King’s second collaboration with the effortlessly lovable Will Rogers, who stars as the head of a family anxiously preparing for a state fair. In the event, the family members will encounter new experiences (sexual, emotional) before returning home, each with their own memories and a sense of longing. King, movingly yet lightly, encapsulates life in 90 minutes: “A State Fair is life – begins lustily – offers everything… And too soon, it’s all over!”. Made three years before Jean Renoir’s Partie de campagne, in this quiet masterpiece there are no big tragedies except the passing of time itself.
King discovered and suggested the Phil Stong book to the studio. The film version, made during a time of financial problems at Fox (summer 1932), was a success, critically and commercially, and so was remade twice, as a musical in 1945 and 1962 (directed by Walter Lang and José Ferrer, respectively). By this time King had already mastered his style of invisible direction, as if the camera were operating unconsciously. Like Over the Hill it’s the story of a family maturing over time but unlike that film, State Fair is settled, Chekhovian, and static. There are none of the ceaseless camera movements of two years earlier. Having found the language which suited his sense of storytelling, King set this grammar in stone, and would adhere to it until the end of his career. This allows for powerful moments hitherto unseen in American films, such as when the family is driving up to the fair at dusk in eerie silence, later broken by the mother, who says it feels like they are the last people in the world. King establishes moods and moves swiftly from one to the next. The combination of simplicity and a rising emotional intensity makes this one of the crowning jewels of 1930s cinema. It was Gregory Peck in The Snows of Kilimanjaro who said, “The world is a market, emotions are the currency”. At this fair, emotions are the driving force of the narrative; in fact they are the narrative.
Cast and Credits
Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo (1932) di Phil Stong. Scen.: Paul Green, Sonya Levien. F.: Hal Mohr. M.: Robert Bischoff. Scgf.: Duncan Cramer. Mus.: Louis De Francesco. Int.: Will Rogers (Abel Frake), Janet Gaynor (Margy Frake), Lew Ayres (Pat Gilbert), Sally Eilers (Emily Joyce), Norman Foster (Wayne Frake), Louise Dresser (Melissa Frake), Frank Craven (il negoziante), Victor Jory (l’ambulante del tiro coi cerchi). Prod.: Winfield R. Sheehan per Fox Film Corporation. 35mm. D.: 97’. Bn.
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