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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The Van Johnson War

In honor of Memorial Day, I wanted to share some of my favorite war movies.

But there’s a catch…they all star Van Johnson.

It’s no denying that Van Johnson was one of the most sought after actors on the MGM lot during World War II. Big names like James Stewart, Clark Gable and Mickey Rooney were overseas fighting the war.

Van Johnson trying to make scrambled eggs in his helmet in "Battleground" (1949)

But Van Johnson wasn’t able to get in on the action. A car accident during the filming of “A Guy Named Joe” left him with a metal plate in his head which omitted him from going overseas to fight.

 I do like other war movies besides ones that star Van Johnson. My undying love for Van isn’t the reason I’m dedicating this post to him, but because the films that Van made give a wide variety of the different aspects of war.

 War Abroad:

A Guy Named Joe (1943): The infamous movie that made Mr. Johnson a star and oddly paired him as Irene Dunne’s love interest.  Bomber Pilot Pete, Spencer Tracey, dies on a mission and becomes the guardian angel for a young pilot named Ted.  Pete helps Ted fly difficult missions and gives him his blessing as Ted starts to romance Pete’s old girlfriend Dorinda-played by Irene Dunne. Not one character is named Joe in this movie. The title comes from American soldiers nicknamed “Joe.” Filming was halted when Van had his car accident. It took three months until he could return but Spencer Tracey insisted that they keep him in the film. To Review: It’s a good movie and you get a glimpse of Esther Williams in one of her first roles (not swimming). I will say, Spencer Tracey does ALOT of talking. Not a bad thing, it can just get tiring.

Phyllis Thaxter and Van Johnson as Ellen and Ted Lawson in "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo"

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944): The true story about Dolittle’s raid on Tokyo after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The story follows Van Johnson playing real life soldier Ted Lawson. Lawson and the rest of the men, including actors Robert Walker, Don DeFore and young Robert Mitchum, train for the mission and then drop bombs on Tokyo.  There are several scenes in the movie of Lawson marrying his wife Ellen, played by Phyllis Thaxter, their last times together and him remembering her. This may seem cheesy sometimes with lines like Him: “How did you get to be so cute?” Her: “I had to be if I was going to get such a good lookin’ fella.” But you have to consider the context. In Lawson’s book he said the only way he got through the war was thinking about his wife. To review: This is one of my favorite World War II movies. Very patriotic, interesting, exciting and Van Johnson. Dolittle’s troops also trained at Lake Murray which is about an hour and a half from my house.

Battleground (1949): What can I say about my favorite war movie of all time? Van Johnson is a bit older and not just the fresh faced innocent soldier. This time he’s a bit more cynical and has seen a lot more life as his character Holley. The innocent kid in this movie is played by Marshall Thompson. This is a star studded film with actors like George Murphy, Ricardo Montalbon, John Hodiak and James Whitmore. The soldiers are fighting the Battle of the Bulge and dealing with heavy fog and lack of supplies. Since this film wasn’t made during the war, it isn’t as glitteringly patriotic. The soldiers are cynical, mockingly saying, “I found a home in the Army” and you watch the new recruits change from wide-eyed babes to hardened non-believers. To review: I’ve heard that this is one of the films that veterans consider the most accurate when it comes to World War 2 movies. It’s my favorite war movie as well as one of my favorite films. I don’t just like it for the lineup of attractive male stars but also the realism. The soldiers get downtrodden and tired. It’s exciting and nail biting at times while other times make you want to cry. I think my favorite part is Leon Ames’ Christmas sermon about the “$64 question” if the men felt that the war was necessary or not.

War on the Homefront:

War Against Mrs. Hadley (1942): Van Johnson has a very small role, but never the less the film is great. The wealthy Mrs. Stella Hadley (Fay Bainter) thinks she is above the war and that everyone is making a fuss about nothing.  The attack on Pearl Harbor ruined her birthday and her family has the nerve to volunteer to help with the war effort. The widow thinks her husband’s status as newspaper publisher will keep her son away from the fighting and keep her daughter away from canteens. She thinks she can work her way out of black outs and rationing with the help of her government friends in Washington. However, Mrs. Hadley finds that even money can’t get you a break in the war. Van Johnson plays a young service man that Mrs. Hadley’s daughter, Pat (Jean Rogers), meets while volunteering at a canteen. They marry and mother disapproves. To review: I love this movie. Fay Bainter does a terrific job. Though Van has a small role, I think it illustrates how everyone wasn’t for the war when it started. I think it delivers a great message, even today. A country isn’t solely going to serve its people. You have to pitch in too.

The Human Comedy (1943): This is another early Van Johnson film. Mickey Rooney is really the star here. Fay Bainter (nice in this one) plays the mother of Mickey Rooney, Van Johnson, Butch Jenkins and Donna Reed. Her husband has recently died and Van is leaving to go fight in the war. The movie really shows how small town life functioned during the war. Young Mickey Rooney helps old Frank Morgan run the telegraph office. Donna Reed and her friends go to the movies with soldiers that may never come home from overseas. To review: It’s a really poignant view of small town American life during the war. Sometimes it’s beautiful and other times tragic. War movies don’t just have to be about the Pacific and European theaters. Wars also affect people at home. This paints an excellent, innocent portrait of this.

Who should Van choose? Gloria or June?

Two Girls and a Sailor (1944): The plot is very simple. June Allyson and Gloria De Haven are the Deyo Sisters, daughters of vaudeville parents. When they grow up they start their own night club act and entertain soldiers in their home after the show. A mysterious stranger donates an old warehouse to the girls so they can start a top notch canteen. Performers like Jose Iturbi, Xavier Cugat, Lena Horne and Harry James all come and perform at this club. Van Johnson is the sailor torn between the two girls with soldier Tom Drake as his competition. The whole time the girls are trying to figure out who their mysterious donor is. To review: No one ever said every movie had to be as serious as “War and Peace.” This movie’s plot may be as light as a feather but it is so much fun. It’s actually one of my favorite movies. Lots of great musical performances and sweet moments.  The movie shows how people wanted to entertain and help soldiers on leave and unselfishly let them into their homes.

By no means are these the only great war movies out there, but it’s interesting to see how one actor’s films can span so many different aspects of the war.

I hope everyone has a happy and safe Memorial Day and remember the real reason of the holiday, not just a free Monday off from work or school. Have fun and be safe.

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