The Christmas Cracker, par excellence. Vincente Minnelli's 1944 musical is sprung with a sweet melancholy that seems to intensify rather than diminish with the years.
A chronicle of family life in the St Louis of 1903, it dallies with teenage crushes and gentleman callers until reaching a dramatic crux: the decision of the father (Leon Ames) to take up a job promotion in New York. The excitement of moving is offset by his daughters' ache at having to leave their beloved home, and the surrender of all that they hold dear: comfort, familiarity, togetherness. (That the film came out while the US was still at war would have made the poignancy unbearable to some). If there is a more touching Christmas song, or one more tenderly observed, than Judy Garland singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" to her sister (Margaret O'Brien), I haven't heard it.
Much else about it is tip-top, from the lovely sets and costumes to the rapturous glow of the Technicolor photography, from the songs (by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane) to the dancing. But it's the sense of people yearning for what they have lost – and thus, what we have lost, too – that makes it one for the ages.