Saturday, June 22, 2019

State Fair (1933) (2019 restoration by 20th Century Fox)

State Fair (1933) with Norman Foster (Wayne Frake), Janet Gaynor (Margy Frake), Louise Dresser (Melissa Frake) and Will Rogers (Abel Frake).

Onnen kiertokulku / Lyckans karusell / Montagne russe.
    US 1933. Director: Henry King. Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo (1932) di Phil Stong. Scen.: Paul Green, Sonya Levien. F.: Hal Mohr. M.: Robert Bischoff. Scgf.: Duncan Cramer. Mus.: Louis De Francesco.
    Int.: Will Rogers (Abel Frake), Janet Gaynor (Margy Frake), Lew Ayres (Pat Gilbert), Sally Eilers (Emily Joyce), Norman Foster (Wayne Frake), Louise Dresser (Melissa Frake), Frank Craven (il negoziante), Victor Jory (l’ambulante del tiro coi cerchi).
    Prod.: Winfield R. Sheehan per Fox Film Corporation. 35 mm. D.: 97’. Bn.
    Copy from 20th Century Fox. By courtesy of Park Circus.
    Restored in 2019 by 20th Century Fox.
    Introduce Ehsan Khoshbakht.
    Viewed at Cinema Jolly, Bologna (Il Cinema Ritrovato / Soul and Craft: A Portrait of Henry King) with e-subtitles in Italian, 22 June 2019.

Ehsan Khoshbakht (Il Cinema Ritrovato): "King’s second collaboration with the effortlessly lovable Will Rogers, who stars as the head of a family anxiously preparing for a state fair. In the event, the family members will encounter new experiences (sexual, emotional) before returning home, each with their own memories and a sense of longing. King, movingly yet lightly, encapsulates life in 90 minutes: “A State Fair is life – begins lustily – offers everything… And too soon, it’s all over!”. Made three years before Jean Renoir’s Partie de campagne, in this quiet masterpiece there are no big tragedies except the passing of time itself."

"King discovered and suggested the Phil Stong book to the studio. The film version, made during a time of financial problems at Fox (summer 1932), was a success, critically and commercially, and so was remade twice, as a musical in 1945 and 1962 (directed by Walter Lang and José Ferrer, respectively). By this time King had already mastered his style of invisible direction, as if the camera were operating unconsciously. Like Over the Hill it’s the story of a family maturing over time but unlike that film, State Fair is settled, Chekhovian, and static. There are none of the ceaseless camera movements of two years earlier. Having found the language which suited his sense of storytelling, King set this grammar in stone, and would adhere to it until the end of his career. This allows for powerful moments hitherto unseen in American films, such as when the family is driving up to the fair at dusk in eerie silence, later broken by the mother, who says it feels like they are the last people in the world. King establishes moods and moves swiftly from one to the next. The combination of simplicity and a rising emotional intensity makes this one of the crowning jewels of 1930s cinema. It was Gregory Peck in The Snows of Kilimanjaro who said, “The world is a market, emotions are the currency”. At this fair, emotions are the driving force of the narrative; in fact they are the narrative." Ehsan Khoshbakht

AA: I saw for the first time State Fair, a well-known unknown film. I have been aware for a long time that it is a key American movie, especially regarding the Fox studio, for which it is a foundation film of the sound era. More specifically, it is a foundation film of the Fox Americana.

In my country Henry King's film has not been seen since the first run, and perhaps the mediocre reputation of its musical remakes has harmed the reputation of the original, as well. I had been under the impression that this is a film that every American knows but I have erred. Even illustrious American film historians saw King's film for the first time in the Bologna screenings.

State Fair is a Will Rogers vehicle, made at the height of his popularity, when he was the highest paid Hollywood star. I have always loved John Ford's Will Rogers films (Doctor Bull, Judge Priest, Steamboat Round the Bend), but King directed him first and equally well, having himself been preceded by Frank Borzage, among others, as a director of Will Rogers vehicles. Rogers is great here but does not dominate what is essentially an ensemble piece.

The state fair is an event characteristic for a Fox production. Similar events featured memorably in Young Mr. Lincoln (the Fourth of July in Springfield, Illinois), Nightmare Alley (the touring carnival) and Bus Stop (the Phoenix rodeo), among others. The approach is different in comparison with directors like Billy Wilder (Ace in the Hole) or Robert Altman (Nashville). Loud vulgarity is not toned down, yet the film-makers are not laughing at the people but with the people. At Fox, film-makers celebrate the popular entertainments of the great festivals and identify with them.

There are documentary values in the account of the state fair, including in the presence of Will Rogers, originally a rodeo star himself. Pickle and mincemeat contests, a hog competition and a harness race are among the main episodes. The approach is farcical for instance in the "hog dialogue" scenes. Henry King handles all aspects of the film well. The action scenes are funny and entertaining. There are amusing reaction shots and comic studies, for instance in the photography session.

Most importantly, there is genuine psychological insight in the ensemble play. The characters are introduced in sharp outlines and we might expect them to remain close to caricature, but as soon as we have a tentative grasp of them, complexities, nuances and surprises emerge. The characters and their attitudes resist stereotyping.

The Frakes are hard-working farmers, and the Iowa state fair offers much awaited variety to the annual calendar. It is an opportunity to see the world. The daughter Margy (Janet Gaynor) dates the newspaperman Pat (Lew Ayres), and the son Wayne (Norman Foster) meets the trapeze dancer Emily (Sally Eilers).

The Fox studio had a tradition of its own in portraying "the woman as spectacle". But Emily is not merely an object in this story; she is the subject.

State Fair is an account of a week-long éducation sentimentale for Margy and Wayne. Emily is the active partner in her affair with Wayne, who is shy and unexperienced but eager to learn. Margy is reticent with Pat; their attraction is of the deepest kind.

Henry King directs all this without pre-Code cynicism. There is deep feeling in the love scenes between Margy and Pat, worthy of Borzage. Equally memorably there is special tenderness and fun in the casual love scenes between Emily and Wayne, which, speaking of Fox, bring to mind the humoristic encounters of Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell in The Seven Year Itch. (In Fox films the male partner is often clumsy and awkward).

The parents, Abel (Will Rogers) and Melissa (Louise Dresser) are aware of all this but maintain a diplomatic distance. They realize that young people must see the world and meet more people than is possible in a little village. The state fair is an opportunity also for the parents to revive their relationship outside the daily grudge.

Out of ordinary material Henry King creates something extraordinary. State Fair is a tale of everyday expectations and disappointments. King has a talent of observation in the telling detail. In his unobtrusive way, reminiscent of Chekhov, Ozu, Satyajit Ray and Kiarostami, he displays wisdom and an understanding of life.

According to AFI Catalog Online sources disagree concerning the running time (80 min or 100 min). In that same catalog the length is given as 8894 ft which means 2711 m which means 98 min at sound speed. Thus the print screened is close to complete. Only pre-Code nudity in the love scene between Emily and Wayne is missing.

A rewarding visual experience of a film restored in this year from partially challenging sources with some battered footage, jump cuts, and nitrate or water damage. Perhaps the best source materials were destroyed in the DeLuxe Laboratories fire in Little Ferry, New Jersey, on 9 July, 1937?


Sources disagree concerning the running time. According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, author Phil Stong was paid $15,000 for the motion picture rights to his novel and was hired by Fox to do an adaptation and treatment. Director Henry King went to the 1932 Iowa State Fair and Exposition in Des Moines with Stong and a camera crew at the invitation of the fair and filmed background material there. IP notes that Joe Valentine and Ed Hammeras photographed background plates, atmospheric shots and race sequences at the fair and used the new Eastman Grayback Background Negative film stock. (The rest of the production was shot an Eastman Supersensitive Negative stock and used two cameras wherever possible, according to IP ). Fox purchased three hogs from the fair, including the grand champion, Dike of Rosedale, who was cast as "Blue Boy." Subsequent to the filming, the hogs were given to the California State school system in a presentation by Will Rogers. Blue Boy died in Jan 1934. Beckmann and Gerety's World Best Shows, of Lincoln, Nebraska, purveyors of the fair's midway, demanded $5,000 for the right of Fox to use any of the footage that King and his crew shot of the midway. Although the Fox legal department offered them $500 and then threatened not to use the footage, the studio eventually agreed to pay Beckmann and Gerety $3,500 and to use two shots in the film that show their complete name and trademark.

A HR news item states that Spencer Tracy was originally cast in the lead, but that he left the film to replace Charles Farrell in Face in the Sky (see above). According to a HR news item, Lew Ayres was borrowed from Universal. Scenes of the Frake farm were shot at the farm of I. V. Ashcroft near Corona, CA. According to a news item, Fox persuaded Ashcroft to let the company film there by agreeing to paint his farmhouse, put in several hundred feet of white picket fence, build new chicken houses and plant some shrubs. The loop-the-loop aerial acrobatic stunt performed by "Emily" in the film was provided by Edgar Vess of Los Angeles, who also furnished a man and woman to double for Sally Eilers to perform the stunt and a woman teacher for Eilers.

Letters in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, establish the fact that Jason S. Joy, director of the AMPP's Studio Relations Committee, convinced the producers to change the relationship between Margy and Pat from a sexual encounter, as it was in the novel, to a romance leading to marriage. The relationship between Emily and Wayne was left substantially as it was in the novel. After the film's release, Carl E. Milliken, MPPDA Secretary, wrote in a letter that "we have had more protests against what the preview groups described as, 'the ugly and totally superfluous incident of the son's adventure,' in State Fair , than regarding any other motion picture in the last two years." Milliken surmised that the protests originated because "the [bedroom] scene is presented as being entirely incongruous and unnecessary" and "because the public has grown accustomed to relying upon Will Rogers' pictures to provide unobjectionable humor for the entire family." In 1935, this bedroom scene between Emily and Wayne was cut from all circulating prints in order for Twentieth Century-Fox to receive a certificate of approval from the PCA. In the deleted scene, according to a screen continuity, Emily and Wayne talk offscreen as the bed in which they presumably are lying is shown along with her negligee strewn across a chair. Emily convinces Wayne of the innocence of their affair, and the scene ends as she says to him, "We have been happy and no one is ever sorry when there's a little bit more happiness in the world."

The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture and Writing (Adaptation). It was picked as one of the ten best films of 1933 by the National Board of Review and was fifth in the FD Poll of Critics. The film was reissued by Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. on 7 Aug 1936; only Will Rogers and Janet Gaynor were listed above the title for the reissue. Twentieth Century-Fox remade the film twice as musicals with songs by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II: in 1945 with Jeanne Crain and Dana Andrews, directed by Walter Lang; and in 1962 with Pat Boone, Pamela Tiffin, Bobby Darin, Tom Ewell, Alice Faye and Ann-Margaret, directed by José Ferrer (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70 ; F6.4688). In 1976, CBS broadcasted a sixty-minute television movie based on the novel and films, which was produced by Frankovich-Self Productions in association with Twentieth Century-Fox Television


As his family prepares to leave the small town of Brunswick, Iowa to spend the week at the state fair, farmer Abel Frake dotes over his Hampshire boar, Blue Boy, and wagers cynical storekeeper Fred Cramer five dollars that the hog will win first prize, that everyone in the family will have a good time and nothing bad will happen, and that they will return home safe.

After Abel secretly adds a dose of apple brandy to his wife Melissa's mincemeat preparation, which she plans to place in competition at the fair, Melissa, worried that the mincemeat lacks something, adds the remainder of the bottle, against her principles, when no one else is around.

Their daughter Margy, who is angry that her beau since childhood, Harry Ware, is too occupied with his milk business to accompany them to the fair, taunts her placid brother Wayne that his girl Eleanor will choose a more exciting "college fella" over him.

At the fair, Abel sulks because Blue Boy acts listless. At a "hoop la" stand, Wayne pitches rings perfectly to the annoyance of the barker and meets Emily Joyce, a trapeze artist.

Margy, left alone by Wayne, meets newspaper reporter Pat Gilbert on a roller coaster.

The next day, Blue Boy perks up when Esmeralda, a redheaded sow, passes by.

Margy and Pat decide that rather than become involved romantically, they'll see the fair as friends and part as friends.

Melissa wins the pickle and mincemeat contests after Pat secretly speaks to one of the judges, who later suffers from having eaten too much of the mincemeat.

After watching harness races, Margy and Pat walk through the woods and confess their love for each other.

Meanwhile, Emily seduces a willing Wayne.

At the hog competition, Blue Boy becomes listless again, but he revives upon seeing Esmeralda and wins first prize.

On the last night, Wayne, who has spent the previous three nights with Emily and wants to marry her, is greatly disappointed when Emily, who reluctantly has grown to love him, says that they will never see each other again.

Pat, who confesses his past indiscretions to Margy, wants to marry her, but she hesitates because she thinks he will not be happy with one woman and with the loss of adventure that comes with marriage, and that she can live a useful, if less than romantic, life with Harry in Brunswick.

On the drive home, Margy cries and Wayne sulks. At home, Wayne breaks out of his depression and visits Eleanor. When Fred Cramer sees Margy brooding, he questions whether she enjoyed the fair. Just then, Pat calls from nearby, and Abel wins his bet as Margy excitedly dashes past Harry and Cramer to meet Pat and embrace him. 

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