Musical Monday: State Fair (1945)

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

Studio:
20th Century Fox

Director:
Walter Lang

Starring:
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

Plot:
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.

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Review: “Hot Rods to Hell” (1967)

hot rods to hellWe all have at least one guilty pleasure film that is so terrible, but we inexplicably love it.

I have several, and one of them is the 1967 drama/thriller “Hot Rods to Hell.” It is one of those films where you laugh at the ridiculous lines and moments but have a desire to rewatch it constantly.

Originally made for TV but released in theaters, the camp film stars veteran Hollywood stars Jeanne Crain, as Peg Phillips, and Dana Andrews, as Tom Phillips.

This is one of four films Andrews and Crain made together during their Hollywood careers that spanned the 1940s through the 1970s.

Their first film together was movie musical “State Fair” (1945) where Crain plays a farm girl named Margy who meets Andrews, a reporter named Pat, and falls in love with him at the state fair.

“State Fair” ends with the two happily running towards each other and kissing in the street.

I like to imagine that “Hot Rods to Hell” is Margy and Pat 22 years later with their children.

The movie follows the couple and their two children Tina, played by Laurie Mock, and Jamie, played by Jeffrey Byron, as they move from their New England home to run a motel in California after Tom is in a serious wreck.

The film begins with Tom driving home from a business trip to celebrate Christmas with his family. A reckless driver causes the accident and leaves Tom with a back problem and some mental issues. Due to the wreck, he no longer wants to drive and can’t listen to Christmas music.

Tom’s brother arranges for the family to move to California to run the motel, believing it will benefit Tom’s physical and mental health.

Drag racing teens running cars off the road: Ernie, Gloria and Duke played by Gene Kirkwood, Mimsy Farmer and Paul Bertoya.

Drag racing teens running cars off the road: Ernie, Gloria and Duke played by Gene Kirkwood, Mimsy Farmer and Paul Bertoya.

As the family is driving through the desert in their station wagon, they encounter teenagers drag racing a modified 1958 Chevrolet Corvette.

“Run them off the road, Duke. Run them off the road,” shouts the teenage girl Gloria, played by Mimsy Farmer, as she is perched on the back of the car as they race.

The teenagers are children of local, wealthy farmers who don’t care what the teens do. The teenagers have a constant thirst to get their “kicks” but nothing will satisfy them.

“What kind of animals are those,” Tom shouts as they are nearly run off the road. “They are insane.”

Peg covers her face with her hands and screams, “Tom I can’t stand it!”

Tina, who desperately wants to be a hip teenager, defends them by saying that all the kids drag race.

The majority of the 92 minute movie involves Duke, played by Paul Bertoya; Gloria and Ernie, played by Gene Kirkwood, harassing the Phillips family on the road. They tailgate the family through small towns, try to run them off the road and follow them to a picnic ground, where Duke attempts to seduce Tina.

Tina is frightened but fascinated with the bad kids.

When the Phillips finally arrives at the motel, rather than finding solace, there is more trouble.

The motel and the adjacent a bar and grill are inhabited by the drag racers and other teens like them. The previous owner allowed the teenagers to drink and have trysts in the motel. It makes you wonder if Tom’s brother did any research on the spot before encouraging the Phillips to move there.

When the drag racers discover the Phillips are the new owners, they do all they can to make them leave; knowing Tom will sanitize the spot.

The family is terrorized by the drag racers.

The family is terrorized by the drag racers.

Frightened and disgusted with what they find, the Phillips decide to stay the night at the hotel before figuring out what their next move should be.

Tina, still fascinated with Duke, goes to see him at the bar, almost like she is thinking, “Oh these people have been terrorizing my family all day. I think I’ll go hang with them.”

Jealous Gloria tells Tom and who tries to strangle Duke.

“Tina how far would you have gone,” Peg yells at her daughter. “Are you going to end up in a motel room with any man?!”

The family leaves the hotel to get the police, and the drag racers continue to follow the Phillips family.

“Oh they’re back again,” Jamie screams. “They want to crack us up!”

After even more harassment, Tom finally and successfully stands up to Duke and Ernie.

Tom places his car in the middle of the road in a game of “chicken” and the family hides. Duke and Ernie swerves to miss the car and crashes.

The crash causes an immediate attitude change and the boys tell Tom they won’t give him anymore trouble. The film ends with Tom deciding to go back and run the motel properly.

“Hot Rods to Hell” is truly a terrible movie, but I can’t get enough of it.

Duke tries to seduce Tina, played by Laurie Mock.

Duke tries to seduce Tina, played by Laurie Mock.

The hilarious lines and the over reacting to the situations make it a true guilty pleasure and cult classic.

But at the same time, it’s sort of sad. To see 1940s and 1950s stars Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain late in their career and performing in this type of film is disheartening.

Crain was a top star at 20th Century Fox in the 1940s and 1950s and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in “Pinky” (1949).

Dana Andrews previously starred in top notch films such as the noir “Laura” (1944) and the post-war drama “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946).

However, Andrews had children in college so he had to work, said the Carl Rollyson biography “Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews.”

While the old glamorous and glittering Golden Era of film was fading, the top stars were retiring or resorting to cult films like this one to continue to make money.

To compare, Joan Crawford was killing people with an ax in “STRAIT-JACKET” (1964) and Lana Turner was drugged with LSD in “The Big Cube” (1969).

While I marvel at the beautiful films in the early careers of these stars, I also can’t get enough of their late careers. Classic Hollywood’s career downturns have turned into our guilty pleasures.

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Birthday Blogathon: Film #3 State Fair 1945

For my third evening of birthday favorite films I chose:

State Fair (1945)

"It's a grand night" for State Fair

Brief plot: The Frank family travels to the annual Iowa state fair, entering their prize hog, minced meat and pickles into contests. The two children find romance at the fair, but it is uncertain if it will continue once the fair ends. The cast includes Fay Bainter, Charles Winneger, Jeanne Crain, Dick Hyames, Dana Andrews and Vivian Blaine.

Why I love it:

“State Fair” isn’t a high-brow film chock full of symbolism and deep meaning, but its one of my favorites.  It makes me happy no matter what, and that’s what entertainment is about.

Music: I’m a huge musical fan-viewing 432 in the past 8 years. There isn’t a song in this musical I don’t like. “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” is my favorite song in the whole movie. It’s a bit repetitive and very simple, but its a happy, ethereal song. Another close favorite is “It Might As Well Be Spring.” “State Fair” is a Rodger’s and Hammerstein musical, something that most likely surprises R & H fans. It’s very different than their other long, 9 song, operatic musicals. I think State Fair is a musical written for the average American. The songs are written like popular radio songs, easy for the average person to sing and fit the plot of farm families heading to the annual fair. If we had pig farmers singing show stopping, big budget musical numbers, I probably wouldn’t like this movie very much.

Characters/Cast: Everyone in this movie is perfect. Fay Bainter and Charles Winninger(Melissa and Abel Frank) are perfect as a sweet, loving farm couple. Jeanne Crain, as their daughter Margy,  looks her prettiest in this movie and it’s nice to see Dick Haymes in this movie as Wayne. He has a wonderful singing voice and we don’t get to see him in many films-he may have been a bigger star except for personal problems. Vivian Blaine (as Emily Edwards) is beautiful and I love her as a red-head. She was very talented and I wish she could have been in more films. But my favorite character and actor in this movie is Dana Andrews-he is so charming, rugged and handsome as reporter Pat Gilbert. I just adore him.

Charles Winnenger adding brandy to the minced meat!

But most of all I love all the mini cameo’s of well-known character actors. Frank McHugh pops up as a song plugger. It’s weird seeing him in color, after becoming so used to him in early 1930s comedies. He is funny as ever particularly when he and Wayne get drunk. During the hog judging at the fair, we see Will Wright as one of the judges. We see Wright a few times in “Andy Griffith” grumpy old man Ben Weaver, but can be spotted in uncredited roles in 1940s and 1950s. Henry Morgan plays a carny working a side show game who conned Wayne the year before. Wayne returns to get even after practicing the game all summer and humiliates Morgan. It’s a very humorous scene particularly when Morgan starts shouting, “We’re having fun here!” as everyone is walking away.
Of course, the best character actor role in the whole film is Donald Meek as the minced meat judge who eats too much of Melissa Frank’s alcoholic minced meat and gets drunk. He is hilarious!

Humor: This movie is very sweet and poignant but has several funny scenes.  One of the funniest scenes is at the beginning. Melissa Frank doesn’t want to add brandy to her minced meat so Abel adds some when she isn’t looking. Then after he leaves, she adds even more! The result of course is Donald Meek getting drunk of the minced meat.
Another funny scene is the first “It Might As Well Be Spring” reprise with Margy in the gazebo on the farm. She’s thinking about a man and thinking he’d be like “Ronald Colman, Charles Boyer and Bing” and then each of those actors have small speaking cameos as she’s imagining it. Then when her yucky boyfriend Harry (Phil Brown) comes over and sees the prize hog Blue Boy. Harry says: “Blue Boy’s the biggest boar in the world I bet!” and Margy says: “All depends on how you spell it.” That always gives me a good laugh.

Margy and Pat are the cutest.

Nostalgia: State Fair is a very sweet, poignant and honest movie filled with slices of 1940s American life. Fay Bainter sings a little at the beginning, she doesn’t have the best singing voice in the world but somehow that part shows that she’s a simple, hardworking country mother. Wayne practices for the carnival game using his mother’s embroidery hoops. Margy doesn’t want to live on a big scientific farm with Harry and wants a simple, loving life.  The fair looks clean, exciting and perfect. Waynes dances at the little nightclub at the fair. Mrs. Frank’s minced meat wins first prize and she cries happy tears. The way Abel Frank cries when his hog Blue Boy wins first prize pig (that part gets me every time).  And when Abel and Melissa Frank try champagne for the first time and say ,”It’s better than any of that French stuff.” All of those simple moments in the movie make “State Fair” perfect. They are all so sweet and make me want to travel back in time and live just like that.

Margy's green dress on the last night of the fair.

Fashion: Like with “Shadow of a Doubt,” I love the clothes in this movie. Margy wears the cutest outfits and my mom ‘oooo’ and ‘ahhh’ over them every time we watch the film. All of her clothes are cute and colorful but not too glamorous for a farm girl.  Most of her outfits are peasant dresses, pinafores or jumpers. My favorite outfits are the simple white peasant blouse and blue skirt she wears at the beginning while singing “It Might As Well Be Spring,” the red dress she wears during the minced meat judging, the green dress she wears the last night of the fair and the blue jumper with the yellow blouse at the very end.  I also love those sports coats that tie around the waist- both Dana Andrews and Dick Haymes wear.

To review: “State Fair” is a perfect, honest film. The only thing wrong with it is that it doesn’t go on forever. The color, the slice of life it offers, the music and the characters all put a smile on my face. The only thing that makes me sad about this film is that life isn’t like that today.

Okay, I'll admit-I tear at the end. And I wish I was Margy right here.

This concludes Night 3 of Birthday Blogathon Week. Please stop by again tomorrow for another favorite film of mine!

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Elephants and over bearing housekeepers

Have you ever seen a movie that is so similar to another one, yet you know it isn’t a remake?

I’m not saying something like Disturbia (2007) and Rear Window (1954) which are so similar it might as well be a remake and there was a court case over the fact that the screenwriter of Distrubia copied Rear Window.

Two movies I feel are very similar are Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940)and Elephant Walk (1954).

Both have very similar plots. The odd thing is that both of these films were movies adapted from books. Elephant Walk was written by Robert Standish in 1948 and Rebecca was written by Daphne Du Maurier ten years prior in 1938.

Let’s briefly over view the plots before we proceed with the comparison.

Rebecca (1940): A young woman (Joan Fontaine) meets a rich widower (Laurence Oliver) and has a whirlwind romance. They fall in love and marry after not knowing each other for very long. Shortly after moving into her new home, the young bride finds that she is not in control of her own household. Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) the house keeper underminds everything the 2nd Mrs. DeWinter tries to do and constantly reminds her that she is not as good as the deceased wife, Rebecca.

Elephant Walk (1954): Rich plantation owner John Wiley (Peter Finch) from Ceylon comes to England specifically to find a bride who ends up being Ruth Wiley (Elizabeth Taylor). She marries him after only knowing him a brief time and finds plantation life in Africa difficult. Not only is life in Africa strenuous, but also the fact that the head man servant, Appuhamy (Abraham Sofaer), won’t let Ruth run her home. It makes things difficult because everyone idolizes John’s father, the late Mr. Wiley, and talks about him as if he is still alive.

If you don’t see the similarities through the plot summaries, then this will help:

1.) Both movies have a creepy housekeeper that won’t let the heroine run her home. It doesn’t make things any better when their husbands are cold and don’t stand up for them at all.

In both films, the servants worship someone who is dead and continue to act as if they are alive. In Rebecca it is Mrs. Danvers constantly reminiscing about old times with Rebecca of when she would get ready for parties and brush her hair as Rebecca told her about her evening. In Elephant Walk it’s Appuhamy still serving his late master and acting as if he is alive and giving orders.

Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca

Appuhamy played by Abraham Sofaer in Elephant Walk

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