The 1949 movie Little Women (set in 1861) and the 1944 musical Meet Me in St. Louis (which is set in 1903) and are two popular — and surprisingly similar — movies. This article details some of the many features that these movies have in common.
Both movies revolve around individual families residing in the leafy suburbs of American cities (Concord, Massachusetts and St. Louis, Missouri). The family in Little Women consists of: father Mr. March (Leon Ames), mother Marmee (Mary Astor), and daughters (in order of descending age) Meg (Janet Leigh), Jo (June Allyson), Amy (Elizabeth Taylor), and Beth (Margaret O’Brien). The family in Meet Me in St. Louis consists of: father Mr. Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames), mother Mrs. Anna Smith (Mary Astor), son Lon, Jr. (Henry H. Daniels, Jr.), and daughters (in order of descending age) Rose (Lucille Bremer), Esther (Judy Garland), Agnes (Joan Carroll), and “Tootie” (Margaret O’Brien).
As you may have already noticed, the father, mother, and youngest daughter in both movies are played by the same actors. Another actor present in both movies is Harry Davenport (who appears as Dr. Barnes in Little Women and as “Grandpa” in Meet Me in St. Louis).
The movies have similar transitions between their credits and opening scenes. In Little Women, a picturesque winter scene of the house of the March family and that of their neighbours is shown as an embroidery. In Meet Me in St. Louis, an ornately framed, sepia-toned picture of the house in summer and the words “Summer 1903” are displayed. Both movies start with these static pictures fading into real moving footage. In Meet Me in St. Louis, to help the viewer appreciate the passage of time, the use of a static seasonal picture of the house is repeated every three months until the Spring of 1904 — the time of the renowned World’s Fair in St. Louis.
In both films, we see all but the very youngest daughters (Beth, Agnes, and Tootie) fall in love. Both Esther (of Meet Me in St. Louis) and Jo (and later Amy) (of Little Women) fall in love with the wholesome boy-next-door character, who in both cases has just moved into the neighbourhood.
Both movies incorporate the Christmas period, and the families in both films have reason to be upset at that particular Christmas. In the case of Little Women, the family is missing their father, who is away serving the Union Army during the Civil War. The daughters each use the dollar given to them by their Aunt March (Lucile Watson) to buy their mother Christmas gifts. On Christmas day, the family decide to give much of their Christmas food to their poor friends. In Meet Me in St. Louis, the family’s Christmas is saddened by the fact that their father has decided that they will move to New York right after Christmas. On Christmas Eve, when the father realises just how upset everyone is by his decision, he gives them the greatest Christmas gift they could ask for by changing his mind about the move. The Christmas spirit and charming snow scenes shown in both films make for ideal holiday viewing.
Both films seem to have a similar artistic appearance. For instance, they employ particularly vibrant colours and beautiful sets, making them very pleasing to watch. They also take full advantage of the great seasonal variation in the weather experienced in parts of North America. Both movies feature houses with a grand staircase and an ornate, plant-filled conservatory. At one point in each film, the two youngest daughters are shown spying at the festivities from behind the staircase rails.
In addition to the fact that the movies were made around the same time (1944 and 1949), the similarities mentioned above may also be related to the following credit connections. Sally Benson, who wrote the original novel Meet Me in St. Louis (most of which was published previously as the “Kensington Stories” in the magazine The New Yorker), wrote the movie adaptation for this version of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. The movies also shared the same set decorator (Edwin B. Willis), art direction team member (Cedric Gibbons), associate (Technicolor) colour director (Henri Jaffa), Technicolor advisor (Natalie Kalmus), makeup department member (Jack Dawn), and sound recording director (Douglas Shearer).