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State Fair: 60th Anniversary Edition

The Rodgers & Hammerstein Collection

As Barton Fink made plain, if an artist has success on Broadway then Hollywood will beckon. For Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II — who both had flirted with the West Coast before — it was 1945's State Fair that cemented their relationship with the big screen. The two had been working apart for years, but as Rodgers' partnership with Lorenz Hart was coming to an end he teamed up with Hammerstein for Oklahoma!. The play was a rousing success, running for years on Broadway, and it led the duo to adapting Henry King's 1933 picture State Fair into a musical for 20th Century Fox, which became their home studio for such projects as The King and I and The Sound of Music. A celebration of Middle America and small town life, State Fair is the only movie that the duo wrote expressly for the screen (only later was it turned into a stage show). And unlike other famous Rodgers and Hammerstein film adaptations, it's the only one that's not a widescreen picture. Such actually works to the movie's advantage — it's a small story, one about a family and simple pleasures. Such also may be why the 1962 CinemaScope remake starring Pat Boone and Ann-Margret falls so flat. Both versions are included in Fox's "60th Anniversary Edition" double feature of State Fair, and the remake reveals why the original works so well.

The 1945 version of State Fair follows the Frake family as they plan to go to the Iowa State Fair (as the lyrics dryly inform: "Our state fair is the best state fair in our state"). Mother Emily Frake (Fay Bainter) is busy with her pickles and her mincemeat, both of which she plans to enter into the food judging. She's concerned that her mincemeat is off, but she doesn't want to add the required brandy. Husband Abel (Charles Winninger) is anxious about his pig Blueboy, who's also going to enter a fair contest, but who only comes to attention when he's around a sow. Daughter Margy (Jeanne Crain) has been "as restless as a willow in a windstorm" due to her boredom with her current beau, and brother Wayne (Dick Haymes) is bummed that his girlfriend won't be going with them since he's spent the last year mastering the ring toss. While at the fair, both children meet new love interests: For Margy, it's reporter Pat Gilbert (Dana Andrews), and for Wayne it's singer Emily Edwards (Vivian Blaine). As the parents trouble themselves with their contests, both Frake children fall for their respective dates. But trouble looms as Pat has to contemplate moving away to accept a better job, and Emily holds a secret that she doesn't want to share.

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By the time the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals really took hold of Hollywood in the 1950s, the style of the musical genre itself was evolving from lively hoofers starring Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly to more story-centric productions. In part, this is why 1945's State Fair is so appealing — it's a modest movie about two kids who fall in love over the course of a weekend. Compared to the larger scale of The Sound of Music or The King and I, this is a unpretentious effort, but slightness has always been something musical productions could use to their advantage. The 1945 State Fair is more in tune with the song-and-dance shows of the period; it's also fascinating because it's the closest Rodgers and Hammerstein came to making a Hollywood-style musical. As to be expected, the numbers are catchy and beautiful, from Margy's playful "It Might as Well Be Spring" to the sweep of "It's a Grand Night for Singing." And director Walter Lang has a light touch with the performers and the music, which led to his work on 1956's The King and I. The 1962 version of State Fair changes Iowa to Texas, transforms Wayne into a racecar driver, and features Pat Boone as Wayne, Pamela Tiffin as Margy, and Tom Ewell and Alice Faye as their parents. But where the original moves at a quick clip, this Jose Ferrer production is interminable. Running 18 minutes longer, all that there is to recommend it is the appearance of Ann-Margret in the Emily Edwards role (here named Emily Porter). The widescreen framing may be the final straw. For a small story, the CinemaScope ratio swells what should be intimate moments, which eventually are lost on an empty canvas.

Fox's two-disc "60th Anniversary edition" of State Fair includes both films. The 1945 rendition is found on Disc One in a good full-frame transfer (1.33:1) that makes it look better than ever, while audio is clear on DD 2.0 stereo and mono tracks. Extras on this first disc include a commentary by film historians Richard Barrios and Tom Briggs, and the featurette "From Page to Screen to Stage: State Fair," which covers the history of both films and its later adaptation into a stage production (30 min.). Also on board are the film's theatrical trailer, stills galleries, and a karaoke-style singalong mode. Disc Two offers the 1962 version in a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with DD 4.0 audio. Extras on this disc include a commentary by Pat Boone (with long stretches of silence), the "Vintage Stage Excerpt: 'It Might as Well be Spring' performed by Mary Martin" (2 min.), and the theatrical trailer. Wrapping up the set is a third adaptation in the form of the 1976 television pilot "State Fair" (50 min.) with Vera Miles, Tim O'Connor, Mitch Vogel, and Julie Cobb as the family, here named the Bryants. It is, as to be expected, miserable, with some horrid songs that have nothing to do with Rodgers and Hammerstein. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—DSH



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