Saturday, June 11, 2011

I wish I had seen The Conquerors before

TCM showed The Conquerors on Thursday as part of a salute to its director William Wellman. I could have sworn I was watching a remake of Cimarron.

Richard Dix plays Roger Standish, a young bank clerk in New York City circa 1873. He's in love with the boss' daughter (Ann Harding), but Dad won't let such a man of low upbriging marry his daughter. Fortunately there's an economic crash which gives Dad a fatal heart attack. It leaves the daughter and Roger penniless, but they've got love, and decide to go west and grow up with the country. West they do, until they get ambushed in Nebraska, and Roger gets shot. His forced recovery gives them time to settle.

You can guess most of the rest, at least if you've seen Cimarron. (Roger Standish doesn't go a-wandering, but that's the one big difference.) RKO made this one in 1932, not long after the Oscar-winner, and Richard Dix plays the lead role. I couldn't help but think of Cimarron as I was watching, although one IMDb reviewer also made the astute observation that this plays out a lot like Cavalcade as well.

The cast is good enough, especially Edna Mae Oliver as the proprietress of the hotel where the Standishes wind up after Roger gets shot, and Guy Kibbee as her alcoholic husband. They're two of the great character actors, and take control of a lot of the scenes in which they appear. Oliver looks a bit too old at the start of the movie to be still alive at the end, 55 years later, but that's Hollywood. The only real problem with the movie is that the story seems stale, as though it was old even by 1932 standards. There's something about it that doesn't have the sparkle that Cimarron does. Perhaps it's the land rush scene in Cimarron. There are some interesting visual effects showing the stock market rises and ultimately crashes, but they don't hold a candle to the land rush.

I was mildly surprised to see at the end of the movie that TCM was hawking the DVD as part of the Warner Archive Collection. Not so much to see them hawking DVDs; they have to make money after all. More that this one has gotten a DVD release. If I had seen it before, I would have mentioned the TCM showing, and not make you look into getting a DVD. I had really wanted to see the following film, the fun pre-Code Love is a Racket, but it hasn't gotten a DVD release yet.

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