Thursday, March 8, 2012

Jordyn Does the Best Picture Winners: Cimarron (1930-31)

Sure, it looks exciting but those expecting an "Indiana Jones Goes West" type picture--the way my hopeful little 16-year-old heart did--will be sorely disappointed. But let's just take a moment to imagine if something like that existed...sigh. Sorry, I just finished watching Cimarron for the third time in my life, which is twice more than anyone should have to watch Cimarron. I guess you can tell already that I don't think this film is TERRIFIC AS ALL CREATION as the poster idly boasts.

Adapted from Edna Ferber's 1929 novel of the same name, Cimarron is the tale of one family's experiences during forty years of Oklahoma history. After Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix) loses a choice piece of land to a "woman in black tights" in the 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush, he returns to his wife, Sabra (Irene Dunne) and demands that they leave their comfortable Wichita home for a little house on the prairie.

In the fictional "boomer town" of Osage, Yancey starts a newspaper and protects his family and townspeople from vagrants and outlaws until his wanderlust gets the better of him. Yancey abandons his family for the 1893 Land Rush (remember, he's the hero of the film) leaving Sabra to run the paper and support her two young children on her own. Before you know it, it's 1930 (i.e. the present) and Sabra has been voted a congresswoman without the help of her husband whom she misses for some reason. But lucky her, Yancey shows up one last time to say goodbye and make a melodramatic exit.

Forgive me for the overlong summary. The movie has a lot of stuff happening and yet it drags so much! As you may have already heard, Cimarron is another one of those "bad" Best Picture winners and it most certainly deserves that distinction. I choose to blame it on the unlikable characters. Yancey is BIG! LOUD! DRAMATIC! Everything he says is IMPORTANT! To Richard Dix subtlety is as foreign a word as internet or microwave. And while he is sensitive to the plight of minorities (more on that in a bit) he's also an asshole who abandons his family. Twice. And Mrs. Yancey Cravat is not just a simpering, victim...she's a nitwit, prejudiced, and a little too concerned with appearances. She is not likable until the last ten minutes of the movie when she becomes some wise old sage...apparently.

Cimarron is the first of just three westerns to win Best Picture which seems utterly ridiculous considering how fucking huge westerns were for TV in the 50's and 60's. Alas Cimarron is not your typical western with a revenge mission or search for treasure; it is about the settling of a town and so the "westerness" ceases to be around the halfway mark...maybe sooner. Say goodbye to westerns, kids, we won't be seeing another until 1990.

Cimarron is also described as racist. You see, there is a black character named Isaiah (Eugene Jackson) who is, like most black characters in this era of cinema, slow-witted, likes watermelon and speaks without a clear intonation. The child was a former servant of Sabra's mother in Kansas and stows away in the Cravats' covered wagon and then acts a servant in Osage. Isaiah may be a stereotype in some ways but he acts valiantly to protect the Cravats' young son during a shoot-out. Yes, the scenes are like sandpaper on the ass for a modern audience but it can't be helped now...

Remember how I said Yancey was sympathetic to minorities? Well, he speaks several times in the defense of Indians and how Whitey took their land and how they should have the right to vote. Then he Rushes for their Land. Twice. A hypocrite with a social conscience. Sabra on the other hand dislikes Indians through most of the film until her son decides to marry one and hears that Yancey has no problem with it.

Yancey also befriends Solomon "Sol" Levy (George E. Stone), a sweet little Jewish salesman who is reminiscent of Piglet without the stuttering. And he comes to the defense of a prostitute--although the word prostitute nor any of its cognates is ever uttered--named Dixie Lee (Estelle Taylor) when the ladies of Osage want the hussy out of town. This is also the "woman in the black tights" btw. Even though it pisses off Sabra to no end, Yancey sticks by his principles.

If there's one thing this movie does right it's showing how people are never all good or all bad. Yancey does several deplorable things but he has the right idea about treating all people equally. Sabra on the other hand, is a good mother to her children and makes social improvements in Osage but is prejudiced against Indians and hoes. Real life is full of this kind of thing; many presidents have made great political strides but have also cheated on their wives, for example.

Oh Cimarron. Look how much I've written about you! Far more than I ever intended. Well, it's always easier to write about the crap films. The film is melodramatic and I doubt it has anything good to offer anyone these days. Oh yeah, the Land Rush scene is lauded by many. Sure, It's okay. It offers a few humorous moments but it's over in, like, five minutes. A good movie cannot rest on five minutes alone. It looks like it was bitch to film though.

Impressions circa 2004
Negative. Dragged on. Oh, western prostitution! That's interesting...Oh, it's dragging again. Yancey's a dick.

Other Nominations and Wins
(bold represents win)
  • Best Director - Wesley Ruggles 
  • Best Actor - Richard Dix 
  • Best Actress - Irene Dunne 
  • Best Writing, Adaptation 
  • Best Cinematography 
  • Best Art Direction 

1930-31 Best Picture Nominees
(bold represents films I have seen)
  • East Lynne 
  • The Front Page 
  • Skippy 
  • Trade Horn 

What I Learned From...Cimarron
Abandoning your family is okay if you fight for the rights of minorities.

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