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State Fair Movie Review

Director: Henry King

Starring: Janet Gaynor, Will Rogers, Lew Ayres, Sally Eilers, Norman Foster, Louise Dresser, Frank Craven, Victor Jory, Frank Melton

Oscar Wins: No wins.

Other Nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture

Rural Iowa, 1933. The Great Depression and Prohibition are still very much a part of American culture. In the remote farmlands of Brunswick, the Frake family is gearing up for the year’s most anticipated event: The Iowa State Fair. With the hope of taking home first prize in the hog competition with their massive pig, “Blue Boy”, as well as awards for Mrs. Frake’s mince meat and pickles (also, what kind of state fair doesn’t have a PIE COMPETITION?!), the family begins the near 150-mile journey to the fairgrounds.

The majority of State Fair takes place at the fair itself. Over the course of a few days, Mrs. Frake (Louise Dresser) enters her food competition, Mr. Frake (Will Rogers) enters “Blue Boy” in the Best in State competition and the two Frake children – Margy (Jane Gaynor) and Wayne (Norman Foster), each find time for a brief romantic rendezvous…because what happens at the State Fair stays at the State Fair.

One interesting aspect to this film was the use of juxtaposition, the most obvious pairing being the leisurely pace of country life against the hustle and bustle of the fair. The innocent civilians were made even more so in scenes showcasing swindling carnival workers. Mr. Frake even turns on “Blue Boy” after his win proclaiming, “You’re a trophy today and a ham tomorrow!” YIKES! But nowhere does this tactic shine truer than in the romantic entanglements of Margy and Wayne.

Let’s start with Margy. A simple country girl through and through, Margy is completely taken aback by the charming spell of newspaper reporter, Pat Gilbert (Lew Ayres). After nearly fainting on a rollercoaster, Margy passes out on the shoulder of Gilbert and the two fall into a quick romance. Though she proclaims her love for him after only a few days, she knows Gilbert is “a man of the world” (aka he sleeps around) and she worries that his gaze might wander after they’re married. In a poignant and romantic moment, she dreamily notes, “I love you, Pat. But sometimes you seem like something I’ll wake up from.” Easily one of my favorite scenes in the entire film.

OK so country girl vs. city newspaper man…a slow country romance vs. fainting on a rollercoaster. In the same scene where she tells Gilbert he seems like a dream, Margy is shown in a white light while Gilbert is shown in a dark shadow. If finding these juxtapositions were a drinking game, I’d be dead.

Wayne has a similar encounter, falling hard for a bendy trapeze artist named Emily (I don’t need to spell this out for you, do I?). In a pretty risqué scene for the time, Emily “slips into something more comfortable”, coming out wearing a silk robe – on the back of which is an embroidered butterfly. I’ll let you interpret that symbolism as you will…but let’s just say a certain scene where that same robe appears on the floor as the camera pans to rumbled bedsheets was cut from the film and lost to the ages.

Though not considered a blockbuster by comparison to other films released this year, State Fair was still remade two more times, given the Rogers and Hammerstein treatment in 1945, then made again starring Ann-Margret and Pat Boone in 1962.

All in all, State Fair was a bit of a juxtaposition in and of itself, acting as a reprieve from the daily grind of the time. It took us on an adventure, then brought us home safe and sound, a little wiser for the experience.


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