Scatman Crothers, Chet Allen, Dan Dailey, Carole Mathews, and Diana Lynn in Meet Me at the Fair (1953)


(director: Douglas Sirk; screenwriters: from the novel The Great Companions by Gene Markey/Martin Berkeley; cinematographer: Maury Gertsman; editor: Russell F. Schoengarth; music: Scatman Crothers; cast: Dan Dailey (Doc Tilbee), Diana Lynn (Zerelda Wing), Chet Allen (Tad Bayliss), Scatman Crothers (Enoch Jones), Hugh O’Brian (Chilton Corr), Carole Mathews (Clara Brink), Rhys Williams (Pete McCoy), Thomas E. Jackson (Billy Gray), Russell Simpson (Sheriff Evans), George Chandler (Deputy Leach), Doris Packer (Mrs. Swaile); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Albert J. Cohen; Universal Pictures; 1953)
“Gets its energy by the inspired performance from Dan Dailey.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Douglas Sirk’s (“Battle Hymn”/”Interlude”/”Take me To Town”) musical comedy celebrating the good and bad about small-town America is set around the turn of the century and despite its lighthearted tone manages to point its finger at political corruption and the mistreatment of orphans. It’s taken from the novel The Great Companions by Gene Markey and scripted by Martin Berkeley.

Doc Tilbee (Dan Dailey) is a lovable braggart rascal who runs a traveling medicine show with his loyal banjo playing sidekick Enoch Jones (Scatman Crothers). He rescues the runaway orphan Tad (Chet Allen), on the road to Capital City, who escaped from the squalid prison-like orphanage detention center in Springville. When newly appointed orphanage board member, the proper but kindly, Zerelda Wing (Diana Lynn) comes to retrieve the runaway, Doc hides him with the bawdy Wonderland cafe visiting singer from New York, Clara Brink (Carole Mathews), who desperately wants Doc as a hubby.

The innocent Zerelda is engaged to the crooked DA named Chilton Corr (Hugh O’Brian), who is in the pocket of corrupt party boss Pete McCoy (Rhys Williams). The politicians want the orphan back fearing he will be used as an issue in the upcoming election to show how they lied about spending money to fix up the filthy orphanage. Doc manages to romance both the showgal and the social worker, while saving the kid from a bad fate in the orphanage by using his wits to expose the dirty politicians in the nick of time.

The ten song-and-dance numbers are fine (they include the title song, “I Was There” and “Bill Bailey”) and the way Sirk recreates backstage life is superb, but the film gets its energy by the inspired performance from Dan Dailey who sings, clowns around, does his con artist shtick with glee and brings on smiles as the charming cad. It was rare for a 1950s musical to have any heft, but Sirk has a field day showing small-town deceit.