• State Fair



    Released by: Twilight Time
    Release date: July 18, 2017
    Directed by: Jose Ferrer
    Cast: Pat Boone, Bobby Darrin, Pamela Tiffin, Ann-Margaret, Tom Ewell, Alice Faye, Wally Cox
    Year: 1962
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    There’s big doin’s on the Frake family farm—or rather off of it, since they’re all hitting the road for the state fair. Family patriarch Abel (Tom Ewell) is psyched about entering Blue Boy, his emotionally sensitive prize boar, in the fair’s hog championship. Abel’s wife, Melissa (Alice Faye), has whipped up a big batch of alcohol-laced mincemeat in a bid for statewide acclaim. Eldest child Wayne (Pat Boone) is taking his race car along, hoping for some payback from the jerk who beat him last year, and seventeen-year-old daughter Margie (Pamela Tiffin) seems happy just to be getting off the farm. Off they go, singing “Our State Fair is a great state fair. Don’t Miss it. Don’t even be late. It’s dollars to doughnuts that our state fair is the best state fair in the state” ad nauseum until they reach their destination. Once there, success, failure, laughs, tears, romance, nookie, and heartbreak ensue.

    The Ferrer-directed version of State Fair was the third cinematic adaptation of Phil Stong’s 1932 novel (titled, appropriately enough, State Fair). The first version—in 1933—was naughty enough to be subjected to some Hays Code censorship a year or so after its initial release. A musical revamp followed in 1945, with a tamer screenplay and some bouncy songs by composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. Both versions were set at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines.

    In 1962 came this remake of the 1945 version, with the narrative moved to the Texas State Fair in Dallas and five more bouncy songs (written solely by Rogers; Hammerstein had died in 1960) added to the mix. Neither a critical nor a commercial success at the time, it’s considered by most contemporary critics to be the lamest of the three filmic incarnations. That’s a pretty fair assessment; while far from unwatchable, it’s about as ordinary a work as Rogers and Hammerstein ever came up with. Completists will want to see it, certainly; others might want to give Oklahoma (1955) another shot. Performances are mostly okay, though Pat Boone’s acting chops were considerably less than his singing chops, and his singing chops were considerably less than his pre-Teen Beat good looks. In the right frame of mind, however, the film can entertain; just make sure that the stars or other psychical forces are properly aligned.

    A non-musical TV pilot based loosely on the original novel aired in 1976 on CBS but was not picked up as a series. The first authentic theatrical (as in stage) production of the play came in 1969 (in St. Louis, with Ozzie and Harriet Nelson and still more new tunes). That version was successfully revived in the mid-1990s, complete with a handful of road companies and the full-fledged Broadway treatment, at New York’s Music Box Theatre.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Twilight Time brings Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair to Blu-ray with an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p high definition. The film is offered in its original theatrical Cinemascope ratio of 2.35:1. Limited to 3,000 units, the disc has two things to recommend it visually: The De Luxe color is beautiful, deep, and impressive; and the detail is razor-sharp. There are a lot of outdoor scenes, and there is a wide range of natural greens and blues on display, in addition to an assortment of colors in clothes, furniture, and other fabrics. Neon tubes fill the carnival that accompanies the state fair with an array of bright and arresting colors. Detail can be seen not only in blades of grass, prints on clothing, and strands of hair but also in carnival rides, stage setups, and cheap hotel rooms. Grain is minimal and foundational, and there are no issues with the tricks of the BD trade, whether it be noise-reduction or sharpening tools.

    Four audio tracks or included for true audiophiles. The first and primary track is the film’s original soundtrack, presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0. As with the visual presentation, it’s perfect. There’s no hiss or sound defects, and voices are clear and distinct, even when bursting into song. For those who would prefer to watch the film in 2.0 rather than 4.0, a second track gives them the opportunity. In either case, the score sounds good and is never marred by poorly mixed effects. Speaking of score and effects, those are offered on a third, isolated track presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. For those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or simply like to ‘read’ their films as they watch them, Twilight Time offers optional English subtitles. Rounding out the audio choices is a fourth track, also presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0; this track is commentary provided by Pat Boone, who goes it alone, describing his involvement in the film as he watches it. In general, it’s an informative, relaxed commentary, sometimes a little too relaxed as Boone gets caught up in what’s going on on-screen and forgets to comment.

    There are a couple of other interesting special features ported over from a past DVD release. “From Page to Screen” is a half-hour documentary about the history of the story, from the original novel to the television pilot. The film is presented full frame in standard definition, the way it was originally filmed. (It does feature footage of Will Rogers and Janet Gaynor from the 1933 version, which makes this viewer want to see that particular version. Can we hope that it’s in the cards, Twilight Time?) Among those who discuss these films is Tom Briggs, co-author of the Broadway adaptation of State Fair; Bruce Pomahac, director of music at The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization; Ted Chapin, president of The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization; and Richard Barrios, a film historian and author.

    That 1976 series pilot mentioned above? It too is included (and is the best extra by far). Running approximately 50 minutes, it has clearly been remastered and looks great, with nice color reproduction and surprisingly good detail. As for the episode itself, it clearly wants to be another The Waltons without understanding the human interactions that helped that show to last. Another problem is the complete lack of charisma for its male lead… Still, this is an oddity fans of the novel and/or films will want to own.

    Finally, two theatrical trailers are included, one running 3:47, the other running 1:14. (The latter is clearly a teaser trailer.) Both focus on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s past musical successes.

    The Final Word:

    State Fair itself may not be great, but the presentation of it is. With an image this beautiful, sound this good, and extras this glorious, fans should be pleased. As film historian Julie Kirgo notes in her beautifully written and astute liner notes, “Whatever you may think of its jacked-up if old-fashioned narrative, State Fair is lovely to look at…”

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s is currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out in 2018.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!