Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Autumn, 1903

The Second Vignette also opens with a greeting card view of the Smith house. The first shot of the house is at nighttime in late October at Halloween - the Gothic windows are lit with a eerie yellowish light. Upstairs, Agnes and 'Tootie' are getting costumed for trick-or-treating for 'Tootie's' favorite holiday ('Tootie' is always morbidly obsessed with death and murder.) Their plan is to gleefully take revenge on an allegedly-mean and hateful St. Louis neighbor, Mr. Braukoff (Mayo Newhall):

'Tootie': We'll fix him fine. It'll serve him right for poisoning cats...He buys meat and then he buys poison and then he puts them all together.
Agnes: And then he burns the cats at midnight in his furnace. You could smell the smoke...
'Tootie': ...and Mr. Braukoff was beating his wife with a red hot poker...and Mr. Braukoff has empty whiskey bottles in his cellar.

In the kitchen, the two girls set the mood for the scary night. They frighten Agnes with their suitably gruesome costumes - 'Tootie' is dressed as an unburied "horrible ghost," who "died of a broken heart" (with an oversized coat, bowler hat, and long rat's nose) and Agnes with a white ghost's mask is "a terrible drunken ghost...murdered in a den of thieves." When someone answers the doorbell during trick-or-treating, the girls' goal is to 'kill' the 'victim' by throwing flour in the flustered person's face, while telling them how awful they are. They join other neighborhood children who are erecting a huge bonfire [with furniture that they've stolen for fuel?]. Deciding who they will take revenge on, the children discover that nobody wants to "take on" the local ogre Mr. Braukoff, so they choose other targets instead. Agnes, a representative of the older kids, dashes 'Tootie's' plans when she tells her younger sister that she is "too little" to take part.

In an exactingly-executed sequence that builds up a frightening, creepy mood, 'Tootie' bravely volunteers for the job - it is her bewitching, nighttime Halloween adventure. She is warned that if unsuccessful, "the banshees will haunt you forever." She goes off alone, approaching the fearsome Braukoff house. Her walk is filmed in one long traveling shot in front of her as she proceeds stealthily to the victim's front door. Quaking and shivering with fear in the darkness of the night, a horse's neigh makes her jump with fright. Her eyes widening with terror, she builds up her courage, creeps onto the porch and peers in the front window - she becomes more horrified by the sight of Mr. and Mrs. Braukoff sitting in their living room. Angular shots accentuate their strangeness. She rings the doorbell, stares straight at her victim for a fearful moment - filmed at a slightly-upward angle to approximate her own view, flings flour in his glowering face, shouts "I hate you, Mr. Braukoff," shrieks, and then scampers off to safety, (filmed with a reverse traveling shot). To provide another more realistic perspective, Mr. Braukoff wipes the flour from his face with a handkerchief while his bulldog licks up the spilled flour on the doorstep. 'Tootie's' tattered costume flaps behind her.

Successful and triumphant, she rejoins the older children, exclaiming with pride: "I killed him." They gather around and witness Agnes' account of the deed:

Agnes: She killed him all alone. Hey, wait a minute. Listen, listen. Quiet. Quiet. Tootie killed the Braukoffs single-handed. She's the bravest of them all!
Another child: Yeah, Tootie's the most horrible! (The children cheer Tootie.)

Immediately accepted for her daring deed, Tootie is asked to pile on more debris on the kids' bonfire. She exclaims:

I'm the most horrible. I'm the most horrible.

Back at the Smith residence on the same evening, Rose is escorted home by her latest conquest - young Colonel Darly (Hugh Marlowe) - to have ice cream (at the Halloween party). Esther marvels over Rose's latest beau, extending her congratulations. Moments later, they are interrupted by Tootie's screams off-screen down by the trolley. Frightened and injured, she arrives home bloodied and sobbing. She is carried into the house and surrounded by the concerned family, as she whimpers and wails: "He tried to kill me." Mrs. Smith decides to summon the doctor rather than the head of the household, declaring "What could he do?" 'Tootie' alleges that John Truett attacked her. A close-up of Esther's face reveals her horror and shock and she first reacts that it's "a monstrous falsehood."

When the doctor arrives and examines 'Tootie', he finds a tuft of Truett's hair clenched in her fist, announcing: "She must have had quite a struggle fighting him off." With that, Esther runs next door (plucked violin strings play "The Boy Next Door" on the soundtrack) and without explanation attacks Truett, punches him, knocks him down, and bites him, as she exclaims:

John Truett?... I've come here to ask you something...What do you mean hitting a five-year-old child?...The next time you want to hit somebody, pick on somebody your own size. If there's anything I hate, loathe, despise, and abominate, it's a bully.

When Esther returns home, she tells Rose: "I got him. He didn't even have a chance to scratch me." 'Tootie' has already been attentively pampered and cared for. And then Agnes rushes in the bedroom, telling 'Tootie' what had happened down at the trolley, where they had both stuffed an old dress to look like a body, and laid it on the trolley tracks to sabotage the trolley car. 'Tootie' gleefully exclaims: "It looked just like a body, a live body too." Rose is upset with Agnes:

Rose: You're nothing less than a murderer. You might have killed dozens of people.
Agnes: Oh Rose, you're so stuck-up.

So Truett had fought with Agnes and 'Tootie' only to try to hide them from the police. 'Tootie' thinks Truett's precautionary concerns were unnecessary: "No police men ever pay attention to girls." Esther is enraged at 'Tootie' for fooling her: "You're the most deceitful, horrible, sinful creature I ever saw, and I don't ever want to have anything to do with you again." Esther again rushes next door to John's front porch to reconcile with him - he accepts her apology: "If you're not busy tomorrow night, could you beat me up again?" He grabs her and she finally receives her first kiss from him, after which she retorts: "You've got a mighty strong grip for a boy."

On the home front, the convalescing 'Tootie' is brought downstairs for ice cream with the family, telling all:

'Tootie': Here comes the invalid. I have to have two kinds of ice cream. I'm recuperating.
Mrs. Smith: If I ever catch you fibbing again like you did about John Truett, I'll give you something to recuperate about.

Esther enters the room, swooning over her first kiss from John. Her mother tells her: "Your ice cream is melting." Agnes recites a cute poem about Esther's budding romance:

Roses are red
John's name is Truett
Esther's in love
And we always knew it

All are happily eating ice cream when Papa arrives home with a present of sweets for his wife, and the news that he will be sent to New York on business. The family doesn't at first understand the implication. Grandpa promises to protect everyone in his absence:

They'll all be safe with me. I've got twelve guns in my room.

Mr. Smith makes it clear that he will be sent permanently. He has received a promotion and will be head of a new office there. The family is shocked by the news. The entire family will have to move to New York City right after Christmas. 'Tootie' contemplates what the uprooting means:

It'll take me at least a week to dig up all my dolls in the cemetery.

The family is stunned, entirely disrupted and upset the news of the move, especially Rose and Esther, whose romances with beaux, friendships, and educational plans are threatened. And Esther is also depressed and aghast because they have to go away before the St. Louis fair. 'Tootie' and Agnes will lose their playmates, Katie will lose her job, and Mrs. Smith's home will be uprooted. [The threatening move also hints at the loss of an uncomplicated way of life or the end of an era of innocence in American life.] Mr. Smith defends his firm decision to move in a few months:

Mr. Smith: I've got the future to think about. A future for all of us. I've got to worry about where's the money coming from. Lon in Princeton, and Rose going to college...
Rose: Money! I hate, loathe, despise, and abominate money!
Mr. Smith: You also spend it.

Mr. Smith still has the appetite to eat a slice of Katie's special Halloween cake - he is the only one in the family who can eat during this traumatic time. Rose is appalled by the thought of living in a New York apartment rather than a house: "Rich people have houses. People like us live in flats, hundreds of flats in one building." And 'Tootie' tells everyone with a wavering voice: "I'd rather be poor if we could only stay here. I'd rather go with the orphalins at the orphalins home."

After everyone has excused themselves from the table, only Mr. and Mrs. Smith are left. Having incured the wrath of the entire family, he looks over at his wife, and reproves her for ingratitude: "Aren't you afraid to stay here alone with a criminal? That's what I'm being treated like." In the parlor, Mrs. Smith sympathetically stands by her husband and accepts his decision. In a touching and moving scene expressing their family unity, inseparability and loyalty, she determinedly goes to the parlor piano and starts playing "You and I." He sings to Mrs. Smith's accompaniment, first struggling with the high register until she lowers and transposes it: "I'll put it down in your key."

The rest of the family - gracefully accepting their father's decision - slowly gathers together again, drifting downstairs and into the dining room to pick up a plate with a slice of cake. Everyone listens calmly and pensively to the music - rallying together, unifying and peacefully assembling. When 'Tootie' tries to grab a piece of cake from Esther's plate, she blocks the attempt - but then lovingly feeds her younger sister with a piece from her fork; Grandpa prepares a cribbage game at the table; the others gather in the parlor to eat their pieces of Halloween cake. For the last chorus of the song, Anna accompanies her husband in beautiful, two-part harmony:

From my heart, a song of love, beseeching, Just for you, my longing arms are reaching, Time goes by, but we'll be together, You and I.

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