Of all the things that 1944's Meet Me in St. Louis has gone down in movie history for -- Judy Garland's renditions of "The Trolley Song" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," the latter of which subsequently became a yuletide standard; the spooky Halloween sequence wherein the precociously morbid Tootie (child star Margaret O'Brien) proves her mettle by facing off with the intimidating Mr. Braukoff by herself; the chilly Christmas when, having just been serenaded by her sister Esther (Garland), an inconsolable Tootie runs outside and murders her snow people -- one of its less-showy scenes is the one I expect I will be staying with me. It comes just before the Christmas Eve dance -- the last one in St. Louis for the Smith family since its patriarch (Leon Ames) has accepted a transfer to his law firm's New York office, with the move happening right after the holidays -- for which Esther has been laced into her first-ever corset. To her unmistakable dismay, though, her boyfriend John (Tom Drake) -- literally, the boy next door -- reports he won't be able to take her because his tuxedo is still at the tailor's because he was late picking it up because he was playing basketball with his buddies.
"This is a fine going-away present I'm giving you for Christmas," John says, sheepishly. "I'll bet you really hate me." "Oh, no, John," Esther assures him. "I don't hate you. I hate basketball." Over and above Garland's musical numbers, which are as impressive as you would expect, it is this throwaway moment that really endeared me to her and to the character of Esther, who had taken a lot of things for granted up to that point. Considering how much of an emotional roller coaster the film as a whole is, it's saying something that what really resonated with me was the part where Garland is at her most vulnerable and flustered. And knowing she was soon to marry her director, Vincente Minnelli, it's probable she had a similar effect on him.