This Morning's Texas Centennial Expo Double Feature, With Gene Autry and ... Sam Fuller?
After the jump, a curio stumbled across this morning while looking for something else related to the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition at Fair Park: the romantic comedy called Hats Off, the first offering from short-lived Grand National Films and one of the first films in which John Payne (Miracle on 34th Street) had a starring role. Reason it comes up as a Texas Centennial Expo find: It's about Dallas and Fort Worth's race to open their rival expos, with Dallas's coming on June 6, 1936, and Fort Worth's Frontier Centennial following July 18.
The movie's clearly set in Texas: One of the characters is a drunken moneybags named Tex Connelly, who says things like, "I'm just unlimbering my lasso," makes toasts to Sam Houston and snarls about backing a producer named Rosaro because, as Tex says, "Seems like from the name his grandfather fought against the Alamo." And though it never mentions Dallas or Fort Worth, only rival cities in a town called Hempstead, the subject matter's assumed, as The New York Times would note in recounting the plot about rival press agents "assigned to stir up publicity for separate expositions at the 1936 Texas Centennial (newsreel footage of which predominates throughout the film's short running time)."
TCM acknowledges the reason for setting it elsewhere: "Screenwriter Edmund Joseph placed portions of the film in Hempstead because it was his home town." Joseph wasn't the only screenwriter, though: Sam Fuller's also credited -- and, yes, it's that Sam Fuller, the legendarily outsized director who'd go on to make Shock Corridor, The Big Red One and White Dog. The '36 offering was, by all accounts, his first screenwriting job.
Of course, it goes without saying that the much better 1936 movie that's actually set in Fair Park, at the Centennial Expo, is The Big Show, which you can watch in its entirety right here. It stars the great Gene Autry, who ends the film with a wild horseback chase through the fairgrounds. And for those who somehow missed it: Autry's wife Jackie, the honorary American League president, presented Nolan Ryan with the AL championship trophy in Arlington last night. And the circle is complete.
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