For Reel

State Fair (1933)
April 23, 2016, 6:06 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Henry King
4 Stars
State FairPhilip Stong’s popular novel about a family making their yearly voyage to the Iowa State Fair was first adapted as this slice-of-life drama before Rodgers & Hammerstein had their way with it. Henry King directs the material as a story of juxtapositions—the leisurely pace of the country scenes and the bustle of the fair; the righteous civilians and the swindlers; the biological family and the created community at the carnival. Part of the film’s great success is the way King dramatizes the interaction between these disparate elements. At the close of act one, Janet Gaynor calmly watches the sun set over a cornfield as Ma and Pa (Louise Dresser and Will Rogers) anticipate the events to come. This moment of serenity serves as a contrast to the action that follows, which indulges in attractions (such as trapeze artists, roller coasters, and Ferris wheels) and summer romances. In the way this drama plays on screen, Stong’s tale of this voyage becomes a metaphor for film going itself, where an hour of excitement proves to be a suitable reprieve from the daily grind. If the narrative champions the value of hard work, it ironically suggests the all-pervading fantasies of indulgence in the working class, where the spectacle of commerce becomes a religious retreat. Rogers retreated from his comedic screen image to take on a more earnest role as a man who proudly grooms his prize hog, and Gaynor and Lew Ayres make a compelling couple as the farmer’s daughter and a newspaperman. It is King’s vision of both small town Americana and the temporary seduction of something more that brings it all together, sustaining a warmhearted, nostalgic tone.

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