on April 30, 2004
You know, I have to agree with Mr. Erdelac - the movie is progressive for its time. For those of you who judge a movie by the degree to which it beats a political or social drum, there is much here to admire.
But there is more. There is something artistic. There is an odd balance between melodrama and something really substantial, something actually edifying to the viewer. I think a large part of why this movie doesn't descend into the sludge of cinematic slop is because the characters are all flawed, and in those flaws the viewer cannot help but recognize a touch of human frailty. Every individual in this movie is at times ridiculous and at other times supremely dignified. This, I believe, gives it a certain depth.
The characters in any great movie MUST be larger than life if the piece is to avoid being either a documentary or a soap opera. But here the larger than life characters seem firmly rooted in the earth, which brings them closer to us. I like that.
Overall, I think the sensitive viewer will find in this movie much that is both emotionally and philosophically stimulating, if he/she is willing to look past the inevitable veneer of 74 years. I personally consider it a particularly moving and thought-provoking cinematic experience.
on March 17, 2003
What are some of these reviewers thinking? I just watched this movie for the first time, and considering the period, this has got to be one of the most progressive films ever to come out of the 1930's. Yes, like most, I inwardly cringed at the sight of `Isaiah' whistling and shining shoes during the opening credits, but I really felt that the character wound up being much more than a stereotypical clown (this is NOT Gone With The Wind). Consider the societal constraints under which the creators of this film worked, and I should think its obvious that they did what they could, perhaps subversively. Back then they just couldn't have a black character or a full blooded Indian character who spoke for and defended himself, but they could find a way to espouse more liberal views through the character of Cravat. In the end, by way of his actions, Isaiah certainly becomes a more heroic character than Mammy or Uncle Remus. Likewise, the treatment of womens' roles and Indian rights are amazingly far ahead of their time -even going so far as to touch on interracial marriage and the potential of women to be stronger and even more efficient than men -which at a time when the suffragists were still alive, has got to be commended. And don't forget that Dix's character is part Indian. How many films prior to `Broken Arrow' portrayed Indians in a positive light, let alone made them the hero?
There is a lot of talk of Dix's overracting and praise for Dunne. I thought Dix captured the blustery over the top persona of Yancey Cravat (who was based on a real-life gunslinging attorney who was a son of Sam Houston -the courtroom soliloquy to save the prostitute is culled directly from historic record) perfectly. I particularly liked the scene where he `crows' at the bad guy in challenge. Yes, Dunne did a fine job as well portraying a character who represents all the economic and social intolerance of the period. Moreso because with the help of her firebrand husband she manages to evolve and change (and even become a Congresswoman!) beyond these small views. But I don't think Dix deserves all the criticism, nor Dunne all the credit. Yancy Cravat doesn't seem true to life because he is BIGGER than life. Nobody complains about George C. Scott's rendering of Patton, because we know Patton really was that way. Is it incomprehensible to think that such giant characters, dandily dressed and sporting pistols and purple words ever walked the land before 1930? All this talk of dating (at the risk of sounding dated) is a lot of hooey. When you watch a movie like this you've got to put yourself in the mindset of the audience of the period, or of course you're always going to think its `aged badly.'
The film is shot well. The Land Rush is great, as is that scene where Dunne runs through the spattered men of the oil field at the end (it reminded me of Claudia Cardinale walking through the slew of rail workers at the end of Once Upon A Time In The West). There are shots during the emigration of the Cravats from Kansaas which also stay in the mind. The lantern hanging from the rear axle of the wagon, only illuminating the turning wheels on either side, while Cravat lowly sings his signature tune was a stroke of genius, and the Kid and his gang riding out of the dark and empty land into their campsite is well done. The sound on the VHS is a little bad, with a lot of background hiss occassionally overwhelming the dialogue. I hope if this ever gets to DVD they can fix this.
I think this is an important film that has been sorely overlooked because of the decline of the western in popular culture and the finger pointing of the PC crowd. You've got to look deeper than the veneer, but I really believe this to be an astounding achievement historically, cinematically, and in the portrayal and ultimate breaking of racial stereotypes. Best Picture of 1930. I would've given it four stars, but the VHS copy isn't great. O mighty masters of DVD transfer, except Cimarron into thy trust! Amen!
on February 21, 2006
There is another reason to pick up this DVD: the inclusion of the pre-Hays Code short film "The Devil's Cabaret." This short was created as a vehicle for comedian Edward Buzzell, but the highlights are the sequence with secretary Mary Carlisle (who is amiably daffy and cute to boot), and the extended "nightclub from Hell" sequence where girls strip off their clothes and happily sell their souls to the Devil. This is a vintage reminder of how racy the times were before the government piddled on the party.
on December 29, 2008
I decided that I wanted to watch all the Best Picture Academy Award-winning films from the very first one. Unfortunately, like many of my generation, the older a movie is, the less I can tolerate it. This is not something I'm proud of, but it's just the way it is. But I was pleased that CIMARRON was an exception. It is in fact the oldest film (talkie) I have ever seen all the way through.
When I first sat down to watch it, I didn't even know how to pronounce it: SIMMER-ON. At the risk of sounding cliché, CIMARRON is a grand, sweeping epic that spans the time of over forty years. The plot revolves around Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix) and his wife Sabra (Irene Dunn) and their adventurous life together picking up stakes in Kansas to settle in Oklahoma after the massive land rush. This part of the film, along with many, many other scenes, was incredibly filmed, especially when one remembers that this was several decades before what we now call computer graphic imagery (something which in my opinion is working very hard on ruining the movie industry).
Yancey Cravat is the quintessential Dudley Do-right. He reminds me of a mixture of Charles Ingalls, Rocky Balboa, and Roy Rogers. He's the tall, buff, proud man in the White Hat. He can draw a six-shooter in a blink, fire it with dead aim, print and edit a picture-perfect newspaper, present a jury-convincing impromptu defense argument, deliver a standing-room only church sermon, and stand up for the poor, needy, and under-privileged in a way that would have made Father Flanagan blush.
The movie does have a few slow moments, as any great epic might. But they always pass, and the film is overall very enjoyable. One thing that struck me as very interesting is that this movie about the Old West was made only a few decades after the time of the Old West. In fact, many people from that time period were probably around (and might have even lended their advice and insight) when CIMARRON was made. It would be no different than someone making a movie today about World War II.
Many will criticize this movie as politically incorrect. But the funny thing about political correctness is what is politically correct today will be politically incorrect tomorrow. The same goes with CIMARRON. I have no doubt that when this movie first appeared in the early 1930s there were many critics who thought the film was far too-sympathetic toward black citizens and Native American Indians. It was very rare back then to have such a film. Now, the scales have tipped toward the other direction, and CIMARRON is not progressive enough.
I don't watch movies to be enlightened in a social or political manner. I watch them for entertainment and for great storytelling purposes. And for these two reasons I can call CIMARRON a four-star film.
on April 21, 2012
It IS possible to travel through time. You can do it at home, in your spare time, for pennies a day. Honest. Watch Cimarron and travel back EIGHTY TWO YEARS to the world that made this movie. Eighty two years to another world, a dead world now, alive and vibrant then. Cimarron, made eighty two years ago, and initially set in the Old West thirty years before that, will never stand up to the standards of the 21st century. How could it? In its day it was new, exciting, creative, controversial, even progressive and concerned with the rights of women, Indians, and minorities. In our day some of it is difficult, infuriating, and, even strange... Watch Cimarron and travel back to the world before the Holocaust, before Nuclear Weapons, before computers and smart phones and transisters and World War II and the internet and Global Warming and 9/11 and well, travel back to another world, fascinating, confusing, confounding, and in its time, very real...can you stretch that far, can you extend your imagination to transcend too easy condemnation...oh, by the way, its fun too...try it, leave this world for a short while, travel back to THEIR world, the good, the bad, the ugly, the silly, the painful, the frustrating...you will cringe and you will cheer...open your eyes, and tell me what you see...
To fully appreciate 1931's "Cimarron" a few factors should be noted -
Cimarron was made at the start of the talkies era and there's a lot of holdover from the silent era. Indeed, actors like Richard Dix (the hero) and Stanley Fields (the villain) had their heyday in the silent era. So don't be surprised to see a lot of silent film acting and makeup.
America in 1931 was still the place for the white Anglo Saxon male, so expect to see minorities (the black servant boy Isaiah, the Indians) portrayed in a servile manner. Though offensive by later standards, their treatment in this film is relatively enlightened. Indeed, the favorable treatment of the marriage of Dix's son to an Indian is a rare progressive element in 30s films where miscegenation is usually met with death.
Almost every western film prior to Stagecoach (1939) followed a "traditional western" format with a larger than life hero who wore a white hat, damsels in distress that needed saving, and villains who scowled and wore black. Though dated by today's standards, this was pretty ordinary stuff for those days.
Westerns were mostly quickly made "oat burners" with only an occasional attempt at an epic western - "The Covered Wagon (1924), "The Iron Horse" (1924), and "In Old Arizona" (1929).
So "Cimarron" was made with nary a chance of success. Epic westerns were rare, the depression was at its height, and most people wanted the see good old-fashioned oat burner.
Richard Dix (1893-1949) was RKO's leading man during the 30s. He started in 1917 and had made 50 films prior to talkies. I found his performance engaging, although I can imagine for some people that it appears "over the top".
Irene Dunne (1898-1990) stars as Dix's wife, Sabra. Dunne was nominated 5 times for an Oscar ("Cimarron", "Theodora Goes Wild", "The Awful Truth", "Love Affair". "I Remember Mama") but never won. She made 40 films between 1930 and 1952 and then transitioned to TV. She does her usual terrific job, and ages very well. Indeed, we eventually come to realize that Dunne is the star of the film, not Dix.
Of all the villains from the early cinema, Stanley Fields (1883-1941) was the most consistent. Other prominent villains (Chaney, Beery) went on to play heroic roles, but Fields remained the villain to the end. He made over 100 films from 1929 to 1941. He does his usual excellent job here, although his role is brief
The great Edna May Oliver (1883-1942) plays a friend of Dunne. Oliver is best remembered for her roles as The Red Queen in "Alice in Wonderland" (1933) and the nurse in "Romeo and Juliet" (1936). She was nominated for an Oscar for her role as Mrs. McKlennar in "Drums Along the Mohawk" (1939). This is one of her lesser performances.
Wesley Ruggles (1889-1972) directs. He was a silent film director who shot to fame with this film, then made a few distinguished films ("I'm no Angel", "Bolero", "Arizona") before retiring in 1946 after a string of box office failures.
Edward Cronjager (1904-60) provides stunning photography for the first of his 7 Oscar nominations that also included "Heaven can Wait" (1943) and "Beneath the 12 Mile Reef" (1953). After making 100 films he transitioned to TV where he filmed, among other shows, Sam Peckinpah's "The Westerner" (1960).
The film won 3 Oscars (Picture, Writing, Art Direction) and was nominated for 4 more (Actor, Actress, Cinematographer, Director) making it the most notable film to that date. The top grossing films that year were "Frankenstein", "Mata Hari", "City Lights", and "Dracula". Oscars went to "The Champ" (Actor), and "Min and Bill" (Actress). Other notable films released that year include "M", "Public Enemy", "Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde", and "Monkey Business".
The NY Times called it "a stupendous undertaking" and said "from the first to the last scene one is often stirred by this chronicle." They praised the acting and the direction.
1931 was the depth of the depression and not a particularly good time for the movie industry (or any other industry for that matter). The previous year a big budget western "The Big Trail" directed by Raoul Walsh and starring John Wayne had bombed at the box office and Wayne and the western in general would be relegated to a decade of B films. So while the film made nearly $1 million at the box office, (coming in at #2 behind Frankenstein) at a cost of $1.4 million it was a major loss for RKO.
Bottom line - This film is certainly worth a look, even if it does seem a bit dated.
on November 11, 2002
This sprawling Western family saga, which takes place in Oklahoma in the period from 1889 to 1929 dates badly, although it was a big early talkie. Some viewers are a bit too harsh on this film. The opening scenes depict the Oklahoma Land Rush which is positively awe inspiring: thousands of extras rush pell-mell on foot, horseback and wagon in a mindless dash to outwit & outride each other in order to gain free land. Much of the movie rests on the considerable talents of Irene Dunne, who goes from an innocent child-woman to a grand old lady in a span of 4O years. Believe it or not, this film was considered to be the cinema's finest Western until the likes of RED RIVER, HIGH NOON and SHANE made their marks. The film received rave reviews and this along with THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES were the only two RKO films which won a AA for Best Picture. The screenplay was written by Howard Estabrook, based upon the source novel by Edna Ferber. The film cost RKO 1.5 million dollars to film: it also won Oscars for Best Set Decoration and for Best Adoptation.
on October 14, 2016
if u aren't hip to how great richard dix was...here's the proof..an amazing movie i never tire of watching over n over....irene dunn is brilliant as are all the actors in it....they cant make movies like this any more it seems......the sweeping story told so well is so well told..and enjoyable to watch......its a revelation..dix may seem over the tip to some..but to me...he is the quintessential hero type who saves the day w such panache..all is forgiven ,,,a tear jerking heart breaker w much to savor...
on March 6, 2011
I have now seen this film three times - I bought it several years ago to celebrate the Centennial of Oklahoma with my next door neighbor - who grew up there. By the time the movie was over, I had wished I had grown up there, too. The film really moves you in certain areas (helped by some sentimental Steiner scoring)and advocates a forgotten record of Hollywood advocating civil rights in the early sound area. The best part for me is the slavish attention to detail. Some of the scenes (especially the long pans along the storefronts in the early part of the film) actually SEEM like documentary footage from the era. You won't feel that a lot of this was shot on a back-lot - it really looks like Oklahoma. The oil field scene in the end is nearly as awesome as the land-rush. No doubt filmed on location at a period set. The iconic derricks are literally into the horizon! If you love American History - sit back and enjoy this one.
on October 25, 2015
Referring specifically to the streaming version, the aspect ratio is compressed horizontally. Not enough to make it unwatchable, but enough to alter the appearance of the performers.
That said, for its time this is a very "modern" movie--it addresses race relations, treatment of Native Americans, women's rights, all with good humor and without preaching. There are tiny vignettes of a time long past--a man riding a high-wheeler bicycle on rough ground, a piece of furniture that suspends a servant overhead to fan his employers, and so on. There are several gunfights, and while the standard of marksmanship is ludicrously high, in one of the major ones something resembling actual tactics was used beyond "crouch behind the door of a police cruiser".
I was expecting to find it a bit dull by modern standards, but the action moves right along. All in all an outstanding movie, a reminder of what Hollywood used to be.