Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cimarron (1931)

Throughout my Oscar journey I’ve watched many movies I’d never seen, and a few I’d never heard of before. But Cimarron (1931) was the first Academy Award winner I’ve watched that I’d never seen, never heard of, and didn’t understand the meaning of the title. Come to find out, Cimarron is the name for an area of land in modern-day Oklahoma. Which makes complete sense, as the movie is set in Oklahoma. It’s also, coincidently, the name of the main character’s son.

I can’t say that I enjoyed Cimarron. In fact, I spent the entire movie trying to think of just one reason to give it one statuette.

The movie begins with the Oklahoma land rush of 1889. Yancey Cravat is a young lawyer and journalist who wears way too much makeup throughout the entire movie. It’s incredibly distracting. Anyway, he’s in Oklahoma at the beginning of the rush. He knows exactly what piece of land he wants, but is outsmarted by a prostitute looking for a new start. He returns to Kansas where his wife, Sabra, and his young son Cim. He decides to move his family to the booming town of Osage to start a newspaper. Their young African-American servant comes along for the ride as well. More on that later.

Yancey has quite the reputation (and not just for wearing makeup) so the good people of Osage ask him to run their church. During the service, he shoots a guy that he suspects killed the last news paper editor. No one seems particularly bothered about the killing.

The movie skips a year, and we see that the Cravat clan has grown to include a baby daughter, Donna. One day when Donna is an infant, a particularly nasty bank robber named ‘The Kid’ rides into town. After a gun fight Yancey kills him. He’s offered hundreds of dollars in reward, but refuses to take it.

In 1893 President Roosevelt opens up more Oklahoma land for the taking, and Yancey leaves his family in search of a new life. He promises to write, but he doesn’t. Sabra is left alone to run the newspaper and the family. Yancey returns five years later as if nothing had happened, essentially. The day he returns the prostitute from the beginning of the movie (her name is Dixie, I think) is going to trial with hopes that she’ll be run out of town. Yancey decides to defend her, despite the fact his wife Sabra was the one who brought up charges against Dixie. After some quick talking Yancey convinces the court to drop charges. Sabra is understandably upset. I mean, your husband disappears for five years, comes home, and defends a prostitute? I’d be mad too!

The movie moves to 1907 and Oklahoma is officially a state. Oil has been discovered and Yancey is running for Governor. Many in the town want him to devise a plan to trick the Native Americans out of their land, so the townsmen can have the oil profits. Yancey refuses and writes an editorial in the paper defending Native American rights. Sabra is appalled but Yancey prints the piece anyway. He says that one day she will be proud of what he has written.

The movie jumps to the 40th anniversary of the newspaper. Yancey has been gone for many years and Sabra is running the paper. For the anniversary she re-runs the editorial Yancey wrote on Native American rights. She’s just been elected to Congress and there is a lunch in her honor. Her grown children attend, but not Yancey. After lunch Sabra takes the visiting Congressmen from Washington D.C. to the oil fields. When they arrive there is a terrible accident and one of the oil workers is injured. Sabra learns that it is Yancey and runs to him. She holds him as he dies.

The movie ends with the unveiling of a statue in honor of the frontiersmen. The statue is of Yancey Cravat.


One cool piece of trivia is regarding the scene I've posted below.  It took one week, 5,000 extras, and 28 cameramen to film it. That's a big deal for back in the day.

Now some thoughts on the treatment of minorities in this film. The movie is blatantly racist against African Americans. It even goes as far as making a watermelon joke. Yeah, it’s bad. But Yancey’s defense of the Native Americans seems rather progressive. It’s a strange dichotomy.

Anyway, this movie is so old and dated it’s almost funny to watch at times. It did not age well.

It was the second film Irene Dunn was in, though she is virtually unrecognizable as Sabra. The movies was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won three.

I seriously will never watch this movie again and I will probably forget it ever won an Oscar. No statuettes from me.

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