State Fair Review
State Fair is currently available as either an individual release or as part of a box set containing various Rogers and Hammerstein movies produced by 20th Century Fox, yet in many respects feels the odd one out amongst such company. Most notably, this was the only musical which the celebrated pair wrote for the screen, rather than adapting one of their stage works (though it did later appear on stage), but also this is perhaps the least known of their screen credits. Despite winning a Best Song Academy Award for ‘It Might As Well Be Spring’, the songs are fairly unmemorable (especially in comparison to The Sound of Music, say, or Oklahoma!) and it lacks the camp appeal that make both Carousel and South Pacific so strangely fascinating. And yet, State Fair is by no means a poor film even if it does lack that certain something to make it an exceptional release. Indeed, outside of musical connoisseurs or those who are picking up the box set, it is difficult to ascertain exactly whom this release is for.
For those who are intrigued, however, the plot to State Fair may be familiar to those who have either read the original Phillip Strong novel or, perhaps, have seen the 1933 non-musical version (an Academy Award Best Picture nominee): a family heads of to the annual fair of the title where the son and the daughter both become involved in their respective romantic engagements. From this point on the film follows a predictable course, whilst trying to approximate the cosy, nostalgic mood of Meet Me in St. Louis (made the previous year), and as such it is hardly surprising that it is the more incidental moments that provide the entertainment.
One of the main pleasures is the ability to enjoy the original Technicolor photography (ably presented on this DVD) which maintains an upbeat atmosphere throughout. Indeed, Walter Lang may not be the greatest director, but his colour films are always lovingly shot (see also his other Rogers & Hammerstein musical, The King & I) and effortlessly provide a gentle mood. Elsewhere, the casting of Dana Andrews is of particular interest. A slightly incongruous presence, Andrews brings with his some of the toughness of his film noir (Fallen Angel was made the same year) and war film roles and thankfully doesn’t sing. One of the great things about the original studio system, and especially their star system, was their ability to spread their actors across a wide range of roles and genres, and anybody tired with seeing Andrews in numerous tough guy parts will find his charming performance here a welcome alternative. Of course, playing a city reporter amongst the country folk may not be a huge stretch, but there’s an easy rapport with leading lady Jeanne Crain and he does at least look comfortable (the downside of the star system is the occasional woeful miscastings). Also of note is the wonderful Donald Meek, here offering a minor supporting role, yet still supplying some of the most enjoyable aspects of the film (something which he would do throughout his career). Of course, this does is some ways reflect badly on some of the major players - Dick Haymes and Vivian Blaine barely register - but then State Fair is a film which offers, for the most part, simple pleasures and simply breezes by inoffensively.
Not especially memorable perhaps, but State Fair does at least hold some minor interests and will no doubt offer some entertainment to those who purchase Fox’s box set - as those likely to splash out on the individual release are likely to be few and far between.
With the Technicolor presentation being one of the prime enticements of State Fair, we should be grateful that Fox have presented it so well on disc. The original Academy ratio is preserved (and presented non-anamorphically, of course) and, for the most part, looks exceptionally good. The occasional flicker is present, and the more discerning viewer may notice the odd scratch, but on the whole looks exceptionally good. The sound similarly offers no major problems, maintaining the original mono (over the front two channels) and presenting the songs and dialogue with equal ease. Sadly, the extras are limited to brief notes on the film’s making and biographies for the major cast and crew members (which the main focus being, understandably, on Rogers and Hammerstein), plus the original theatrical trailer.