Cimarron (1931)

“We’re going into new things, Sabe — a new empire. And I want to help build it for you!”

Cimarron Poster 1931

Synopsis:
Idealistic newspaper editor Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix) settles with his wife (Irene Dunne) in Oklahoma territory, where he fights against injustice and racism. But his wanderlust soon prompts him to seek new adventures, and he leaves his family behind for years at a time.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
This early screen adaptation of Edna Ferber’s novel — which Peary refers to as a “tiresome… soap-opera western epic” — remains notorious for its status as one of the first (and least deserving) Oscar winners for Best Picture. As Peary notes, it comes across today as “extremely dated”, and boasts “uniformly awful” acting — particularly by “matinee idol” Richard Dix, who “gives an unbearably hammy, deep-voiced” performance. Although Peary gives faint praise to traces of “unexpected feminism” in the storyline (they’re faint indeed), he inexplicably argues that this is “undermined by some racism” — an odd statement, given that Yancey’s fearlessly anti-racist stance is one of the film’s genuine redeeming factors. Another is the infamous opening “land rush” sequence, though it unfortunately establishes a standard of excitement which the remainder of the film can’t possibly live up to. The primary problem lies in the filmmakers’ daunting attempt to adapt an epic novel spanning 40 years: numerous life-changing events — including Yancey abandoning his family for years on end — are necessarily given short-shrift, and seriously compromise what could otherwise have been an insightful portrait of a pioneer marriage. The rushed ending is particularly egregious, and makes little sense on any level.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The impressive opening “land rush” scene
    Cimarron Land Grab
  • Yancey’s refreshingly anti-racist attitude: “If you knew anything at all … you’d realize that a Cherokee is too smart to put anything in the contribution box of a race that’s robbed him of his birthright.”

Must See?
Yes, but only for its historical status as an early Best Picture Oscar winner.

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