#15 – State Fair (1933)
Janet Gaynor, Will Rogers, and Lew Ayres
Director: Henry King, Producer: Winfield R. Sheehan, Production Company: Fox Pictures
An Iowa farmer brings his wife, his grown daughter and son, and his prize hog to the annual state fair for fun and prizes. There, the young man and woman find exciting forbidden romance, which will make them leave the fair forever changed.
This was the first film adaption of Phil Stong’s controversial but bestselling 1932 novel of the same name. The original novel featured the daughter, Margie Frake, having an affair with worldly newspaperman Pat Gilbert and the son, Wayne Frake, having an affair with lady gambler Emily. This book was considered a dark tale which showed the temptations presented to innocent farmers when they went to the state fair. While this theme and the two illicit affairs were removed from the 1945 Code musical version of this story, the basic concept remained in this thoroughly pre-Code film. While Margie’s (Janet Gaynor) affair with Pat (Lew Ayres) was removed, Wayne (Norman Foster) is none-too-subtly implied to have an affair with Emily (Sally Eilers), a glamorous trapeze artist performing at the fair. A scene showing a crumpled bed and negligee was removed from the 1935 PCA-approved re-release, and it has never been restored since then. However, what remains is suggestive enough to get the point across. We see her in a flimsy wrapper, and the camera suggestively focuses on an embroidered butterfly on its back. In addition, dialogue from Wayne’s parents, who think he is spending time with a male friend, refer to his “sleeping with” this friend every night. While Margie no longer is implied to have an affair with Pat, the latter refers to his past less than honorable relationships with numerous women. Somehow the casting of youthful Lew Ayres in the part makes Pat seem less promiscuous than he might, but the implication is still in the script. Emily wears several costumes with low necklines and which are otherwise tight or revealing, although Margie wears decent costumes. There also are numerous indecent and improper lines. For example, Margie asks her brother if he’s ever wanted to “raise hell,” and a fair barker (Victor Jory) derogatorily refers to Emily as “sex appeal.” There also are some surprisingly feminist elements, such as when Margie proudly boasts to Pat that she isn’t afraid of anything. Such female emancipation, reflecting Flapper Era new womanhood, had disappeared by the 1940s. Ultimately, the Gloomy Gus storekeeper (Frank Craven), who predicts something bad will happen at the fair, is right in every version except the 1945 film. While this is an entertaining movie, it is so dark and depressing compared to its musical remake.
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