State Fair 1945 film classic
Brief plot: The Frake family travels to the annual Iowa State Fair, entering their mincemeat, pickles, and prize hog Blue Boy 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 Winninger, Jeanne Crain, Dick Haymes, Dana Andrews and Vivian Blaine.
Why I love it: State Fair isn’t a highbrow film chock full of symbolism and deep meaning, but it’s 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 over the past eight 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 it’s a happy, ethereal song. Another close favorite is “It Might as Well Be Spring.” State Fair is a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, something that most likely surprises R & H fans. It’s very different than their other longer, nine-song, operatic musicals. I think State Fair is a musical crafted 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 Frake) 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 become a bigger star were it not for personal problems. Vivian Blaine (as fair band singer Emily Edwards) is beautiful and I love her as a redhead. She was very talented and I wish she could have been in more films. But my favorite actor and character in this movie is Dana Andrews, so charming, rugged and handsome as reporter Pat Gilbert. I just adore him.
Most of all, though, I love all the mini-cameos 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. Wright appeared a few times on The Andy Griffith Show as grumpy old man Ben Weaver, but can also be spotted in uncredited roles in several ’40s and ’50s films. Harry Morgan (billed as Henry back then) plays a carny working a sideshow 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 food competition judge who eats too much of Melissa Frake’s alcohol-laced mincemeat and gets drunk. He is hilarious!
Humor: This movie is very sweet and poignant but has several funny scenes. One of the funniest is at the beginning. Melissa Frake doesn’t want to add brandy to her mincemeat, 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 during the judging. Another funny scene is the first “It Might as Well Be Spring” reprise with Margy in the gazebo on the farm. She’s dreaming 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, he exclaims, “Blue Boy’s the biggest boar in the world I bet!” To that, Margy replies, “All depends on how you spell it.” That always gives me a good laugh.
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. Wayne’s dances at the little nightclub at the fair. Mrs. Frake’s mincemeat wins first prize and she cries happy tears. The way Abel Frake cries when his beloved Blue Boy wins first prize pig (that part gets me every time). And when Abel and Melissa 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.
Fashion: Like with Shadow of a Doubt, I love the clothes in this movie. Margy wears the cutest outfits and my mom and I “oooh’ 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 mincemeat 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 them.
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.
Comet Over Hollywood, named for the 1938 Kay Francis film Comet Over Broadway, offers anything from Hollywood beauty tips to rants about Katherine Hepburn. Jessica Pickens is a journalism student at Winthrop University who is interested in silent films to anything made before 1964. She writes for Winthrop’s student newspaper, The Johnsonian, and the Shelby Star in Shelby North Carolina. You can visit her on Facebook as well.