A paean to the nuclear family and the fertile soil where it ostensibly grows best—the American Midwest—Meet Me in St. Louis would feel a bit claustrophobic, if not cultish, if it weren’t for Vincente Minnelli’s elegant camerawork and Judy Garland’s spiky performance (she has much more of an independent spirit here than in The Wizard of Oz). Garland plays one of four daughters in the wealthy Smith family, all of whom eagerly await the arrival of the 1904 World’s Fair in their beloved home town. Romantic advances from boys and a potential job transfer for their father (Leon Ames) threaten their idyll, but in the end the men are absorbed into the family unit and the advances from the East Coast are rebuffed. Minnelli airs out the stuffiness of the story and the setting by moving his camera about the Smith mansion with ease, particularly during the group dance scenes, while Garland is at once sultry (inviting a potential beau to dim the house’s lights with her) and somber (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas has never sounded sadder, which is saying something). There is also a welcome, if bizarre, twist thanks to little Margaret O’Brien as Tootie, the family’s death-obsessed kid sister. Her morbid enjoyment of Halloween is one thing, but by the time she angrily decapitates the snowmen on the front lawn during the movie’s emotional climax, you begin to wonder if the Smiths might have a sociopath on their hands.