Wednesday, October 1, 2008


I've been remiss in not pointing out yet that TCM is airing Cimarron tonight at 8:00 PM ET. This, the 1931 version, is the only movie produced by RKO to win the Best Picture Oscar. (They distributed The Best Years of Our Lives, although it was produced by Samuel Goldwyn). It's a very fine picture, although it does betray its creaky 1931 provenance.

The story is a broad one, that of pioneer Yancey Cravat (played by Richard Dix), and his wife Sabra (played by Irene Dunne). Yancey is a restless man, and when Oklahoma is opened for white settlement in 1889, nothing can stop him from staking his own land claim. Eventually, he gets Sabra and the rest of the family to join him in a new town where he's opened up a newspaper. But the town becomes settled down, and Yancey can't take that, so he leaves for bigger and better things, leaving Sabra to take care of the kids and the newspaper for the next 40 years.

Cimarron is the sort of epic story you can see the Academy loving, and it's no wonder it won the Oscar. Some reviewers think that Dix's acting is over the top, but in his defense, it has to be pointed out that his is a larger-than-life character. Dunne's Sabra is the rock of the family, providing the needed emotional stability, and in this she does quite a good job.

At the same time, however, there are some technical shortcomings of the movie. As an early talkie, Cimarron has points in which it looks more like a filmed play than a movie. Also, there are some scenes that use little dialogue or else use obviously dubbed in sound. The most famous of these is the opening sequence, of the 1889 land rush. It must have been impressive at the time, with all the covered wagons spreading across the plains, but the sound sounds very much as though it was all added in post-production.

Still, Cimarron is quite a treat, and deserves being seen. It was remade in 1960 with Glenn Ford and Maria Schell as the Cravats. Both versions are available on DVD.

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