One good Will Rogers film deserved another, and I decided to follow up last night's viewing of JUDGE PRIEST (1934) with STATE FAIR (1933).
STATE FAIR is a lovely piece of Americana which was the perfect way to spend Labor Day, the traditional end of summer. While the 1945 Rodgers & Hammerstein musical version is one of my favorite films, I found the earlier straight dramatic version to be a fine film in its own right.
In the familiar story, which was also filmed in 1962, the Frake family go to the Iowa State Fair.
Abel (Will Rogers) hopes to win an award for his prize hog, Blue Boy, while his wife Melissa (Louise Dresser) enters both pickles and mincemeat for judging. Melissa spiking the mincemeat with apple brandy, not knowing Abel has already done it behind her back, leads to some rib-tickling moments later in the film. Rogers is delightful, whether coddling his lovesick hog or telling Margy she's prettier than a movie star.
Son Wayne (Norman Foster) and daughter Margy (Janet Gaynor) are restless and looking for love, with Margy uncertain about marrying her longtime suitor Harry (Frank Melton). At the fair Margy falls head over heels for handsome Pat (Lew Ayres), a reporter, while Wayne is taken with Emily (Sally Eilers), a trapeze artist.
Foster is very well cast as Wayne, but his storyline has always been the one I've found least interesting. Gaynor and Ayres, on the other hand, are absolutely charming as Margy and Pat, who meet on a roller coaster. I would have enjoyed spending even more time with them. Ayres was just 23 or 24 when this was filmed and was such a handsome young man! And Gaynor is delightful, as always.
It was interesting to contrast the nuances of their relationship with the '40s version; here much of the conflict is Pat's history as a ladies' man and whether he can settle down to be a one-woman man. The 1945 version cleans up the Pat character and hangs the question more simply, on whether Pat and Margy will move beyond their initial commitment to enjoy the fair as friends. The pre-Code version might be described as a bit more earthy in multiple ways -- including Abel commenting that Blue Boy is a prize winner today "and ham tomorrow!"
As a matter of fact, according to the TCM website, the film was originally a couple of minutes longer than its current 97 minutes. A racy scene with Wayne and Emily was edited from the film after Production Code enforcement began in 1934, and it's never been restored.
A side note: as someone who's camped many times, I was fascinated how many heavy, hard-to-transport items the Frakes took to their campsite at the fair, including a wood table, a dresser, a set of shelves for kitchen items, and china.
Trivia: Charles Winninger not only went on to repeat Will Rogers' role as Judge Priest in THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT (1953), he also played Rogers' STATE FAIR part in the 1945 version.
It was directed by Henry King, who would go on to direct other notable Americana such as MARGIE (1946), DEEP WATERS (1948), and I'D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN (1951).
The movie was filmed by Hal Mohr and uncredited Joseph A. Valentine. The script was based on a novel by Phil Stong. The supporting cast includes Victor Jory and Frank Craven.
STATE FAIR is not available on DVD or VHS. It has been shown on Turner Classic Movies.