4. Cimarron (1931)

Title: Cimarron

Release Date: 9 February 1931

Oscar Ceremony: 10 November 1931

Director: Wesley Ruggles

Starring: Richard Dix, Irene Dunn & Estelle Taylor

So here’s a funny story…

I had been waiting to get this movie from the library for a while, but for some reason there was no option to reserve it. As a result, I kept tracking it to be able to get it the moment it was returned. That finally happened today, when my beautiful cousin Maria was at my house to give me a birthday present (which was awesome, by the way). Nice cousin that she is, she agreed to go to the library with me and we got the movie together. Everything seemed perfectly normal.

When we got home, we eventually decided to watch it. I was really surprised when the credits started and it was in colour. “Wow, how avant-garde and good quality for a movie made in 1931!” Something seemed off the entire time but we couldn’t quite figure out why. A lot of the actors also seemed familiar to us, which was odd because we didn’t really have any prior exposure to that many 1930 movies. Maria decided to IMDb the actors to try to see more pictures of them. She showed me some pictures of Dixie, one of the main characters. I thought she looked nothing like the actress and Maria agreed. I said, “what about the others? Are we watching the right movie?” Maria said that the other two main actors were okay; they had simply aged in their pictures.

All of a sudden, it hit me. I remember when I was looking for the All Quiet on The Western Front DVD, I came across a few remakes and had to be careful. What if Cimarron was a similar situation? I quickly tried to Google it, and to my dismay, I realized that we were indeed watching the 1960 version. The actress playing Dixie was Anne Baxter, who played Eve in All About Eve. No wonder she looked familiar.

I also felt really stupid because at some point during the movie I literally told Maria “Honestly this movie is so well-made, I couldn’t even tell the difference between it and a typical John Wayne western from the 60s.” I guess I was spot on.

Anyways folks, moral of the story is, even intelligent young women have severe mind lapses sometimes. We watched more than half the movie before coming to this realization. I looked for the original 1931 movie in other places and the only luck I had was the Brossard library, which I won’t be able to get to for another while now. Be patient while I watch and review other movies in the meantime. Thank you!

NOVEMBER 15 UPDATE – I watched the actual 1931 version. Here’s what I have to say:

If you liked The Broadway Melody, then you’ll probably like Cimarron because it’s just as painful to watch; however, on top of being bad, this one’s racist too! I know what you’re gonna say: “Ilinca, it was made in 1931, give it a break.” I know. I’m not saying it’s out of the ordinary for the time, but it doesn’t make it any less awkward to watch today. At some point in the movie, one of the main characters sees her son playing with a Native American girl and tells him to stay away from “those dirty filthy savages.” Not only is that literally incorrect and offensive, but it’s also redundant: dirty and filthy are pretty much the same word. Someone needs to teach this woman some manners (not that it would help much) and some grammar.

Also, I know we’re not supposed to “judge a book by its cover” but please tell me how anyone ever expected something good to come out of these:

 

Anyways, since Maria was there to help me get through the 1961 version, I got my Julian to help me get through this one. Mind you, he was pretty much just sitting next to me playing on his phone the whole time, but considering how bad this movie was I don’t blame him.

Cimarron starts during The Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889. At the time, the land of Oklahoma was unclaimed and unpopulated, so it was open to settlement. You would think that people could just go there and start a community in a civilized manner, but that wouldn’t be fun enough to watch. Instead, a bunch of people gathered in one spot and waited for a guy to shoot his gun in a “ready, set, go” kind of way. When his gun went off, everyone just savagely started racing to claim their desired piece of land.

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I have to admit this was quite an impressive scene, but a lot of people ended up getting trampled and hit. I seriously hope no horses got injured in the making of this movie.

Back to the point, the guy we are supposed to root for in this crazy race is Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix), also nicknamed Cimarron. FYI: Cimarron is the Cheyenne word for wild or free-spirited; basically someone who can’t be tamed (kinda like Miley Cyrus). Unfortunately, he gets outwitted by a sly woman named Dixie (Estelle Taylor), who tricks him and ends up stealing his land from him. Fair man that he is, Yancey graciously concedes. He ends up moving close by in the town of Osage with his wife Sabra (Irene Dunn) and his son, Cimarron (yup, he actually named him that. At least it’s better than Yancey). He finds out that the man who used to run the town’s newspaper was killed, so he decides to take over and starts his own town newspaper, The Osage Wigwam. His wife helps out and his son tags along (obviously). The couple also ends up having a daughter a few years later.

The rest of the movie spans several decades and always revolves around the same thing: time passes, while Sabra and the children try to live a normal life. Yancey, on the other hand, acts like a god-given hero sent to Earth to stand up for the underdogs and gets fed up of being in the same place for too long. As a result, he keeps abandoning his family and disappearing for long periods of time without giving any sign of life. He comes back once in a blue moon only to eventually run away again. I think we should give him the husband-of-the-year award.

Another thing is that unlike other cowboys, Yancey always walks around wearing a white hat. I assume that’s supposed to symbolize his goodness and “purity.” Off the top of my head, here is a list of people and groups he “defends:”

  • Isaiah, the family’s black child slave
  • Native Americans in general (or Indians, as they call them)
  • Dixie Lee, the prostitute who outsmarted him at the beginning of the film
  • Sol Levy, a Jewish man he decides to hire

If you ask me, I really don’t buy this. Okay, he is rather nice to the black kid, but if he were really nice, he wouldn’t keep him or treat him as a slave, no matter how “nicely” he talks to him. He does stand up for Native Americans, but he also acts like they need to be “saved” and consistently behaves like their superior. As for Dixie, he chooses to act as her lawyer when she is put on trial in town, but he does so at the expense of his wife, who is the one who put Dixie on trial in the first place. Ladies, how would you feel if your husband stood up for the woman who stole your land and seduced your husband? Yancey was away when the accusation was initially made because he was too busy abandoning his wife and leaving her to deal with life on her own because he couldn’t stay more than five years in one place (to be fair I spent five years in my high school so I kinda know how he feels, but still). There’s a whole court scene dedicated to this situation, which audiences at the time probably loved. If court scenes interest you, I think My Cousin Vinny will do just fine. No need to waste your time on this.

Speaking of admirable partners, not long after this scene,  Julian turned to the TV and asked me “What’s this movie called again? And what’s it about?” He’s always on top of things.

Overall, it’s movies like Cimarron that make me regret undertaking this project of watching every Best Picture winner. It’s not well made, it has no charismatic actors, it has an awful lead and it delivers horrible messages. The ending doesn’t redeem it either. Without spoiling too much, I can still tell you that the town ends up erecting a giant statue of Yancey to honour him. After all, it’s men like him who build the world. My thoughts? Citizens of Osage, I say it’s time to move as far away as possible.

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