Monday, May 10, 2021

Love, Hogs, and Mincemeat at the State Fair!

Ann-Margret and Pat Boone.
This bright 1962 remake of the Rodgers-Hammerstein musical State Fair (1945) was clearly intended to attract the young adult audience. Top-billed Pat Boone had scored a #1 hit song with "Moody River" the previous year. Co-star Bobby Darin was still churning out hit singles with regularity. For good measure, the cast included two up-and-coming actresses: Ann-Margret and Pamela Tiffin.

Boone and Tiffin played siblings who are attending the Texas State Fair with their parents. Wayne Frake (Pat Boone) hopes to win an auto race. His mother has entered her mincemeat into a contest. Dad has big plans for his prized hog Blue Boy. As for their daughter Margy (Pamela Tiffin), she is looking for something--she's just not sure what.

Pamela Tiffin as Margy.
To their surprise, both of the Frake kids find love at the fair. In between fine-tuning his car's carburetor, Wayne falls hard for Emily (Ann-Margret), a vivacious entertainer that's unlike any of the girls back in Wayne's home town. In another case of opposites attract, Margy becomes enamored with a smooth-talking TV host (Bobby Darin). 

Will the kids' romances turn out to be the "real thing"? Will Mom's mincemeat triumph over the big companies? Will Blue Boy regain his confidence and become top hog? State Fair answers all these questions!

The plot hews pretty closely with the 1945 version, the only musical that Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote directly for the screen. In the earlier film, Wayne isn't an amateur race car driver, Margy's boyfriend is a newspaper reporter, and the setting is the Iowa State Fair. Richard Rodgers also wrote the music and lyrics for five news songs for the 1962 film. (Incidentally, I can't imagine the song "Never Say No to a Man" being included in any future productions.)

Ann-Margret as Emily.
As expected, Pat Boone is the featured vocalist. Surprisingly, Bobby Darin has only one solo number, the mediocre "This Isn't Heaven" (one of the new tunes). The musical highlight belongs to Ann-Margret, who turns "Isn't It Kinda Fun" into a dynamic song-and-dance number. The soundtrack's most famous song, the Oscar-winning "It Might As Well Be Spring," is lip-synced by Pamela Tiffin; most references list Anita Gordon as the singer.

While generally pleasant and diverting, State Fair is still a lesser effort compared to other Rodgers-Hammerstein musicals. Frankly, the songs aren't as good and director José Ferrer doesn't know how to shoot a musical. For example, he uses a wide shot during much of "It Might As Well Be Spring," a sweetly melancholy song that calls for close-ups of the performer's face.

Incidentally, Wally Cox is on-screen for less than ten minutes, but proves to be a supreme scene-stealer as a contest judge who can't enough of Ma Frakes' brandy-soaked mincemeat.

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