MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS
Unrated, 1944, 120 minutes, MGM-UA Home Video, $19.98.
With its Technicolor images and musical soundtrack meticulously and lovingly restored by Turner Entertainment Co., "Meet Me in St. Louis" now looks and sounds better than it ever has on home video -- an improvement especially obvious on the glistening Laser Disc release. Director Vincente Minnelli's second feature, a warm but essentially unsentimental evocation of turn-of-the-century Americana made in 1944, found him surrounded by pros who were, like him, at peak form -- including of course Judy Garland, Mrs. Minnelli-to-be, and audacious tot Margaret O'Brien as Tootie, the Bart Simpson of her day, whose Halloween escapade is one of the picture's indisputable highlights. Everybody remembers "The Boy Next Door" and "The Trolley Song," but the two most affecting numbers may be Garland and O'Brien's parlor cakewalk to "Under the Bamboo Tree" -- pure magic, no matter how many times you see it -- and Judy's melancholy lullaby, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," sung as a red-nosed Tootie sobs. What comes through now is not so much a sense of the period in which the movie is set, but rather a feeling for the era in which it was made; one can sense a nation, three years into war, pining for peace and luxuriating in the movie's escapist version of it. Life will never be so sweet that the dream world conjured by "Meet Me in St. Louis" won't seem preferable. Nor does it seem possible that anyone, ever, could watch it and not come away thinking, "This is a great film." -- Tom Shales
PG-13, 1990, 117 minutes, Touchstone Home Video, $89.95.
Bathhouse chanteuse turned Lemon Joy diva Bette Midler makes her second bow as a screen sob sister in this insipid suck-face-athon, a yechy remake of the 1925 weepie "Stella Dallas." As the single mother of the title, Midler is about as sympathetic as Mommie Dearest. She doesn't use a coat hanger on her daughter, Jenny (Trini Alvarado), the product of an affair with an affable urologist (Stephen Collins), she just smothers her with selfish love. A spiteful wretch who sacrifices her child's needs to her own wrongheaded principles, she turns down Dr. Dallas's offer to provide a better life for them both and insists on raising Jenny in the squalor to which she is accustomed. "Let's mix some oil and water. Good idea," she sneers when overly endearing Dr. Dallas offers to marry her. This oil-and-water theme persists throughout; once screenwriter Robert Getchell hits upon the motivation, he feels obliged to reiterate it. "When you mix oil and water," says Dr. Dallas to his daughter, "You mix and mix and mix and you've still got oil and water." The dialogue sounds like a recipe for safe salad dressing. Married in earlier versions, here Stella is a sniveling single martyr who sews Jenny's party dresses after a hard day of hustling cheap cosmetics to suburban drabs. The plot positively overflows with sickly sentiment, a veritable bubble bathos of vapid remonstrances and melodramatic posturing. Midler doesn't sing a note, though she seems on the verge at all times. She does mime a jokey striptease for a rough-house audience in a Watertown bar, a scene that unfortunately recalls the prelude to the rape in "The Accused." John Erman, the Emmy Award-winning director of TV's "An Early Frost," apparently lost his way in this preposterous goo. -- Rita Kempley
Unrated, 1975, 80 minutes, Proscenium, $29.95.
The improbable combination of Ronald Searle's cartoons with the best-known characters and melodies of Gilbert and Sullivan gives a unique flavor to this animated film, made for British TV. The plot is properly convoluted and unlikely, and it serves as a handy line on which to hang a series of parodies, sight gags and cameo appearances: Dick Deadeye, the villainous sailor from the HMS Pinafore, is engaged by Her Majesty as a counterintelligence agent against the miscreants (a sorcerer? pirates of Penzance?) who have stolen the Ultimate Secret. Searle fans will treasure this video for the chance to see his caricatures in motion and particularly for occasional glimpses of a Searle cat or rat. Savoyards may find it simple-minded and disjointed but will hear nearly all their favorite tunes in rock-flavored arrangements with (sometimes) bright new lyrics. Sample: "With the liberals always telling us to lay off/ and the diehards saying duty must be done,/ and the pay so bad we're forced to take a payoff,/ a policeman's lot is not a happy one." -- Joseph McLellan
ROSALIE GOES SHOPPING
PG, 1990, 96 minutes, Vidmark, $89.95.
Marianne Saegebrecht's generous nature and ample proportions are the mainstays of Percy Adlon's latest bouquet to the bountifully talented screen dumpling. Yet another fiduciary farce for our times, "Rosalie Goes Shopping" is, alas, as unbalanced as the budget it weakly tweaks. A tale of Reaganomics from the housewife's viewpoint, it offers a bullish Saegebrecht but a dramatic deficit. At least there are no yuppie squirts in Adlon's aptly chosen setting of Stuttgart, Ark., a cuckoo clock of a town that perfectly suits kooky Rosalie, the Bavarian bride of Ray Greenspace (Brad Davis), a barnstorming crop-duster. The world's most conspicuous consumer, Rosalie shops, shoplifts, bounces checks, cheats credit card companies and churns the family's bank accounts to keep her family happy. While Ray is out spraying chemicals on Arkansas, Rosalie is buying American dreams -- at least that's what the German director believes. Adlon, who wrote the script with his wife, Eleonore, and Christopher Doherty, isn't sure whether he's for or against big spending. His on-again, off-again indictment of plastic and the Home Shopping Network is as scatterbrained as the cockamamie Greenspace family, whose high jinks aren't so much wacky fun as tiresome. Despite Saegebrecht's abundant charms, "Rosalie" is thin indeed. -- Rita Kempley