Saturday, March 22, 2014

State Fair

Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve never been to the Iowa State Fair. As a matter of fact, I’ve never been to any state fair. The rest of my family has been to the Iowa State Fair multiple times; we have family in Des Moines. Sadly, for me, I’m always busy on the weekend my family goes, which means I spend a weekend by myself while they go eat funnel cakes and spin around rapidly on rides put together a few days before. I bring this up because State Fair takes place at the Iowa State Fair, although we don’t actually see much of it.

This is the story of the Frake family. Father Abel Frake (Will Rogers) spends a good deal of the film obsessing over his prized hog Blue Boy. Abel’s entire time at the Fair is all about tending to his pig and the rather unusual ailment that the pig seems to go through. Essentially, Blue Boy is lovesick over a sow also at the fair. When she’s in a nearby pen, he’s fine. When she’s not, he rolls over onto his side and becomes listless.

Mother Melissa Frake (Louise Dresser) spends her time at the fair obsessing over her three varieties of pickles and her mincemeat. It’s the mincemeat that concerns us immediately. She objects to pouring in brandy even though it’s the brandy that makes it taste right. While she’s not looking, Abel pours in a healthy dose. After Abel leaves the room, Melissa pours in her own liberal dose. Naturally, this makes the mincemeat as good as can be hoped for.

Before I move on to the Frake children, I want to mention the rather disturbing scene of the pickle and mincemeat judging. While Melissa and her daughter stand watching the judges, we get an extended sequence of the judges sucking audibly on pickles and smacking their lips noisily over the mincemeat. I’m not a squeamish person, but the sounds of other people eating really bother me a lot. I’m guessing this was played for comedy, but I found it horrifying. This is particularly true of one judge whose time with the mincemeat reminded me of nothing so much as a cow smacking it’s giant fleshy lips over a particularly ripe bit of grass.

Anyway, it’s fortunate that we don’t spend a great deal of time with the Frake parents, instead opting for the bulk of our adventure to be spent hanging around with son Wayne (Norman Foster) and daughter Margy (Janet Gaynor). Both of them have sweethearts in their little farm community. Margy’s boyfriend Harry (Frank Melton) is starting to talk seriously about marriage, but he can’t go to the Fair because of his dairy cows. Margy is either non-committal or just playing hard to get.

Anyway, the family goes off to the Fair and immediately things happen in the romantic lives of Wayne and Margy. For Wayne, the original point of the Fair was to get back at one of the midway game keepers (Victor Jory) who ripped him off the year before. His prowess with the ring toss attracts the attention of the carnival’s trapeze artist Emily (Sally Eilers). The two become an immediate item and it’s heavily implied in dialogue that the two of them are spending nights together.

For Margy, love comes in the form of Pat Gilbert (Lew Ayers), a newspaper reporter from the Des Moines register. The two fall hard for each other even though Pat admits to her that he’s something of a player in the modern sense; he refuses to take her to the newspaper exhibit because of what the other people there will say about her. Evidently, his reputation sullies anyone who comes near him. Such is the nature of the Fair that romance blooms, grows, and dies in the space of the week that the family is there.

So all of this seems like a pretty good set up for a film. Sadly, it’s kind of not. State Fair isn’t terrible, but it’s very much in the vein of the overacting of the era. Particularly egregious is Janet Gaynor’s Margy. Her meet cute with Pat comes on the roller coaster, which is old school in the sense that there are no seat belts or restraints in the carts. At the top of the first hill, Margy panics and stands up in the car, which force Pat to pull her back down into her seat. Later, the two of them go watch a harness race. Margy acts like she’s never seen a horse run before.

I can’t call State Fair a bad film, but I also can’t imagine what made anyone think that this deserved to be considered for Best Picture. It’s an almost complete non-entity as a film. I can’t honestly say I was bored by it, but I also can’t honestly say that I was ever that interested in it either.

Why to watch State Fair: How many chances do you have to see Will Rogers?.
Why not to watch: It’s pretty dumb.


  1. I've been wanting to see State Fair for a while, partly because 1933 is one of my favorite years for the movies and I wanted to see all the Best Picture nominees, but also because of Will Rogers and Sally Eilers. Eilers is one of my favorite obscure starlets of the 1930s. (I recommend Without Orders and Condemned Women as her best movies.)

    I DVRed it off TCM and finally got around to watching it last night. I was a little worried that I might have trouble with it at first, but things pick up when they get to the fair. A little. Just enough.

    It's not a bad movie. I liked all of Sally Eilers's scenes. And Rogers fretting over Blue Boy wasn't without its weird charm.

    The Academy picked this is as one of the nominees for Best Picture of 1933 and didn't even seem to notice King Kong and Duck Soup. And they gave to statue to ... Cavalcade!

    I think this means the only Best Picture nominee from 1933 that I haven't seen is Lady for a Day. I'm optimistic because I tend to like 1930s films based on stories by Damon Runyon.

    1. This is one of those movies that I wonder why it was made. It's ultimately forgettable, and beyond serving as a way to put Will Rogers on the screen, I can't say I've got much to say good about it. It's just sort of there.