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.


The Broadway Melody (1929)

Broadway_Melody_posterPlot: Sisters Hank (yes, Hank is a girl, take that gendered names) and Queenie Mahoney have an act, and they want to get on Broadway. Thanks to Hank’s boyfriend Eddie, a songwriter, they land a show but not without bumps in the road and vicious jealousy from other dancers. Queenie becomes a star by standing (yes, just standing) on the bow of a ship on set, garnering the attention of Jacques Warriner, who lavishes gift after gift upon the ingenue. This distresses Eddie, because after seeing her stand on that ship, he falls in love with Queenie. But he is still dating Hank. WHO ENDS UP WITH EDDIE?

(Basically, the plot of this movie is women are objects, disposable at that, and exist for the pleasure of men. Hmph.)

Best Moment: Um. Let me think. Uhhhhh. Let me consult my notes.  Hold please. The end credits. I think that was the best moment. Or maybe it was when I realized Janet Snakehole maybe watched this movie to perfect her speech patterns.

Worst Moment: Judging from the number of notes written in all caps followed by exclamation marks, I’d say pretty much the whole thing was the worst.

Fun Facts: This movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1930. I’m assuming because there was no other movie nominated. But seriously, I would love to see the other films nominated that year because holy. cow. It has a 35% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and I love the critics’ consensus there: “The Broadway Melody is interesting as an example of an early Hollywood musical, but otherwise, it’s essentially bereft of appeal for modern audiences.”

Read that last beautiful phrase one more time: “bereft of appeal.” Truer words have not been read by me today.

Here’s some of my thoughts I jotted down as I watched:

  • Queenie is literally standing and men are losing their minds about her talent. WTH.
  • Hank: “We ain’t never had to rely on our legs before…” Hank, honey, you’re wearing hot pants. Put down that righteous indignation before you hurt someone with it.
  • I can’t tell if this is supposed to be satire.
  • Ed is singing a love song to Queenie? WHAT IS HAPPENING?
  • This theme of one man dating sisters feels oddly familiar

Number of times in my notes I wrote some version of “I hate this movie”: five.

Epiphany: Busby Berkley had to stand on someone’s shoulders to do what he did, as did other directors of musicals, so I suppose this film was as good a place as any to start. Also, I couldn’t help but think of “White Christmas” as I watched–overbearing older sister tries to protect innocent/untrustworthy younger sister. Which made me wonder if I am like Hank and Betty, and if so, then DEANNE AND JENNIE I AM SO SORRY BECAUSE THOSE WOMEN ARE AWFUL.

Recommendation/SPOILER ALERT: Skip it. But if you are wondering who ends up with Eddie, here’s the final moments of the film: Eddie marries Queenie after wresting her away from Jacques Warriner’s money and good (yet creepy) looks. Hank partners up with a show girl she hated in the Broadway show, and they take their act on the road.


The Jazz Singer (1927)


Source: Wikimedia Commons. Public domain work.

Plot: Jakie Rabinowitz (pronounced Jackie) sings ragtime music, much to the disdain of his father, a fourth generation cantor. Jakie runs away and becomes a professional singer with the stage name Jack Robin. Years later, he meets famous actress Mary Dale, falls in love, and she gets him his big break on Broadway. Jack reunites with his family, but his father is still angry, and his anger causes a grave illness to overcome him. As a result, there is no cantor to sing on Yom Kippur, unless Jack forgoes opening night on Broadway to step in. WHAT WILL HE DO?

Best Moment: Sound, of course! The first talkie. Though there’s very little actual talking in the film, Warner Brothers made a good choice in making sure the bulk of the talking part of the movie was between Jack and his mother. Sweet and poignant.

Worst Moment: The blackface. I was actually taken aback by the casual way Jolson goes about putting on the makeup and then the hairpiece to complete his transformation to black man. PSA: blackface is racist, as is any makeup used to transform someone who is white into a person of color. Don’t do it.

Fun facts: American writer Samuel Raphaelson wrote a short story in 1922 titled “Day of Atonement” about a young Jewish boy. The Jewish Day of Atonement is Yom Kippur, and is a day in which Jews seek forgiveness for sins. By 1925 Raphaelson turned that short story into a play titled “The Jazz Singer,” and Warner Brothers picked up the rights to make it into a film starring Al Jolson. So the title of the short story takes on a deeper meaning for the film, as both Jack and his father require forgiveness from each other.

It’s been remade at least twice and parodied often; perhaps the most famous remake is Neil Diamond’s 1980 turn in which he sings two formative pop works in my own life: “Love on the Rocks,” and “America.” Neither of which I would classify as belonging to the jazz genre.

Also, this music right here? Sound familiar? That would be Tchaikovsky.  In a movie titled “The Jazz Singer.” That’s how I like my irony, folks.

Epiphany: I had seen Neil Diamond’s Jazz Singer when I was a kid, so I knew it had something to do with being Jewish and leaving the family, but didn’t remember specifics. Watching Al Jolson’s Jazz Singer I was struck by how prominently Judaism was seen in the film, mostly because of the time period. And I couldn’t stop thinking about what a risk that had to be.

Antisemitism has long been part of the American psyche, and really, the world’s. Why would Warner Brothers choose to make a film that celebrated the Jewish faith so blatantly? I don’t know how much Americans knew about German politics in 1927, but by then, the Nazi party had been ramping up in Germany for eight years. So I like to think this film was an act of resistance, even if it wasn’t. I can only imagine that if we had a remake of this film today, a certain Baptist church from Kansas would show up to protest it…after all, they have protested community theatres that produce “Fiddler on the Roof.” So I appreciate the film’s courage in showing slices of Jewish culture and faith.

Recommendation: See it. It’s foundational to how we experience film today, and the story of the pull between forging one’s own path and being loyal to family and culture is universal.




A New Project.

When I started this blog 13 years ago, I had one goal: watch as many of the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Films and write about them.

Long-time readers will know that the blog has shifted that focus, but until I looked through the archives earlier this week, I had forgotten how often I wrote about movies, even after my AFI project was finished-ish.

So I plan to return to the blog’s roots and write about movies again. Here’s the plan: every Friday or Saturday, I will watch a movie from Warner Brothers’ film collection (check out my instagram for a photo). I set two rules for watching these movies:

  1. No tech while watching. No phone, no computer, nothing. Note-taking on paper is allowed, since sometimes I have goldfish brain and can’t remember things. Anymore, the only time I watch film without also multitasking is when I’m in a theater, so this will take some adjusting.
  2. No cynicism. I’ll watch the films as much in the time period context as I can, which means I won’t comment on perceived overacting or primitive film technology. That said, if I notice problematic language, content, or themes thanks to my handy-dandy cultural studies degree, I might point those out.

Here’s a list of the movies I’ll be watching, in order, in case you want to head to your local library, Family Video, or streaming service to check availability. Feel free to watch along with me, and feel equally free to just let me watch and tell you all about it. Either way, I hope it’s fun.

1. The Jazz Singer (1927)
2. Broadway Melody of 1929 (1929)
3. The Public Enemy (1931)
4. Cimarron (1931)
5. Grand Hotel (1932)
6. 42nd Street (1933)
7. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
8. A Night at the Opera (1935)
9. The Great Ziegfeld (1936)
10. The Life of Emile Zola (1937)
11. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
12. Dark Victory (1939)
13. Gone with The Wind (1939)
14. Wizard of Oz (1939)
15. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
16. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
17. Citizen Kane (1941)
18. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
19. Casablanca (1943)
20. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
21. Gaslight (1944)
22. Anchors Aweigh (1944)
23. Mildred Pierce (1945)
24. Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
25. The Big Sleep (1946)
26. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
27. An American in Paris (1951)
28. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
29. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
30. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
31. A Star Is Born (1954)
32. East of Eden (1955)
33. Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
34. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
35. Giant (1956)
36. The Searchers (1956)
37. A Face in the Crowd (1957)
38. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
39. Gigi (1958)
40. Ben-Hur (1959)
41. North By Northwest (1959)
42. How the West Was Won (1962)
43. What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962)
44. Viva Las Vegas (1964)
45. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
46. Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
47. Cool Hand Luke (1967)
48. The Dirty Dozen (1967)
49. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
50. Bullitt (1968)
51. The Wild Bunch (1969)
52. Dirty Harry (1971)
53. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)
54. Cabaret (1972)
55. A Clockwork Orange (1972)
56. Enter the Dragon (1973)
57. The Exorcist (1973)
58. Blazing Saddles (1974)
59. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
60. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
61. All The President’s Men (1976)
62. Superman, The Movie (1977)
63. Caddyshack (1980)
64. The Shining (1980)
65. Clash of the Titans (1981)
66. Chariots of Fire (1981)
67. National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
68. The Outsiders (1983)
69. The Right Stuff (1983)
70. Risky Business (1983)
71. Amadeus (1984)
72. The Color Purple (1985)
73. The Goonies (1985)
74. Full Metal Jacket (1987)
75. Lethal Weapon (1987)
76. Batman (1989)
77. Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
78. Goodfellas (1990)
79. The Bodyguard (1992)
80. Unforgiven (1992)
81. The Fugitive (1993)
82. Interview with the Vampire (1994)
83. Natural Born Killers (Director’s Cut) (1994)
84. Shawshank Redemption (1994)
85. Seven (1995)
86. L.A. Confidential (1997)
87. The Matrix (1999)
88. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
89. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
90. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
91. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
92. The Notebook (2004)
93. Million Dollar Baby (2005)
94. The Departed (2006)
95. 300 (2007)
96. The Dark Knight (2008)
97. The Blind Side (2009)
98. The Hangover (2009)
99. Sherlock Holmes (2009)
100. Inception (2010)


Wonder Woman: Competition vs. Collaboration.

I took my niece to see “Wonder Woman” today. It was my 2nd time seeing it but her first–I offered to take her when I saw her briefly in between my June trips, and she agreed to wait. She’s cool like that.

As I drove her home, I asked her what her favorite part of the movie was, and she couldn’t pick just one. But then she nearly broke my heart when she said, “I don’t understand why people get angry about it. I mean, have they seen this movie? She’s a boss!”

I’m pretty sure her question was rhetorical, but I set about answering it anyway.

Because I am that aunt.

So here’s a close approximation of what I said to her.

Some men get uncomfortable when women show their power, because they don’t see women as collaborators–they see powerful women as competitors. What do you do with a competitor?

You crush them.

Right. So what does Steve Trevor do when he realizes what Diana is capable of? He gets out of her way. When he understands her power and they fight a second time, what does he do? Figures out how to help her, how to work with her. Collaborate.

When you start dating, I really hope you are able to discern if someone sees you as a competitor or as a collaborator. One guy I dated and really wanted to marry saw me as a competitor. When we played board games or computer games, I had to lose on purpose, because he would get mad if I won too many times. He was struggling with school and career decisions, and when I would offer to help him, he would turn down my help. I had my life a little more together than he did at the time, and he didn’t see me as a collaborator. He saw me as a competitor. How happy do you think I’d be if I’d married him?

Uh, not very.

Right. So, just remember that.

By the way, Wonder Woman as a film was just pure joy–even on a second viewing. So glad Warner Brothers and DC finally got one right.