60th Anniversary DVD

VHS

Remastered DVD Set

State Fair (1945)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

The story upon which this movie musical is based first appeared in a novel by Philip Stong in 1932. In 1933 the novel was made into a movie starring Will Rogers and Janet Gaynor, which was nominated for Best Picture and Best Writing, Adaptation Oscars. In 1945 Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II (R&H, for short) made this film, their first movie musical, from the same story. It was remade again as a musical in 1962 with Pat Boone and Ann Margaret (also included in 60th Anniversary edition), along with a few other still well-known names.

The plot of the movie is simple. The Frakes, an Iowa farm family – father: Abel (Charles Winninger); mother: Melissa (Fay Bainter); brother: Wayne (Dick Haymes) and sister Margy (Jeanne Crain) – are getting ready for a trip to the state fair. Each of the family members has a storyline related to their reason for attending the fair. The simplest ambitions are those of the parents. Abel Frake has a favorite hog: Blue Boy, who he hopes will win the Grand Championship. Melissa Frake has some pickles and mince meat which she hopes will win blue ribbons. Brother Wayne seeks to even an old score with a carnival barker from last year's fair.

Margy’s story begins as the central storyline and is the most complex. She is a young woman who has reached marriageable age in Iowa (Crain turned 20 during the year of the film’s release). However, her marriage prospects are not thrilling. She’s “vaguely discontented” and her mood is well summed up by the best song in the musical: “It Might As Well Be Spring.” Margy’s current “beau,” who she’s known all her life: Harry Ware (Phil Brown), finds linoleum to be futuristic and exciting. Margy does not share this enthusiasm and is not happy with the prospect of marrying him. When Harry sees the Frakes’ prize hog Blue Boy, he says, “Biggest boar in the world, I bet.” Margy replies, “All depends on how you spell it.” Margy has an indistinct and formless hope that the state fair may open up new prospects for her. As the song puts it:

I keep wishing I were somewhere else,
Walking down a strange new street,
Hearing words that I have never heard,
From a man I've yet to meet.

When the Frakes arrive in Des Moines at the fairgrounds the story takes off. Wayne seeks out the carnival barker (Henry Morgan) at a hoop toss game. The year before the carnie had taken a fair sum of money from him with Wayne only receiving a non-functional revolver in return. This year events are different as Wayne wins all the hoop toss prizes worth having, but takes his money back from the year before instead of them. In the process he meets a young woman (Vivian Blaine) claiming to be the daughter of the Chief of Police who takes his part in a public disagreement with the carnie. Wayne’s romantic interest is sparked.

Next, while the “Spring Fever” theme plays “carnival style” in the background, Margy buys a ticket for a roller coaster ride and ends up sitting next to a young man eating an apple (Dana Andrews) who keeps her from having an accident when she stands up while the ride is moving. After their ride the young man shows the ticket taker his press pass to have another ride. Margy declines the opportunity to ride again. When back on the ground, she looks up somewhat longingly at the roller coaster. Margy is surprised as she turns around when the young newsman asks her: “Feel safer down here?” While they exchange casual flirtations and ride the other amusements, it seems apparent that perhaps Margy’s prospects have improved.

That’s enough to introduce all the major characters. I hope the small sampling has caught your interest. Many people may regard State Fair as the least of R&H’s great musicals, but it is also the first of their movies. Like the others it emphasizes the personal over the grand sweep of events. However, unlike the others it has a far more everyday setting.

Although a state fair may be exceptional compared to daily farm life, it isn’t as exotic as Siam from The King and I. Iowa can be as interesting as Oklahoma or New England, but this film doesn’t have the background of a “range war” between farmers and ranchers like Oklahoma, or the social ostracism that results from parental crime like Carousel. It also doesn’t have South Pacific's World War II or the Nazi takeover of Europe like The Sound of Music.

However, State Fair has its own charm. Much of that charm is directly attributable to Midwestern life as it was in the early 20th century and Jeanne Crain in her breakthrough performance. Of course, the music is R&H, with “It Might as Well be Spring” being particularly memorable. At 100 minutes it is one of their shortest movies. If you like musicals, especially Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, you should watch State Fair.

VHS Set

Older DVD Set

Soundtrack CD