Across the United States, state fairs have become a welcomed institution. In 1933’s State Fair, based on the novel by Philip Strong, you may find some old and outdated traditions mixed in with the ones that have lasted. Side shows and trapeze artists have since been traded in for demolition derbies and local talent concerts. But there are still ribbons ready to be given for the best livestock, produce and cooks. And the midway is still full of games, thrills and romance.
The story centers around the Frake family from Iowa. Pa, Able (Will Rogers), is getting their hog, Blue Boy, ready and hoping for a blue ribbon. Ma, Melissa (Louise Dresser), is preparing her minced meat recipe, fretting over whether or not to add brandy to earn a ribbon herself. Their son, Walter (Norman Foster) has been practicing since the last fair to win big at the ring toss booth. And their daughter, Margy (Janet Gaynor), has a suitor who proposes marriage. She will give him an answer when her family comes back from the fair.
Adventures and romance unfold at the fairgrounds. Pa spends most of his time at the livestock yard fretting over Blue Boy. While Walter is busy cleaning out the ring toss booth, he meets a beautiful trapeze performer (Sally Eilers). And when she is not doing women’s work with Ma at camp, Margy meets a charming newspaper boy, Pat (Lew Ayres) on the roller coaster. It seems romance blooms easily at the fairgrounds, but will it last when the fair is over?
Without getting caught up in how everything is so outdated, State Fair is quite a fun film. In fact, some of the old-timey phrases are a riot; what exactly does canoodling mean anyway? The family works well together and giving each character individual problems keeps all of them interesting. The mix of teenage fair romance with ma and pa’s wholesome competition is a great balance. And I certainly did not expect to see the hogs oinking in conversation, much less a hog fight.
In all, I was glad to find State Fair, and very happy that TCM premiered it during their 31 Days of Oscar. For me, TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar is like Christmas time, only with better TV programing to tune into. Throughout this month of celebrating Academy recognized movies, there will be plenty of films that I have reviewed here, as well as some that I have been searching for (like this one), and some wonderful gems that I plan to see and write about. Time to enjoy!
“Don’t tell me you’ve been using my hairbrush on that hog!”