Hugh Martin died last Thursday at age 96. He and Ralph Blane earned a beloved spot in movie history when they wrote the original songs for Vincente Minnelli's great 1944 musical, "Meet Me in St. Louis." Their score and Minnelli's direction superbly showcase Judy Garland and Margaret O'Brien as the liveliest of Leon Ames' four daughters; they manage to persuade their lawyer father to stay in the cozy Gateway City of 1903, rather than accept a promotion in New York. Under Minnelli's guidance, Garland exudes a plangent longing and O'Brien a pipsqueak nerviness and emotional transparency that cut against any hints of treacle.
Thanks to Miller and Blane, Garland's and O'Brien's presences meld in the best Christmas musical number ever: Garland singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" to O'Brien. The sights and sounds of Garland at her peak trying to comfort O'Brien, who's stricken at the thought of her family's moving from St. Louis, capture all the poignancy of trying to be jubilant when you're feeling fragile. The movie also contains the jubilant Martin-Blane "The Trolley Song" - the number that is prominently featured in the trailer above and the one that was nominated for best original song at the Academy Awards. (It lost to "Swinging on a Star" from "Going My Way.")