Ann-Margret lights up this corny-as-they-come musical. A car-racing sub-plot is about the only attempt to update it from the previous version in 1945. But if you like a love story, you’ve got three, that is if you include Blueboy the pig’s amorous advances. The remake avoids the edginess that had been introduced to movie musicals by West Side Story (1961) and settles for family-friendly and lightweight.
But there is something very American about the Frakes, a family of farmers. They all want to be winners at the annual state fair, parents Abel (Tom Ewell) and Melissa (Alice Faye) desperate to come home with trophies, she for her mincemeat, he with his pig. Son Wayne (Pat Boone) is also intent on victory, in a car race. Daughter Margy (Pamela Tiffin) would be happy with a bit of romance.
Wayne is very taken by showgirl Emily (Ann-Margret) while commentator Jerry (Bobby Darin) has eyes for Margy. The romances are not quite as innocent as you’d expect. Emily makes it clear she’s had other men, making her in Wayne’s eyes “a bad girl,” and that anything that happens at a state fair stays at a state fair, while she goes merrily on her way to her next conquest. Jerry is considerably less open with Margy, happy to string her along until he gets his chance at the big time.
Blueboy, who snorts like billy-o on seeing a female pig in the next stall, has to do all his courting behind bars.
This is more of a musical than the original. Oscar Hammerstein II now deceased, Richard Rodgers adds four more songs on his own, so there’s a bit more mooning and prancing about.
Although “It Might as Well Be Spring” was viewed as the standout song, the standout performance belonged to Ann-Margret who adds spectacular zip, showing off her figure is a series of dance moves on stage leading a male ensemble.
Oddly enough, of all the prospective competition winners, Wayne is the only loser. But that’s out of choice as he rams into a rival to drive him off the track and prevent him winning. Equally oddly, in this context, that’s seen as something of a victory, putting a bully in his place. The racing sequence, and thankfully minus any song, is a highlight.
The humor, deriving mostly from the parents, is slightly labored. Blueboy is let down by the script which doesn’t permit him to build up enough personality to make the audience root for him. But the sequence where three judges taste the alcohol-enhanced mincemeat works well. While at the outset the parents appear merely there as filler, they eventually come into their own in a demonstration of mature love.
Quite what made director Jose Ferrer (Return to Peyton Place, 1961) – an Oscar-winning actor – think he was cut out for a musical is anybody’s guess since, in the first place, this would only be his seventh picture in 11 years and, in the second place, he had no experience in this line. There are too many scenes just of the fair, a souped-up job that was more like an outdoor exhibition than a mom-and-pop local affair. While he lacks the flair of the big time Hollywood directors of musicals, for most of the songs he just points the camera and lets the actor get on with it, the dramatic scenes working reasonably well.
But since only Ann-Margret is called upon to show any real angst he’s quite limited in opening up the movie’s emotional appeal.
Ann-Margret (The Swinger, 1966), changing from natural brunette to flame-haired, steals the picture by far, not just on stage but revealing the screen persona that would take her to the top. Pamela Tiffin (The Pleasure Seekers, 1964, where she played second fiddle to Ann-Margret) is left in the shadows by Ann-Margret’s sizzling performance. Pat Boone (The Main Attraction, 1962) and Bobby Darin were better known as crooners which tends to mean they’re better with songs than dialogue, as is the case here, though Darin was excellent in the non-musical Pressure Point (1962).
Former top Fox star Alice Faye (In Old Chicago, 1938), making a comeback after 17 years, has little to do but frown and Tom Ewell (Tender Is the Night, 1962) has little to do but gurn and moon over his pig.
But, hey, it’s a musical and different rules apply. Fairly passable entertainment with some decent songs and the added bonus of Ann-Margret.