Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dana Andrews Blogathon: State Fair (1945)

The best of all three adaptations.
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TCM: An Iowa family finds romance and adventure at the yearly state fair.

This is my (last minute) contribution to the Dana Andrews Blogathon hosted by Classic Movie Man. Check out the rest of the contributions here.

     State Fair is one of my all time favorite musicals. It is charming, lively, colorful, and the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein, if the story within itself wasn't any good, would make it well worth the watch. Thankfully, however, the story of an Iowa family's annual trip to the state fair to partake in the hog contest, mince meat judging, and, for the two youths, finding first loves, is good. In fact, it's fantastic.
     There has (so far) been three adaptations to Phil Stong's 1932 novel of the same name (all of which I have seen). The first (and only non-musical version of the trio) was produced a year after the release of the novel in 1933. It starred Will Rogers and Louise Dresser as Abel and Melissa Frake (the parents) with Janet Gaynor and Norman Foster as Margy and Wayne (the kids). Finally, the immediate cast is rounded out by Lew Ayres and Sally Eilers as Pat Gilbert and Emily Joyce (love interests to Margy and Wayne).
The first Frake family.
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     This adaptation is the closest to Philip Stong's novel. It is mostly played as a drama with just enough laughs thrown in to not make it too heavy. This film adaptation is split evenly between all the players, and what I mean by that is the adults get their screen time and the kids get theirs, and it's sort of everyone's film, not just one particular person. The couple that I wanted to watch the most of though, was, of course, Janet Gaynor and Lew Ayres. As Pat and Margy, they go through the stages of the meet-cue, the attraction, and the eventual falling in love with the intensity of the early 1930s, but nonetheless they are believable as a couple.
Pat and Margy.
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       The most interesting person in the film, though the film is clearly about the Frakes, is Lew Ayres' Pat Gilbert. Lew plays Pat not as a cynical newspaperman as more often than not they were all made out to be, but rather as just a man. It's nice. There are cases when you are given the feeling that something else might be lurking behind the facade, if there is one, but mostly what you see is what you get which is a good guy.
     In the 1945 version, little has changed besides the fact that music has been added, and the film is mostly focused on the love lives of Wayne and Margy, this time played by Dick Haymes and Jeanne Crain and their love interests Emily (change of name here) played by Vivian Blaine and Pat (same name as before) played by Dana Andrews.
Though his voice was dubbed (along with Jeanne Crain),
he really could sing.
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     Now, I like Lew Ayres, in fact I like him a lot, but by far Dana is my favorite when it comes to who is the best Pat Gilbert. Dana gives Pat an air about him that an experienced news-paperman who hops around a lot, looking to make it big, surely has about him. He's slightly cynical, but not so much where you want to say, "Listen, I know life isn't a piece of cake, but it's not that bad." Instead, it's like Pat knows that life is a joke, but he's the who's figured it out, and the rest of us are kind of floundering about.
You can't be hard bitten and drink Coke, too.
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          Unlike Bobby Darin's try as Pat Gilbert in the 1962 version of State Fair, Dana doesn't make Pat out to be so much as cocky (so cocky that you feel like hitting him upside his head like I sometimes do with Bobby Darin's Pat Gilbert), but rather confident. Sure of himself, but not so stiff necked about everything that he doesn't know how to have fun. In fact, as I stated before, he knows that life is a joke, and so he takes it as one.
"Got a match?"
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     I haven't seen too many of Dana's pictures, though I have seen just enough, and observed just enough, to perhaps surmise that he was a man comfortable in his own skin; he was comfortable with himself, and this is evident through his portrayal as Pat Gilbert.
     In the 1962 version, Bobby Darin makes his Pat Gilbert to be more a man of the world than Dana did. After they have met and spent the day together, and Dana is telling Jeanne about the places that he's worked, where's he's been, she very dreamily says, "You've been everywhere" to which Dana is quick to say that no, he hasn't, but he is going places. Bobby, on the other hand, flat out tells his Margie (spell change) played by Pamela Tiffin that he's been here, done that, and "Oh, you should've been there the time . . . " and as we find out later, he's done none of the things that he said; he was, in fact, just overcompensating for his lack of achievements that had so far been obtained. He was trying to impress.
Bobby and Pamela as Pat and Margie.
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     Dana knows he doesn't have to impress. He just does so naturally. From the moment he's introduced in the film (sitting in a roller coaster, eating an apple) to the end with him jumping out of his car and running to take Jeanne Crain in his arms, he commands the screen in every scene that he's in, but he does so subtly, and that's what I like.
     Another thing that I like that Dana does differently than Bobby does is that as Pat, he takes things in stride. When Bobby's Pat realizes that he's fallen in love with Pamela's Margie, he becomes frazzled. He doesn't know how to handle it exactly. He beings to think he doesn't deserve her (and maybe he doesn't). When Dana realizes that he's in love with her, he's like "Hmm. Okay. Didn't see that one coming exactly, but whatever." He's not flippant about it, but he's not too overly worried about it. Stride. It's all about the stride.
Just when you think you know him, he does something to
make you think twice.
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     In the end, I like all three versions of State Fair. They're all different, and everybody gives their inter-pretation of their character, and they all do them very well. For my money, though, despite the fact that I really do like Lew and Bobby, Dana does the best job of portraying Pat Gilbert. He, much more so than Lew and Bobby, gives Pat Gilbert layers. He's not exactly who you think he is, and just when you think you've figured him out, he says or does something that makes you reconsider everything about his character once more.
     I suggest that you view all three adaptations of State Fair and make your own conclusion about which version is the best (obviously my vote is 1945) and which actor you think does the best as portraying Pat Gilbert: Lew, Dana, or Bobby.
     Now, to finish things off, I give State Fair, a film that I would suggest for the whole family to watch, a 3.5/4 stars.

A great way to end a great film.
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Caftan Woman said...

Very interesting look at the the three films. You have given me much to think about on my next viewing. That is, if my tape of "State Fair" with Dana and Jeanne isn't worn out yet.

azw596 said...

A wonderful contribution to the Blogathon! I love your very comprehensive analysis, especially the insights you provide into Dana's portrayal. I have been enjoying the songs from the soundtrack for quite a while, and now, thanks to your review, I will definitely be watching it soon, beginning with the 1945! Many thanks!

Carl Rollyson said...

I haven't seen the two other versions of State Fair, so I can't comment on the comparison. Of course I'm partial to Dana Andrews, but I really do think he is at his most charming in this picture. And you're right Dana Andrews was very comfortable in his own skin. In fact, if you only knew him by his performance in State Fair, you might ask: What is all this business about him being self-conflicted? Which is what David Thomson calls him. There was this other side to Dana Andrews, to be sure. But State Fair is also the genuine man, the one his family would recognize. The film itself is a hokey delight. I just love Donald Meek. said...

I'm partial to the original because I just love Janet Gaynor and Lew Ayres (look for his biography out this fall, I wrote the foreword!), but this musical is so wonderful and Andrews is so great. Also Vivian Blaine has the best technicolor red hair ever.

Stephen Reginald said...

I've always loved this movie. There's much talk about Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews's screen teamings, but Andrews and Crain made many films together, Hot Rods to Hell being their last. Always thought they had an easy manner between them and they look so good together in Technicolor. Thanks for taking part in the blogathon!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I like your comparison of the three films. I like Dana Andrews in anything, but I do wish he would have recorded this in his own voice. I'm curious to hear him sing.

Paula said...

Interesting comparative post. I've never seen this version, just the '33 one, but I agree there is something naturally commanding about Dana Andrews :)

kristina said...

nice! even though I haven't seen Dana's version of State Fair. agree that Dana should've sung, would be great to have his voice on film more extensively than that little tune in North Star with the balalaika! (Carl pointed out to me he sang on the Perry Como show once). since I obviously have Fallen Angel on my brain, let me point out some tiny connections: Dick Haymes sang the song in FA, and the first movie Alice Faye made after "quitting" movies after FA was the 62 State Fair. Cool how that all comes together innit? Thanks