State Fair ★★★★

I dig screwball comedies as much as the next person, but why isn't there a word for the certain kind of warm, slice-of-life romp exemplified by this, Cluny Brown and Christmas in July that demonstrates completely unforced affection toward its characters without a trace of condescension? This is a remarkable portrait of a family -- farm folks enjoying a break in their routine long enough to enjoy the annual fair -- because it doesn't ever force the issue of their bond or affection, which is so much more persuasive than the modern gooey Hollywood process of reinforcing the Unbreakable Magic Power of Family seen in everything from Home Alone to A Quiet Place. They don't constantly reassert their relationship, and nor is it a huge controversy when the two almost-grown progeny (Janet Gaynor and Norman Foster) want to step out on their own and enjoy what life has to offer, having flings with people they happen to meet and engaging in, oh my word, premarital sex with them that is not judged as immoral and does not result in either of them being condemned. In fact, none of what happens corresponds to any sort of preordained screenwriterly structure, it's just life kind of flowing and no big climax or crescendo, but always a poignant sense of the weight of the world, and of the strangely varied speeds at which time seems to pass. Of course this is all interspersed with amusing bits of business, like the hog Blue Boy whose attitude toward performing is best described as ambivalent, and Will Rogers' constant pleas with him to get up; and peculiar confrontations with shady merchants and roller-coasters. But what strikes you most is how love is in the air -- and not movie-love, but an unpretentious sense of the way people fall together and communicate, from excited young lovers to long-marrieds out for a burlesque. The sense of place is profoundly effective, too; you know you're in for something special when, early on, the family piles into their jalopy for an overnight drive and you have the sense that you're right in there with them. I never even got that from The Grapes of Wrath.

This had a big effect on me and, if I'm being honest, I vaguely suspect I may be underrating it, or maybe the idea of huddling up to Janet Gaynor -- or Lew Ayres, if you like; they're both pretty dreamy -- on a wooden roller-coaster just did something to me.