Cimarron (1931) Review

Cimarron (1931) Director: Wesley Ruggles



In my view, Cimarron is a boring film loaded with tired clichés and spotty acting. As a major award-winner, the fourth to win Best Picture, Cimarron is one of the earliest in a long line of movies, once honored by the Academy in their day, but now are mostly forgotten. It is a testament to the flawed nature of these awards and their self-proclaimed prestige. If I had the opportunity to do it over, I would not have seen this film and would not recommend it. Watching it is like slogging through a long, droning soap opera. Interestingly enough, Cimarron was not a financial success in 1931, but it was somehow critically lauded. At least the great composer Max Steiner completed the score!

Based on Edna Ferber’s 1930 popular novel of the same name, Cimarron wound up being RKO studio’s most expensive film to date (you can also read my reflections on Edna Ferber’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel So Big here). Cimarron was the first film to receive more than six academy award nominations and it was the first “western-esque” movie to win Best Picture. It was filmed on a large ranch in 1930 outside Los Angeles.

The plot follows a young man named Yancey Cravat (played by Richard Dix, an early film star best known for this role) during the Oklahoma land rush. It trails his adventures as he falls in love and marries a young woman named Sabra (played by Hollywood Golden Age actress, Irene Dunne). Yancey is tricked by a prostitute named Dixie (played by silent film star Estelle Taylor) so he moves his family to a small fictional town called Osage, an unruly place in its early pioneer days. The town grows due to the oil boom and the controversial presence of the Cherokee causes friction as Westward expansion continues. Yancey, the main character, starts a muckraking newspaper but he becomes restless. They have children together and get involved in local politics until Yancey abandons his wife and children in search of new adventures. In the end, Yancey and Sabra are briefly reunited before he dies.

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