WHAT TO WATCH ON TV
Stream On: Two screenplays from The Lost Colony’s Paul Green

By on March 10, 2022

North Carolinians know Paul Green as the author of the historical outdoor drama The Lost Colony, produced since 1937, about Sir Walter Raleigh’s 1587 English colony on Roanoke Island. Its staged annually where the colony was left by Governor John White when he returned to England for supplies and found missing when White made it back to Roanoke.

There’s more to Green’s story than The Lost Colony; he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1927 for the play In Abraham’s Bosom, had worked with Kurt Weill, Lotte Lenya and Lee Strasberg, and wrote screenplays for The Cabin in the Cotton (1932) and State Fair (1933), featuring Bette Davis and Will Rogers respectively.

THE CABIN IN THE COTTON

/Amazon /Streaming (Odnoklassniki) /1932 /PG

“I’d like ta kiss ya, but I just washed my hair.” (Madge Norwood)

Paul Green wrote the script for this pre-Code drama (the Hayes Code was only enforced beginning in 1934) from the book by Harry Harrison Kroll; it’s currently not streaming (save on the Russian social site Odnoklassniki) or for sale on DVD. One of its most interesting credits is a young Bette Davis (in her third film), the other is that it was one of the first American films directed by Michael Curtiz (Captain Blood, 1935; The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938; Angels with Dirty Faces, 1938; The Sea Wolf, 1941; Casablanca, 1942; and Mildred Pierce, 1945).

Marvin Blake (Richard Barthelmess) is a sharecropper’s son who wants to better himself by continued schooling instead of working in the fields under the heat in the Deep South. Initially, greedy planter Lane Norwood (Berton Churchill) is opposed to the idea and says he needs to work in his fields, but after the sudden death of Blake’s over-worked father, he grudgingly helps Blake achieve his goal and gives the young man a job as a bookkeeper when his vampish daughter Madge (Davis) intercedes on his behalf. Blake uncovers irregularities in Norwood’s accounts and soon finds himself embroiled in a battle between management and workers and torn between the seductive Madge and his longtime sweetheart Betty Wright (Dorothy Jordan).[^]

In 1928 Paul Green traveled to Europe on a Guggenheim Fellowship and was impressed by the non-realistic productions that he saw there. He began to experiment with expressionism and the Epic theatre of Bertolt Brecht and Erwin Piscator. His ideas meshed well with Curtiz, who brought to Hollywood an expressionist visual style using artistic lighting, extensive and fluid camera movement, high crane shots, and unusual camera angles. The result was an attractive presentation that somehow emphasized the characters’ personal stories.

Richard Barthelmess was a bland-looking and largely inexpressive actor whose best work was behind him, in silent pictures, but who stood out from the supporting cast of colorful rustics—he was one of them and he wasn’t; he well embodied his character’s duality of worker/ management. Sultry 24-year-old Bette Davis had “nascent superstar” written all over her; she was scintillating, stole every scene in which she appeared, and made a compelling catalyst for the action. Barney McGill‘s black-and-white cinematography is vibrant, with inky blacks and bright whites—color would only distill its visual impact. Well worth a look.


STATE FAIR

/Prime Video /Streaming /1933
/”Passed” the Hayes Code, with some scenes excised, in 1934

“A State Fair is like Life–begins lustily–offers everything–whether you go for sheep and blue ribbons–or shape and blue eyes. And, too soon, it’s all over!”

Paul Green and Sonya Levien, a Russian-born American screenwriter who became one of the highest earning female screenwriters in Hollywood in the 1930s, adapted this cautionary comedy-drama from Phil Strong’s 1932 best seller about a farm family attending the Iowa State Fair. The opening quote is a little on the nose, but this guileless fable is so charming that the clumsy introduction is immediately forgiven. (It was only three years since silent movies, where interstitial titles were the go-to choice for exposition.)

State Fair opens as farmer Abel Frake (Will Rogers, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court) obsesses over preparations to bring his gigantic prize hog Blue Boy to the big fair. Rogers, who was familiar to audiences since Vaudeville days, essentially played himself, apparently an inspiration for Andy Griffith’s later character Andy Taylor, shuffling and a self-effacing in an aw-shucks kind of way.

At the fair, Abel and his wife Melissa (Louise Dresser) seek to win prizes in agricultural and cooking competitions (Abel surreptitiously spiking Melissa’s mincemeat pies with additional brandy and using his wife’s hairbrush on Big Boy), and their innocent teenage daughter Margy (Janet Gaynor) and son Wayne (Norman Foster) each find unexpected romance.

The family camps out near the fairground in tents. Big Boy is listless in the carnival-like atmosphere of crowds and sideshows—until a friend of Abel’s brings a pretty sow to the competition. Margy meets a reporter for the Des Moines Register, who is experienced and widely traveled (and has had previous girlfriends); he’s attracted to Margy despite her lack of sophistication. Gullible Wayne meets Emily, the motherless daughter of a stock show manager, who lives a rootless life in hotels following horse shows, races and carnivals. Emily’s father leaves his daughter mostly on her own. She uses her inside knowledge of horse racing to make money by betting, wears short skirts, goes to the theater, and drinks alcohol despite Prohibition. She gives Wayne his first drink and seduces him in her hotel room, which is only implied in the pre-Code version of the film, showing their clothes near a bed.

“We got back home and nothing bad happened.”

State Fair is wholesome (in the 21st Century—we’ve come a long way!), funny, and moving. It’s a bittersweet tribute to the innocence and education of America in the 20th Century.


(Pete Hummers is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to earn fees by linking Amazon.com and affiliate sites. This adds nothing to Amazon’s prices.)

Click here for more Stream On: What to watch on TV columns by Pete Hummers


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The project consists of the new construction of a 38,000-sf, 2-story expansion to the existing Owens Health Sciences Center and will house classrooms, labs, and a simulation lab. The site is just over just over 4.5 acres and is located on an active campus. This new construction will be a steel structure with a brick and metal panel veneer, curtainwall, and storefront glazing with a PVC roof membrane.

Principal trade and specialty contractors are solicited for the following Bid Packages:

BP0100: General Trades

BP0105: Final Cleaning

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BP0740: Roong

BP0750: Metal Panels

BP0790: Caulking / Caulking

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BP0980: Acoustical Ceilings

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BP1005: Toilet Specialties / Accessories / Division 10

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