It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.
This week’s musical:
“State Fair” (1945)– Musical #100
20th Century Fox
Jeanne Crain, Dana Andrews, Dick Haymes, Vivian Blaine, Charles Winninger, Fay Bainter, Donald Meek, Frank McHugh, Jane Nigh, Percy Kilbride, Harry Morgan, William Marshall, Phil Brown
The Frake family is excited about heading to the Iowa State Fair, but a pessimist neighbor makes a bet with Abel Frake (Winniger) that something will go badly for the family. The family has a lot to be excited about: the father Abel (Winniger) is entering his prize hog Blueboy and mom Melissa is entering her pickles and minced meat to be judged. Their children Wayne (Haymes) and Margy (Crain) are restless and hope to have fun and meet exciting new people – and they do. Margy meets and falls for reporter Pat (Andrews), and Wayne falls in love with band singer Emily (Blaine). Both have to figure out if this is a vacation romance or the start of a relationship.
-Dana Andrews was a trained singer, but that was something he kept a secret so he could get dramatic roles, according to the biography “Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews ” by Carl Rollyson. Rollyson wrote that Andrews later said he could have handled the song, but decided to give someone the work.
-The only musical Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote strictly for film. There wasn’t a Broadway version before the film. It wasn’t adapted for the stage until 1969 and again in 1996.
-Maureen O’Hara and Kathryn Grayson were originally considered for the film. Alice Faye was originally supposed to be in Vivian Blaine’s role, and Janet Blair also auditioned for the role, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
-Jeanne Crain’s singing voice was dubbed by Louanne Hogan
-The voices of Ronald Colman, Charles Boyer and Bing Crosby in the reprise of “It Might as Well Be Spring” were impersonators.
-Remake of the non-musical, State Fair (1933) starring Lew Ayres, Janet Gaynor and Will Rogers
-Remade as State Fair (1962) starring Ann-Margret, Pamela Tiffin, Pat Boone, Bobby Darin, Alice Faye and Tom Ewell.
-Costumes by René Hubert
-All of the songs
-“Our State Fair” performed by Fay Bainter, Percy Kilbride and Charles Winninger
-“It’s a Grand Night for Singing” performed by Dick Haymes, Vivian Blane, Jeanne Crain dubbed by Louanne Hogan, Dana Andrews dubbed by Ben Gage
-“It Might as Well Be Spring” performed by Jeanne Crain dubbed by Louanne Hogan
-“That’s For Me” performed by Vivian Blaine
-“Isn’t It Kind of Fun” performed by Vivian Blaine and Dick Haymes
-“Ioway” performed by Vivian Blaine and Phil Brown
I’ll just put it simply: I LOVE this movie. It is in my top five favorite films and never fails to make me happy.
With music and lyrics by Rodgers and Hammerstein, “State Fair” often is forgotten when it comes to their body of works. It is shadowed by their other musicals like “South Pacific,” “Oklahoma” or “Sound of Music.” Perhaps it’s because this wasn’t a Broadway musical is why this goes under the radar in the repertoire of the songwriting duo.
But being their only film is what makes “State Fair” so interesting. The two apparently had bad experiences in Hollywood in the 1930s, so they were reluctant to write a film. It’s hard to pick a “best” or “favorite” when it comes to Rodgers and Hammerstein music, but “State Fair” is up there for me. I think part of that is that all the songs are very attainable.
Songs like “That’s For Me,” “Isn’t it Kind of Fun” or “A Grand Night for Singing” are all similar to what audiences would have heard on the radio as pop standards. And this fits into the rest of the Americana feel of the movie. Everything feels familiar: a loving mom and dad, family values, goals for the future, working for a living.
The plot of “State Fair” is literally a family traveling to a state fair. But the story is much more than that. The children have hopes of having exciting experiences to escape their everyday lives, and the parents want to win prizes for their food and livestock to elevate their own family business back home.
The cast in this film is perfect too: The parents are played by Charles Winninger and Fay Bainter, who are wonderful in all of their films. Their children are played by Jeanne Crain and Dick Haymes. Dana Andrews is the stranger Crain falls in love with, and Blaine is a band singer that Haymes falls for.
The romance between Jeanne Crain and Dana Andrews is one of my favorite film relationships. Crain is a simple and sweet girl, while Andrews is a savvy newspaper reporter who comes out of his cynical shell for a farm girl with hair that bounces on the back of her neck. Andrews is so charming and appealing here, and it was a role that allowed him to be romantic and “extroverted,” according to the book “Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews” by Carl Rollyson.
Haymes may be the only weak spot of the film. He isn’t believable as a farm teenager, but I don’t dislike him for it. Where his persona lacks in character, he makes up for with his buttery singing voice.
The real bright spot to me is vibrant redhead Vivian Blaine. I love her character as the band singer, and she looks absolutely gorgeous in Technicolor. Her bright blue eyes glitter in close-ups, and her red hair is a halo around her face. Blaine also sings all the best songs in the film.
The cast is also rounded out by character actors Donald Meek and Frank McHugh in small, but memorable, roles. Phil Brown also plays a vague antagonist as Blaine’s fellow band singer who isn’t a fan of Haymes.
Outside of the music and romance, “State Fair” is also quite a funny film. Some highlights include adding too much alcohol to minced meats, causing a judge to get drunk off of it. Of course, there are also a few parts that tug at your heartstrings because they are so sweet. For example, Winninger crying when his hog wins. It gets me every time!
To round everything out, “State Fair” is shot in gorgeous 20th Century Fox-style Technicolor. I also love the costumes designed by René Hubert. Jeanne Crain wears the most adorable puffed sleeve dresses, peasant blouses and pinafores, which highlight her homespun, farm girl life but I want every single outfit.
I could gush on forever about “State Fair” but simply put, I love it. When fair season rolls around, I always wish it was like this: dancing on the midway to a big band and riding the tilt-a-whirl with Dana Andrews.
P.S.) My private joke with myself is that “Hot Rods to Hell” (1967) starring Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain is a sequel and this is their life years after marrying.
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Great review, Jessica! I too LOVE this movie. It’s so fun and goodhearted, and the music is fantastic. Any time I watch it I spend the next week singing all the songs in my head.
I’m crazy about the costumes and hairstyles, too. The movie is such a colorful treasure trove of youthful mid-40s dresses and hairdos, not only on Jeanne Crain and Vivian Blaine, but on all the extras roaming around the midway. I’m honestly obsessed with Vivian Blaine’s hair in this – the color and the styles. I learned (not very successfully!) how to pincurl my hair a few years ago mostly because I loved the girls’ hair in this movie, lol. 1940s hairstyles are the best.