Cimarron (1931)

Cimarron movie poster. Source: Rene Walter flickr 


Plot: Yancey Cravat has incurable wanderlust, and convinces his wife Sabra to leave the comforts of Wichita for unsettled Oklahoma. Cravat is clear that he’s never stayed in one place longer than five years, so it should not have surprised Sabra that Yancey leaves once new land opens up for the taking. And thus is the plot, spanning 40 years of Yancey leaving and Sabra finding her way in Oklahoma life.

Best Moment: One of the early sequences is the Oklahoma land rush of 1889, and it did not disappoint. Especially given that this was filmed in 1931, I was thoroughly impressed with the variation of shots, the editing, and sound in this scene. I wondered if Ron Howard watched ‘Cimarron’ prior to shooting ‘Far and Away,’ because I saw a clear connection between the two films.

Worst Moment: When I nodded off somewhere around the 25 minute mark. I find this happens frequently in older films. I don’t know if it’s the lack of constant noise–either with sound effects or score–or the pace of editing or dialogue. I was aware enough that I hit pause, took a 15 minute power nap, and then finished the film. So I don’t think I missed much.

Fun Facts: ‘Cimarron’ won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1931, and deservedly so. According to the Wikipedias, it was the first western to do so, and would hold that honor until 1990 when ‘Dances With Wolves’ won. (Shocking, considering ‘The Searchers’, ‘Shane’, ‘High Noon’, etc.)

Also, this was an RKO production, not Warner Brothers. So how did it wind up in a collection of WB films? I did some cursory research, and as far as I can tell, when RKO went under, the rights to the films it had made were sold at auction. Different media conglomerates own different rights to different films. Warner Brothers managed to secure the films produced by Samuel Goldwyn (which will explain other RKO films in this collection), but ‘Cimarron’ was not produced by Goldwyn. So I’m not sure how WB ended up with distribution rights to this film. If anyone out there knows, do tell!

Epiphany: While at the beginning of the film ‘Cimarron’ is situated to tell the story of Yancey Cravat–and I would expect nothing less than a male-centered narrative in the 1930s–by the end of the film I realized it’s actually Sabra’s story. She is the dynamic character, Yancey is static. The compelling plot points are about Sabra’s evolution and successes, not Yancey’s. I think there’s a pretty strong case to be made that ‘Cimarron’ has feminist leanings, and I was not expecting that from a 1931 western.

Recommendation: See it! I don’t like westerns, so this isn’t a film I’d gravitate towards without this particular project, but it was well worth my time. I might even read the Edna Ferber novel the film was based on, just to see if the story holds true to the source material.


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