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Monday, February 24, 2014

Fox's First Trip To The Fair


The Precode State Fair (1933) Shows Up On TCM

Among biggest talker hits the old Fox Film Corporation had was State Fair, which survives beat-up and code-cut as rescued by onetime 20th archivist Alex Gordon. State Fair ran on TCM last week, a lone chance for seeing it, what with no DVD or streaming option at present. A better version from 1945, and in Technicolor, has played consistently over years, Fox remaking the valued property again in 1962 and for television during the 70's. We think of State Fair as a musical, but origin was a novel and '33 original sans songs. Henry King brought the book to studio attention and said he'd purchase it himself if they wouldn't. In a move disastrous to finished State Fair, King and crew shot "background plates" of 1932's annual Iowa fair and used same for process work in Hollywood. Result was actors stood before a rear-projected event held months before. What seemed a technical advance in 1933 looks fakey beyond hope now.

Lew Ayres and Janet Gaynor Meet Against Process Work Seen Throughout State Fair 

Where a Memorable Grapes Of Wrath Scene
Might Have Got Its Inspiration
Janet Gaynor was first-billed, Will Rogers second. This would be reversed for a reissue after Rogers died. By the time State Fair got in circulation, his stock was rising toward head of industry placement. What a show world we had when Gaynor, Rogers, and Marie Dressler sat at its head. Something about these three obviously touched hard-times emotion. Also there was wider acceptance of rural themes, much more of the country rural-based in the early 30's. To that audience, Gaynor was the girl next-door, with Will Rogers off a neighboring farm. Henry King was right to direct this and other Americana subjects for coming of Virginia roots. He knew smell of manure and wouldn't pretty up pigpens as did State Fair successors. This family's trek to the fair is a dead ringer for the Joads pulling out seven years later in The Grapes Of Wrath, the campground they arrive to like imagery I've seen of Hoovervilles.

A 1936 Revival Date, But It Wouldn't Be The Intact State Fair 

Norman Foster Won't Come Home Simon-Pure From
The Fair As Did Dick Haymes in The 1945 Remake
Janet Gaynor asks brother Norman Foster if he wouldn't like to "raise hell" at the forthcoming fair, a question we'd not imagine Jeanne Crain putting to Dick Haymes in Fox's first remake amidst  postwar and PCA-policed boom. 1933's is very much a precode State Fair for innocence of Gaynor and Foster under threat. She's courted by been-around Lew Ayres who admits to prior tomcatting, and farm-fresh Foster is seduced by carny-wise Sally Eilers, who expressly says she'll not marry him as they repair to bed. That last business, with dialogue heard as the camera lingers upon discarded lingerie in a darkened room, was yanked from prints in 1936 revival and forever after. That year's reissue came as result of demand for Rogers backlog after his plane crash death of 8/15/35. What started as resistance on Fox's part ("Nix Booking On Old Rogers Pix" headlined Variety) would relax as clamor increased and some of Will's stuff began grossing ahead of first-runs the company was offering.

Tomorrow: The 1945 State Fair.

4 Comments:

Blogger Michael said...

State Fair was based on a book by Phil Stong, who wrote The Stranger's Return, which King Vidor filmed at MGM in '33 and is absolutely one of my favorite 30s movies, a cornpone setting given real emotional heft. For some reason, though I have it off Beta from TNT (!), it has never played TCM; I don't know if there's some rights issue but it is an overlooked gem.

12:06 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

I have THE STRANGER'S RETURN. There is a version that somebody captured from Spanish television, although with the original English soundtrack and subtitles.

7:46 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Reader "Chris U" has some thoughts on "State Fair" and rear projection:


I don't have cable TV but I happened to be on vacation last weekend and staying at a B&B which had basic cable. I was flipping through the channels when I stumbled across STATE FAIR, right near the beginning, and was instantly mesmerized by the unmistakable Fox production values (and actors, of course).

I must say I didn't find the rear-screen photography "hokey" at all. On the contrary, I commented to my friend while watching that it was some of the best-executed rear screen projection I'd seen in any movie. There's a couple scenes where the main actors must be walking on a conveyer belt, with people in the rear screen image moving behind them in addition to extras moving between the main actors and other scenery moving in front of the main actors. I've seen that effect fail miserably a million times but it worked beautifully here.

The use of the actual Iowa State Fair footage from 1932 did appear to have one drawback, though, which is that, after the movie was shot, Fox apparently ended up having to pay the midway operator for use of the footage. It'd be difficult to put a price on that footage now. How can a movie of this historical significance, with this cast, still be unavailable in the digital format?

By the way, for genuinely "hoke"y rear screen projection, in my opinion, you need look no further than the all-time "master" and most frequent abuser: Alfred Hitchcock.

10:22 AM  
Blogger James Abbott said...

Did anyone tape State Fair? I missed it and have been waiting for years to see this picture!

10:59 AM  

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