Cimarron (1931)

"Cimarron" was one of the first Best Picture winners, 1931, and in many ways is very ahead of its time. From the time the film starts to the end, the majority of the characters are interested in only one thing: land.  "Cimarron" is set in in 1880s and is right around the time that Teddy Roosevelt opened the west up for public use. Immediately there’s a land rush. People are lined up like the beginning of a marathon, ready to do whatever it takes to win their spot of land. Yancey, who I refer to as ‘man-with-funny-hair’ appears to be the main character, though that could be debated because the leading role is split between him and his wife Sabra. Yancey is a good man, he always helps other people, sometimes to the point where he gets swindled.  Yancey seems like the perfect character for a heroic tale, he is certainly a predecessor of John Wayne minus all the quirks and tics of the famous actor. This man is a man of many talents, he is a accurate shot, preacher, lawyer, and husband. What this film lacks is cohesiveness, it can’t decide on what genre it really is. By definition is seems like a Western but in fact it’s much more complicated than that. Starting in a western theme is skips around from courtroom drama to ethics and back around to anti-government. But I really wasn’t put off by this, I feel that for the most part it works. There are some times when you step back and ask yourself how you got to this part in the film, but mostly it’s not too noticeable. The script is a little weak, but that can be forgiven, in this part of film history we have yet to reach the noir stage of one-liners brought to fruition by such films such as Gone with the Wind and Casablanca. Throughout the film there are notes of anti-racism there are surprisingly strong for a film made in this era. It does seem that most of the women are the racists and bigots while the men are the ones that uphold the moral code. But for the most part, it seems like a tale of character growth.  This is where I would argue that Sabra is, in fact, the protagonist of the film and not her husband. Yancey often deserts Sabra to go off on grand adventures and returns just in the nick of time to help save the day once again and teach his doting wife a lesson in life. Sabra grows from a racist and a bigot to a powerful woman who becomes a member of Congress. She transcends into a accepting person, even when her son wants to marry outside of his race she lets that slide with only a little protesting. Near the end of the film, it takes its most dramatic turn and then I finally understood why this film had the Oscar associated with it.  There are many elements in this film that are revolutionary, as it were. The early 1930s were not particularly fantastic in film making, only in 1935 do we get It Happened One Night and other classics start appearing, but this film is solid all the way through. Yes, the dialogue is cheesy and yes, I did laugh at some of the irony in the film. But even though it’s not a perfect film, it’s a step in the right direction. Without realizing it, many films have taken cues from Cimarron in more than one way. My thoughts flew to  Dances with Wolves and There Will Be Blood. It’s not self-evident at first how these films are influenced by Cimarron, but give it a little time and you’ll see.

Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4

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