State Fair (Blu-ray Review)7 Aug, 2017 By: Mike Clark
Available via ScreenArchives.com
Stars Pat Boone, Bobby Darin, Pamela Tiffin, Ann-Margret, Tom Ewell, Alice Faye.
As the latest eye-filler from the 20th Century-Fox catalog served up on a high-def golden platter by Twilight Time, the third and final State Fair is a splendorous view that, yes, I would watch again — even if the movie itself serves as a primer on how to botch up a property that studio suits probably assumed was surefire. First conceived as a 1933 non-musical for Will Rogers, it was a huge hit — which again raises the what-have-we-lost? point that he and fellow senior Marie Dressler were peak favorites among that era’s most popular box office stars, even though both always appeared to be about a hundred years older than Pat Boone looks here. Then a dozen years later, it became the 1945 musical — probably my favorite Golden Age one that didn’t come from MGM — that produced “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” and the Oscar-winning “It Might As Well Be Spring” as part of the only screen original that Rodgers & Hammerstein ever did.
For a certain demographic, this updated 1962 go-round probably conjured up fantasies of grand nights for screaming with Ann-Margret, who was cast here as a been-around chorine a year before she played a rather unconvincing teenager (but who really cared?) in Bye Bye Birdie. But otherwise, the critical/commercial reaction to this March release wasn’t anywhere near expectations — and this in a year when I’ll bet the studio was counting on a huge hit to combat those Cleopatra cost overruns (something The Longest Day pulled off at year’s end). For one thing, old-style musicals showed signs of being on the wane, at least until the Rodgers & Hammerstein name would, ironically, briefly bring them back with The Sound of Music. For another, Oscar Hammerstein had died in 1960, and the new songs that Richard Rodgers penned for this revamp were less interesting than even the day’s top-six Twist tunes — serving and only to inflate the running time by 18 to 19 minutes over the ’45 version. And for another, the director was Jose Ferrer — an actor I always liked but not one of the first 250 filmmakers you’d think of to fashion knee-slapping family entertainment. (The year after he did the ’45 Fair, Walter Lang again directed Fair’s Jeanne Crain in the irresistible Margie, which I’ve seen disarm or even melt hard core cynics and whose saturated Technicolor really ought to be on Blu-ray.)
On many counts, however, the two State Fair musicals overlap in broad particulars, even though the story’s locale got switched from Iowa to Texas in this one. The move enabled Ferrer and the great cinematographer William C. Mellor (Bad Day at Black Rock and Giant) to get a lot of real-life Lone Star fair footage that is probably the film’s greatest pleasure (CinemaScope and Tilt-a-Whirls were made for each other). Otherwise, we still have middle-aged parents you can’t imagine ever having sex (Tom Ewell, Alice Faye), spiked mincemeat, a jumbo pig going for a Blue Ribbon — and, more to the point, sibling innocents (Boone and Pamela Tiffin) who “learn about love” from the more sophisticated peers they meet once they get off the farm both literally and figuratively.
Cast as these two instructors are Bobby Darin as a cheeky TV interviewer (taking over from Dana Andrews’ newspaper scribe in the ’45) and Ann-Margret as an on-the-road entertainer performing what looks to be a budget-busting production number for the locals. The last (to “Isn’t It Kinda Fun?”) is such a Blu-ray stunner in a Vegas kind of way that I temporarily overlooked the fact that it totally lacks the charm of what is my favorite scene, musical or otherwise, in its predecessor. For that one, singing duties went to Vivian Blaine and Dick Haymes (there’s a handsome clip of it on YouTube). And though, if anything, Pat Boone might have been a slightly better actor than Haymes, it’s no mystery why Haymes was regarded as Sinatra’s equal in the 1940s.
What else? Well, it’s good to see Bobby Darin in a musical, even though he barely sings here; the one great singing showcase he got on big screens was his infectious bop-out to “Multiplication” in 1960’s Come September. There’s also the curiosity factor of seeing former Fox queen Faye in what was her first movie in 16 years, which probably gave her something to do when real-life husband Phil Harris was in some golf course’s 19th hole or looking for antelope on TV’s “The American Sportsman.” Curiously, Boone’s debut vehicle Bernardine had welcomed back ’33 State Fair star Janet Gaynor after an even longer screen absence.
Then, there’s Pamela Tiffin, to whom an ex-boss of mine once wrote, unsolicited, what used to be called a “mash note” (I do not believe she responded). This was Tiffin’s first movie after giving one of the greatest comic performances I’ve ever seen as the Dixie scatterbrain in Billy Wilder’s One Two Three, which should have been enough to keep her out of ephemera like For Those Who Think Young and The Lively Set (I won’t bash Come Fly with Me because it also had Dolores Hart). Her vocal dubbing is more obvious than usual, which may be why Ferrer ruins “It Might As Well Be Spring” by shooting much of it in widescreen long shots. To be fair, the big altercation scene between Ann-Margret and Boone (who offers voice-over commentary here) is the movie’s strongest, perhaps because drama was more in Ferrer’s wheelhouse.
This was the last movie of note in which Boone had the lead, and he’d come a ways since balking at kissing Shirley Jones on screen in April Love, which, by the way, is another looker from Twilight Time. Here, he’s seen bare-chested, in a drunken state and at least receiving smooches from Ann-Margret, who was probably practicing in the warm-up circle for Elvis in Viva Las Vegas. Boone is serviceable here for what he’s asked to do — though it’s a constant amusement that the only way that Hollywood could make him “dangerous” was to cast him (here and in April Love) as a fancier of hot cars. That one didn’t work for Leo Gorcey or Huntz Hall in 1953’s Jalopy, either.