Best Picture Review: Cimarron (1931)

Cimarron, 1931
Cimarron, 1931

Next up in our Best Picture series was 1931’s Cimarron.  After seeing a rapid progression in the overall quality of film-making from Broadway Melody to All Quiet on the Western Front, I expected an even stronger effort from Cimarron.  What I found was a movie that had a weak plot and dragged out much more than necessary.  However, it wasn’t terrible once I realized and accepted the fact that there wasn’t going to be a dramatic climactic point in the story.  And I should warn anyone who didn’t go see this movie in the first 77 years that there will be spoilers!

Lauren, Nick, and I sat down Sunday night to watch Cimarron, one of the biggest Hollywood productions of its time.  This was made during the Great Depression, and still no funding was spared.  $1.5 million went into the production, which had some huge scenes that included over 5,000 extras.  Due to the Depression, it didn’t make a lot of money, but critics everywhere agreed it was a masterpiece.

Cimarron is a two-hour tale of a Wichita man named Yancey Cravat who moves his family to Oklahoma in 1889 when the president declares 2,000,000 acres of Shawnee land is up for grabs.  Yancey, his wife Sabra, son, and servant make their new home in Osage, Oklahoma.  Osage goes from non-existent to 10,000 people in six weeks.

Yancey quickly becomes the city’s most powerful man.  He starts a newspaper, becomes the pastor of the church, and takes down the outlaws that come through town. All is well, and even a once-pessimistic Sabra admits she loves her new life in Osage.

Not so fast, y’all.  One day Yancey up and leaves for five years, abandoning Sabra and the kids, as he goes in search of a better life when the president opens up Cherokee land for the takin’.  No word from Yancey for five whole years, and then one day he returns home.  His first task just minutes after returning home is to become an attorney, take the floor against his poor wife, and save a troubled woman from being booted out of town.

Okay, he’s back in town, all can be well again… except a year later he decides to leave town again for fifteen years, not so much as coming back to visit!  Sabra magically becomes a congresswoman and is honored.  Yancey happens to travel back into town the very day Sabra is honored and gets crushed by an oil rig or something, clearly stealing her thunder.

A testament to Cimarron is it reminds me a lot of last year’s smash hit There Will Be Blood.  The stellar acting of Richard Dix (Yancey) likely had some sort of inspiration on Daniel Day Lewis.  The bad news is 75 minutes into the movie, I was still asking myself what the point of the story would be.  Lauren summed it up by calling the story “meandering.”  There were a handful of scenes that were totally pointless.  If you sped things up a little and added a little more explanation, the story might have had some positive momentum and maybe the movie would have been pretty good.

Overall, I’d give it a 5/10 stars.  Way better than Broadway Musical, way far off the pace of All Quiet.

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