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State Fair

State Fair(1945)

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Philip Stong's homespun novel about a farm family and their adventures at the Iowa State fair first made it to the screen in 1933 as a vehicle tailored to the talents of starlet Janet Gaynor and audience favorite Will Rogers. Ten years later, when composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist/writer Oscar Hammerstein made musical theater history with their groundbreaking Oklahoma!, 20th Century Fox honcho Daryl F. Zanuck decided that the team would be the perfect choice to adapt the straight film to a musical. The willing team agreed, with the proviso that they would not be required to come to Hollywood in order to write the film.

State Fair follows the fortunes of the Frake family as they visit the fair along with their pet pig Blue Boy, who father Abel (noted character actor Charles Winninger) is hoping will win the blue ribbon. His wife Melissa (Fay Bainter) entertains similar hopes for her home-made pickles and run-spiked mince sauce. They are accompanied by their son Wayne (pop singer Dick Haymes) and daughter Margy (Jeanne Crain), both of whom are ready for love.

Margy is the first to find romance in the fairgrounds in a chance encounter with slightly-jaded reporter Pat Gilbert (Dana Andrews), who charms Margy while covering the fair for the local weekly, and hoping for a dream job in the big city. At the same time, Wayne finds a possible flame in sultry singer Emily Edwards (Vivian Blaine), the gorgeous cherry blond with a secret past that she keeps hidden from him. Both Margy and Wayne seem destined for romantic disaster when Pat is called away without warning or time to explain to Margy, and when Emily reviews her shattering secret, which opens Wayne's eyes to how different their lives are worlds apart. But of course, in true 40s musical style, somehow everything is able to work out happily for parents and children alike.

State Fair is a pleasant if not particularly distinguished diversion, sparked by splendid performances by a cast of old pros and new stars. Crain is at her loveliest and most appealing. Her singing voice was dubbed by Louanne Hogan, a match that would prove so seamless that Hogan would end up with a contract to provide her singing voice in other films (shades of Singin' in the Rain!). Dana Andrews rounds off his rough edges to give a charming performance as Pat, and both Haymes and Blaine fill their roles beautifully. But the film is nearly stolen by the winning pairing of Winninger and Bainter as the understanding (and understated) parents.

This would be Rogers and Hammerstein's only score written specifically for the screen, and while the music for State Fair doesn't match the emotional depth of their stage work, the team still managed to produce another pair of timeless standards with the lovely It Might as Well Be Spring, and the lilting It's a Grand Night for Singing.

The two-disc 50th Anniversary edition of the film includes the egregious 1962 remake starring Pat Boone as Wayne, Bobby Darin as Pat, and Ann-Margaret as the object of Wayne's affection. Screen musical legend Alice Faye came out of retirement after a sixteen year absence to take on the role of Melissa Frake, and through much of the film looks as if she wished she hadn't. The remake falters from the start with a flat prologue with Boone and his hometown girlfriend arguing about his race-car driving before giving way to the film's maddeningly memorable theme song (with which the original had the good sense to open). But the remake also includes such auspicious moments as Tom Ewell, as papa Frake, singing a love song to a pig (penned by Rodgers on his own for the film), and Ann-Margaret performing a dance on the fair stage that would've gotten her arrested at any state fair in the 60s.

Fox has provided excellent source material for the transfers of both films: the colors for the original really pop in true Technicolor style. The picture is clean and clear, marred only by a tendency for the flesh tones to be a bit over-ripe. The second film was shot with much more realistic colors, which are well-realized in the sharp, crisp, image of the transfer. The original film includes an audio commentary by film historian Richard Barrios and Tom Briggs, as well as a short featurette that serves as a shameless promotion for their stage version of the film. The remake includes an audio commentary by no less than Pat Boone himself!

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by Fred Hunter