Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 1933. Fox Film Corporation. Screenplay by Sonya Levien, Paul Green, based on the novel by Philip Stong. Cinematography by Hal Mohr. Produced by Winfield R. Sheehan. Music by Louis De Francesco. Production Design by Duncan Cramer. Costume Design by Rita Kaufman. Film Editing by Robert Bischoff. Academy Awards 1932/1933. National Board of Review Awards 1933.
First film version of Philip Stong’s beloved novel doesn’t have the lovely songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein that are featured in the full-colour 1945 or 1962 remakes, but neither of those films are as delicately endearing. The Frake family leave their Iowa farm for their annual visit to the state fair, each of them hoping to come home with either prizes, experiences or both: dad Will Rogers is bringing his Hampshire boar Blue Boy to enter into the hog contests and mom Louise Dresser (who is wonderful) has brought along her mincemeat and preserves. Their son Norman Foster is upset about his quarrel with his girlfriend but has spent the year since the last fair practicing his skills at the ring toss, hoping to win back the three dollars he felt he was cheated out of at the game booth; he does so well that he almost gets himself tossed out of the fair, but it also puts him in the way of a beautiful circus performer who, because this movie is made just before the Hayes code took effect, we know takes his virginity based on some not-so-subtle imagery. Meanwhile, his sister Janet Gaynor is glad to get away from her boring suitor and meets a handsome man on the roller coaster with whom she falls in love and spends a lovely week, before they are bitterly parted at the end of their trip. Played out as a series of gently funny vignettes, this film was very popular at the time and sadly has been overshadowed by the splashier remakes, despite the fact that neither of them retained its honesty or charm to the same degree.