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The best part of this picture is the epic Oklahoma land rush scene, which thankfully occurs early in the film so you can skip the rest of it. More than 5,000 extras participated, and it took nearly 30 camera crews to capture.
Cimarron glamorizes the period from 1890 to 1929 in which Indian lands in what is now Oklahoma were given away to very fast white people.
The story follows a frontier family's rise to prominence. Wanderlust in Richard Dix's white-hatted husband/father character forces Irene Dunne's matriarch character to build a business and forge a life of privilege for her children. Though Cimarron may be viewed as a feminist film in some respects, Dunne's constant deferral to her unpredictable husband and unwillingness to replace him (i/e remove his name as proprietor of the newspaper she built) weakens that argument somewhat.
The blatant and bold black and native racial stereotypes throughout this film will leave you wanting to take a shower after viewing.
By the end of Cimarron, the son marries a Native American woman in a weak gesture of racial acceptance, but it is not nearly enough, as she is merely token public proof of the family's false social and racial tolerance.
Like many films from this period, the story in Cimmaron has not aged well, and I can't say if the problems in this film are derived from the book the film is based on, the screen play or both. Frankly, after the amazing and beautifully filmed land rush scene, what follows is a disappointing morass of idiotic stereotypical western characters, and over simplification and glorification of 'manifest destiny.'
In a year in which other legendary films might have won Best Picture (City Lights, Dracula, Frankenstein, Little Caesar, Public Enemy), how forgettable drivel like Cimmaron won Best Picture certainly must have had more to do with Hollywood studio politics than art.
Yet, if you seek a benchmark of the progress that Hollywood has made over the past 90 years to change racial stereotyping, then Cimarron is a place to start your analysis, even as there remains a long, long way to go.
By the way, if you wonder what Cimarron means, the best I can guess is that it seems to refers to the Indian lands that had yet to be stolen.
Cimarron, while being the fist Western to win for Best Picture, is only half of a Western in my opinion. The first half has many of the classic Western elements from the main character's white hat to a shootout in town. But as the main character gets tired of one location, so too does the film for the Western drama. The later half show many time-skips illustrating the development of Oklahoma into the state it was at the time of filming. This was personally interesting in the way a period/historical piece is today.
It's very hard for me, a person born in the 21st century, to evaluate a film released in 1931 but because Cimarron won Best Picture in 1932 I am going to have to. This is a very, very strange film as it feels like a bad mash up of Gone with the Wind (1939) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and yet it is completely lifeless. The lead performance of Richard Dix doesn't help as he overacts 100% of the time and the screenplay picks up and drops characters at a moment's notice without giving various subplots satisfying endings, if any are given at all. I was hoping to enjoy this film because most people I have met who have seen it have hated it but I found that there was so little to it and it was so poorly executed that it was hard to find any good in it.
The fancifully named Yancey Cravat, Richard Dix, must stake his claim on lands, as many Americans did, in Oklahoma after the land rush of 1889 that belongs to Native Americans. We see his life and that of his racist wife Sabra, Irene Dunne, and a crafty prostitute Dixie Lee, Estelle Taylor, develop and change over the next 40 years. The Cravats have two children, Donna, Judith Barrett, and Cim, one of whom marries a Native American. Cravat is always and I mean always right about the conflicts that are going to occur and he is able to defend racial minorities, Native Americans and Jewish people, against the attacks of his wife and local vagrants.
The only thing I was able to appreciate about the film was it's remarkably liberal and modern treatment of sex workers as Dixie Lee, the crafty prostitute, is seen as a woman with power and agency. Although his defense of her exists primarily to show what a great guy Yancey is we understand that Lee is worthy of respect. Taylor's performance has aged better than most in the film and she has a certain sexuality that is timeless. Comparing the treatment of her character to the strange writing of Sabra she has a far more consistent arc and doesn't appear to be explicitly racist at any point.
Beyond this the film is pretty awful on most other accounts. Dix and Dunne give performances that feel very of their time and although Dunne would evolve and give a very good performance in Love Affair (1939) she is screechy and lacking in charisma here. The makeup applied doesn't help as it is so thick that it is hard to buy into them as real people without considering how big the production is. If Clark Gable and Joan Crawford had been cast in the leading roles I think that they would have been far more exciting to watch and although they are not the best actors in the world they would still have charisma.
When comparing this epic film to other Best Picture winning epics, mostly Gone with the Wind it's weaknesses are fully revealed. Where Gone with the Wind is based on one of the greatest novels ever written and features compelling but flawed characters this film is based on a critically derided book that features thinly written characters. The production design was not on the level of Ben-Hur (1959) or Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and there was no tension built up unlike in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). The two epics that are as bad as this film are Dances with Wolves (1990) and Gandhi (1982) which are both overly long and squander interesting subject matter.
I think it's obvious that of the Best Picture nominees One Hour with You (1931) is the strongest. This is not a film that I recommend anyone watch because it contains bad performances, production design and has very little personality but if you want to see an early example of respect for women then I am sure you can find sections of the film on YouTube. I really hope that the Best Picture winners get better throughout the 1930s as so far only Gone with the Wind and It Happened One Night (1934) could be considered good films by today's standards.
A 2+ hour film completely overshadowed by its first 8 minutes, Cimarron covers a 40-year period, and is certainly epic in that regard, but in all others, it falls noticeably short. The acting is nothing special, the dialogue is excessive and dull, the pacing is slow and the video quality, unsurprisingly for the time, can be generously described as primitive. All Quiet On The Western Front, which won the Best Picture award the year before, vastly surpasses it in ever way. Cimarron has dated far worse than many other films of its time, in terms of both technical quality and entertainment value. It's the kind of film you'd watch because it was an early Academy Award winner and holds some historical value, but you would certainly never watch it again. The lead disappears for large stretches of the narrative and somehow manages to perfectly slot himself back into the action with few questions from the rest of the characters. It feels epic in timescale but not in story, and the performances are unnecessarily melodramatic. A lot of its faults can be blamed on the period in which it came out, and the fact that cinema was still largely in its infancy back then, but this along with its scattershot story and bland dialogue make it hard enough to watch once, let alone multiple times.
This is an okay film, there's just nothing overly unique about it. Doesn't hold up when compared to other westerns or best picture winners. Unless you're a big western or Irene Dunne fan, you should probably spend your time watching something else.
The best movie ever made! With the best movie character ever portrayed: Richard Dix as Yancey Cravat!
Continuing my goal of watching every single winner of Best Picture in the Oscars, I watched Cimarron. Watching that opening sequence, knowing what filmmaking was like back in the early 1930s, left me in awe. Knowing that the filmmakers had to work with all those animals, extras and scenery made me appreciate that this film could win such a prestigious award. Once the story and the "plot" started moving forward however, I found myself questioning how bad the other movies up for best picture truly were. This film is held together barely by the amazing portrayal of Sabra Cravat by Irene Dunne. I also found myself many times asking, "Who is this guy?", referring to Sabra's adventure loving every-man husband Yancey. He seems to be the most popular man on the planet, everybody knows who he is. He even has a theme song that is sung a couple of times during the film. Yet he seems like nothing more then an olden days lawyer and newspaper editor. He also is a superb marksman, shooting with impunity and amazing accuracy during several tense moments with outlaws. This film seriously lacked focus and motivation. It went from telling a story from Yancey's point of view to finishing the story from Sabra's view. Also, the racist leanings towards the Native Americans is of the time but the various characters seem to flip back and forth on whether they support the people or if they revere them. For all the completionists out there, this movie is a 2 hour romp that will leave you scratching your head trying to figure out what's happening and where the characters see themselves in their own minds. The opening sequence and Irene Dunne's work are definitely bonuses within this movie.
A bit drawn out, but still entertaining.
This film is long and boring while also bringing to attention some issues that make you think. The obvious attention of the film is on wanderlust and how it helps to build nations while also destroying homes. There was also a good attempt at trying to address the psychological complexity of killing a good friend in order to save your family. However, the short stories in between are what fascinated me. The courtroom trial where a "loose woman" was put on trial showcases the still prevalent shaming of women by other women. The scenes with the black servant Isaiah, the Native Americans, and Saul the Jew showed the absolute hypocrisy of the time regarding race relations. Natives are only treated with decency when it makes the man who does it look good, but when that same man wants to take the land of the Natives, it's free game. You could never have a more loyal servant than Isaiah, who shows that even in loyalty and honorable works, the white man of the time cared about whether you lived or died about as much as they would if the household dog got ran over in the street, in fact probably less so. The antisemitism in the film is generally handled with disdain, which is good, but the Jew in question has to be saved and protected by a strong saintly Christian or all the other Christians would have crucified him because of his portrayed weakness. The sets are definitely breathtaking in scope; I'm not sure I've ever seen such large and diverse sets in an older film. There is a lot of sexist pandering by Yancy to his wife, which though spoiled and racist as a product of her upbringing, it does seem like she is less of an adult because she is a woman and less because of her maturity and world views. Not a film I'd recommend, but interesting nonetheless.
ALRIGHT. But overlong, tiring horse drama with people acting acting acting like this was the Best Picture winner for 1931. PS, it was. A movie made to look important then, but nowadays it just creaks.