State Fair

State Fair. 20th Century Fox 1945.
State Fair. 20th Century Fox 1945.

Before watching the movie:

There are at least three major screen adaptations of this show, and I’m not sure if this version is the most popular or just the most available. The 1933 version stars Will Rogers, but it’s in black and white, so it’s probably not expected to sell as well.

I thoroughly expect this to be a thin plot for hanging songs about rural Americana on, but it’s Rodgers and Hammerstein, so they should be great songs. I’ve probably heard of at least one, but I can’t think of any I specifically associate with it.

After watching the movie:

The Frake family prepare to leave the farm to exhibit in and partake of the Iowa State Fair. The family’s pride and joy is Abel’s prize pig Blue Boy, but his wife Melissa will also be entering her sour pickles and mincemeat. Meanwhile their son Wayne is dejected that his girlfriend won’t be able to come with them and daughter Margy is bored with her entire farm life but none so much as her dull fiancé, who also can’t join the trip. At the fair, Wayne meets an exciting woman who turns out to be Emily, the singer with the dance band, and Margy takes up with a reporter named Pat. With both teens enchanted by their experienced new summer lovers, obviously the most important question is, will Blue Boy win the hog show?

I was surprised to learn that this story didn’t originate with a stage musical, nor was the first movie a musical. It’s based on a dark coming of age novel. Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the songs specifically for this remake, though the 1934 movie took the lead in brightening up the story. Here it’s still slightly cynical, and doesn’t get off as cleanly as one might expect, but I didn’t get the impression of the fair as “the temptation of the pleasures of the flesh” as described about the original book. It’s just a somewhat more worldly romance than most, but not too worldly, since it’s a Code-approved movie.

The songs were there. There were an expected number of them. Most of them were diegetic performances, so they were especially inconsequential. None of them were bad, they just weren’t anything special. “It Might as Well be Spring” was the one I most connected to, but it’s a fairly standard heroine’s “I want” song. I guess Rodgers and Hammerstein aren’t necessarily a smash.

By today’s standards, this is a thoroughly inoffensive, forgettable musical. Something to keep the projectors on in the theaters. But there’s a kernel of something unusual here. I find it very interesting that both of the new lovers are clearly much more experienced than the Frake children, but we’re not at all meant to see them as bad influences. That seems like a radical idea for the movies of the 40s. A small hint that the world isn’t as pure and wonderful as so many Code-era movies would have you believe.

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