Before Judy Garland started to apply her make-up with a knife and fork and stagger on stage so full of pills she'd sound like maracas in a spin dryer when she fell over, there was a performer of simplicity and sweetness: a girl with the same throbbing, emotional voice but good sense to go with it. A girl who knew there was no place like home (The Wizard of Oz) but who could leave Auntie Em behind to win the West (The Harvey Girls).

That Garland deserves as much credit as the in-concert Garland, the Garland of A Star is Born. In her fashion, she articulates her times (innocent, do-right, sturdy) as surely as the bittersweet Judy illustrates the post-war collapse of those values. Or, to put it another way, early Judy has energy, later Judy has nervous energy. That's what makes later Judy more to modern tastes.

The Judy of Meet Me in St Louis is old-fashioned in every sense, a turn-of-the-century maiden with a cosy family life and a beau ('The Boy Next Door'). Neither she or MGM particularly wanted to do the picture, yet it's a classic, cornball sentiment redeemed by director Vincente Minnelli's eye for detail (see Garland move through the family home extinguishing the lights). Minnelli merges her into the hustle and bustle of everyday life; she's still extraordinary but something wonderful happens. In Meet Me in St Louis Garland for once belongs. She's not a child freak or a knock-'em-dead goddess: here Garland is the most human of stars - flesh and blood and full of poignant hope.

'Meet Me in St Louis', 7.30pm tonight, Momi, South Bank, SE1 (071-928 3232)

Screenings of 'Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli Live at the London Palladium' and Barry Norman's 'The Hollywood Greats: Judy Garland', 6.30pm 22 Jun, NFT1, South Bank

See David Benedict on page 10

(Photograph omitted)