Bay. Judy Garland is, to me, the far better actress and singer. The music itself in MMIST is far better and far more memorable (especially for the Christmas segments). Just the way it is filmed seems better, with the way director Vincente Minelli did things (especially with Judy on camera). Now, all that doesn’t necessarily mean that On Moonlight Bay doesn’t have its advantages, either. I do think I prefer Mary Wickes to Marjorie Main in the maid’s role (but I would say that has more to do with the idea that I prefer Marjorie Main when she is a bit more loud and outspoken, and she seems tame in comparison in MMIST). And we also get to spend more time with the characters from On Moonlight Bay, since that film did receive a sequel (By The Light Of The Silvery Moon) that was able to bring back most of the cast of the first film. Regardless, it’s a fun experience with either film, and I certainly would recommend both as good films to just sit back and relax while watching!
Meet Me In St. Louis
Film Length: 1 hour, 53 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
On Moonlight Bay
Film Length: 1 hour, 35 minutes
My Rating: 9/10
The Winner (in my opinion): Meet Me In St. Louis