Wednesday, July 24, 2013

State Fair (1945)

I’ve never attended a state fair, but I wouldn’t mind going to one, especially after watching “State Fair” (1945), which a friend of mine, a veteran of many state fairs, says is pretty accurate. Minus the singing of course.

What he was referring to was the hog contests, the food competitions, horseracing, carnival rides and shady barkers.

Plus the food. In “State Fair” there’s a close-up of a hamburger in Technicolor that I think even PETA would find mouth-watering.

”State Fair” is probably best known today as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s only original Hollywood musical. The team had scored a massive hit in the theater with “Oklahoma” and when 20th Century Fox elected to remake “State Fair”, originally filmed in 1933 with Will Rogers and Janet Gaynor, it was decided to hire the famed songwriting team to write songs for this wonderful piece of Americana. (I’ve never seen the 1933 version, but would love to. I have seen the 1962 remake with Alice Faye and wish I could unsee it).

Anyone with an ounce of cynicism would do well to stay away from “State Fair.” But for me, it’s a real treat, with a clever screenplay that gives each member of the Frake family, and several supporting characters, a chance to each enjoy a big scene, either in song, comedy or drama.


The Frake family – Father Abel (Charles Winninger), Mother Melissa (Fay Bainter), Daughter Margy (Jeanne Crain) and Son Wayne (Dick Haymes) prepare to go to the Iowa state fair. Abel is anxious to enter his prize hog Blue Boy, while Melissa anxiously enters her pickles and mincemeat in the food competition. Daughter Margy is as “restless as a wind storm and as jumpy as a puppet on a string” and son Wayne is despondent his girlfriend won’t be going with him to the fair.


The film helped make Jeanne Crain a star. No wonder, what with those very generous close-ups of her singing. While her voice was dubbed, she does a very good job of acting the songs, especially the song that introduces her and her indecisive character “It Might As Well Be Spring.” Jeanne Crain was very popular with audiences and could have made more movies if she wasn’t always getting pregnant, to the everlasting dismay of Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck.

(Later on during this segment, she imagines the voices of Charles Boyer, Ronald Colman and Bing Crosby wooing her. I’ve always wondered if those were the actual voices or done by impersonators. Does anybody know? They sound like the real thing to me.)

Margy falls in love with reporter Pat Gilbert (Dana Andrews), covering the fair for the Des Moines paper. Andrews is very charming in the role even if it is fairly one dimensional.

I’ve always liked Dana Andrews and like him more after watching the DVD’s special features. Apparently he had a very good singing voice but the studio didn’t know that. He learned that his singing would be dubbed, and because he didn’t want the guy doing his dubbing to be out of a job, he kept silent and never told his Fox bosses about his musical talent.

Admittedly, Dana Andrews doesn’t get a “big” scene, but everyone else does. Wayne falls in love with singer Emily Edwards (Vivian Blaine) and they share a charming duet together, “Isn’t It Kind of Fun” but is heartbroken when he learns a secret about her. Abel gets his scene when he enters Blue Boy in the blue ribbon contest, and Melissa sweats out her pickles and mincemeat competition.


This could be my favorite scene in the movie because one of the judges is Mr. Hippenstahl, played by the great Donald Meek, who steals the show from everyone. Melissa is unaware that Abel has spiked the mincemeat with copious amounts of brandy. She adds her own dose of brandy as well and the expression on Mr. Hippenstahl when he tastes the well-laced mincemeat is classic. He keeps digging into the mincemeat with unconcealed glee.

Harry Morgan also enjoys a memorable scene as a crooked carny worker who gets outed by a revenge-seeking Wayne, who got rooked the year before. Morgan’s slow-burn as he realizes the tables are turning on him make this one of my favorite scenes of his in a long and distinguished career.

In addition to the splendid Technicolor photography, I’ve always enjoyed the treatment the music gets. When Alfred Newman is music director on a show, one is in for a treat. Just listen to those yearning, shimmering strings in the “It Might As Well Be Spring” number. It’s a perfect accompaniment to a song that introduces Margy’s character as well as any amount of dialogue could.


The film’s best known song “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” gets a wonderful treatment, starting in the beer garden where Wayne surprises Emily with his crooning, and continues on to the rest of the carnival, including a singing Margy and Pat in a flying carnival ride. It’s a glorious sequence.

The only dance number comes at the end with “All I Owe I Owe Iowa”, a jubilant number with Emily dancing with Abel (Charles Winninger obviously using a few steps he learned in vaudeville). I love Hammerstein’s lyric for this song. He turns Iowa into Io-way to rhyme with Hooray. Great stuff.

Everybody in “Stare Fair” is good and decent. Those that aren’t get put in their place, like Harry Morgan’s barker character and arrogant bandleader Tommy Thomas (William Marshall).

Errol Flynn fans know Marshall as director of two of the legendary star’s most ignoble efforts. “Adventures of Captain Fabian” (1951) for Republic and the never-seen “Hello God” (1951) for which no prints have been known to survive. Marshall also appeared alongside Flynn in “Santa Fe Trail” (1940) as George Pickett. (Even in a blog on “State Fair” I can find a way to mention of the Mighty Flynn.)

Director Walter Lang will never make the auteur books, but looking at his filmography I realized how many of his films are great favorites of mine, including my favorite Betty Grable movies: “Moon Over Miami” (1941), “Coney Island” (1943) and “Mother Wore Tights” (1947). Clifton Webb enjoyed two of his greatest successes with Lang, with “Sitting Pretty” (1948) and “Cheaper by the Dozen” (1950). Lang also directed my favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein adaptation, “The King and I” (1956). In a lot of these movies, scenes of sadness or unhappiness are acknowledged as part of life, but not something to be lingered over.

I’ve seen “State Fair” several times and each time my fondness for it grows. The music is great, the photography impeccable, I like everyone in the cast, those Jeanne Crain close-ups are marvelous to behold and the ending sends everyone out happy. There’s a feeling of good cheer that permeates the movie from beginning to end.

I can’t wait to watch it again.


Caftan Woman said...

I adore the Frakes.

My old VHS tape gets a workout every once in a while. My husband bought it for me early in our marriage. He instinctively thought it would be my kind of movie, and he was right. So many lovely scenes that stay with you.

The earlier version works very well as that sort of "Americana" is right in Henry King's wheelhouse. However, it took me two viewings to really start to appreciate it. As I recall Phil Strong's novel, Margy and Pat do not get together and I truly expected the film from 1933 to go with that ending. I must have been in a very cynical mood that first viewing. Of all of the great, huge romances Hollywood has put on the screen, I don't think I ever yearned for a couple to get together as I did for Jeanne Crain and Dana Andrews in "State Fair".

DorianTB said...

Kevin, I must admit that STATE FAIR is one of those movies that I know other people love, but I just never got the opportunity to give it my undivided attention. Your review really brings out your fondness for the film! I enjoyed the background tidbits about Jeanne Crain and Dana Andrews; though I'm sorry he didn't get a chance to show off his singing voice, I have a new respect for him for keeping mum about his singing so the fella dubbing him wouldn't be out of a job! I enjoyed hearing about Errol Flynn, too! :-) Swell review, Kevin!

Kevin Deany said...

CW, I would love to see the 1933 version someday. I like alot of Henry King's Americana movies (one of these days, I'm going to write about his "I'd Climb the Highest Mountain") and i like the source material. I think I would like it.

Dorian: I hope you get the chance to see it some time. It has many lovely vignettes and you can't beat that Fox Technicolor photography.

Maybe I should institute a game - Six Degrees of Errol Flynn. "State Fair" will be my first entry. I think our friend Becky would enjoy that one.

Classic Film and TV Cafe said...

Kevin, I always thought this was a sweet musical and I don't mean "sweet" in a saccharine way. It's also the film that turned me into a Jeanne Crain fan, even if it was a wee disappointing to later learn that wasn't her singing voice. As always, you've done a wonderful job capturing the essence of the film and its many charms.

Kevin Deany said...

Thanks, Rick. Sweet is a good way to describe the movie, but like you said, "State Fair" is never cloying.

Silver Screenings said...

What a wonderful story about Dana Andrews saving the singing-dubbing man's job. That is very sweet!

Also, Donald Meek deserves to be termed "great". I love him in everything.

Patti said...

Okay, so this post is nearly a week old, and I am just now visiting. That is because I was away for 10 days. I am slowly making my way through all the posts I missed while I was on my vacation.

I loved the state (or the regional part of the state) fair when I was a kid and when my own kids were little. Even when my kids were teens, I still enjoyed the fair and, in fact, even entered baked goods in the competition. My daughter, also, has entered baked goods, as well as cross-stitched projects, and my son has entered photos. So, the fair has been a big part of my life for years.

That said, I have never seen "State Fair" in its entirety. My daughter loves it, though. It's right up there with "The Sound of Music" as her favorite musical. We own it, so she watches it a couple times a year, and she always tells me I need to watch it with her.

I think Dana Andrews had a gorgeous speaking voice, so I can well imagine that his singing voice was great too. While it would be a real treat to hear his singing in this film, I love the gracious behavior he exhibited by keeping quiet about that ability.

Great post, Kevin. I really do need to see this film in its entirety one of these days.

By the way, I sent you a friend request on FB. Since we have several friends in common, you kept showing up in my "people you may know" section. I don't use FB all that often, but since we're blog friends, I figured we might as well be FB friends too.

Have a wonderful day!

Kevin Deany said...

SS, I recently watched, and enjoyed, the three M-G-M Nick Carter movies starring Walter Pidgeon and Donald Meek stole the show in all of them as Bartholomew, the Bee Keeper, an assisting to Mr. Carter. He's a delight in the role. I alwyas smile when I see his name in the credits.

Patti, I would love to go to a state fair and to hope some day. Heck, I would even settle for a county fair. Sounds like you have a very talented family. Congratulations! Thanks for the FB request, I did accept it, albeit a bit late. I was not online yesterday at all. Glad you are back to blogging, and hope you had a good vacation.

Cecilia said...