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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

‘Meet Me in St. Louis’: Garland at her greatest

If you caught the recent film "Judy," you'll have some sort of idea of just how difficult Judy Garland's life was. Which is compounded by the fact that she appeared so radiant, and happy, in so many of her movies.

And one of my favorite Garland films will be screened locally as part of a 75th-anniversary event. "Meet Me in St. Louis" will play at 1 p.m. Sunday and at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Regal Cinemas theaters at Northtown Mall and Coeur d'Alene's Riverstone Stadium.

The film, which directed by Vincente Minnelli and released in 1944, stars Garland as Esther Smith. The second-born of four children in the Smith household, Esther is in love with the boy next door (Tom Drake). And the film follows Esther and the rest of the family — especially young Tootie, played by Margaret O'Brien — throughout the year leading up to the1904 St. Louis World's Fair.

So, OK, the movie might not age well, what with the whole plot revolving around a young woman's trying to snare a man. But Esther isn't just any young woman. She's bright and resourceful and willing to stand up for what's right — especially in defense of the spunky Tootie.

O'Brien, one of the great child performers in film history, is perfect as Tootie. And Leon Ames is notable as the father. But it is Garland around whom the movie is built, and she shows off all her star power in musical numbers such as "The Trolley Song", "The Boy Next Door", and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" — the first of which is featured (and sung by Renee Zellweger) in "Judy."

"Meet Me in St. Louis" was a highlight not just in Garland's career but also in her life. She ended up marrying Minnelli and having two children with him. That they later divorced doesn't change the fact that, for at least a short while, her life resembled something close to the image she portrayed so well on screen.