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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Cimarron (review)

King of the Wild Frontier

Wichita just ain’t far enough west for Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix). He longs for the untamed frontier. So when the 1889 Oklahoma land rush puts two million acres up for grabs, he packs up the wife, Sabra (Irene Dunne), and the kid, Cimarron (which means “wild,” we’re told), and heads off to help build a new world, or, more specifically, the boomtown of Osage, Oklahoma.

Based on Edna Ferber’s novel, Cimarron follows the adventures of Yancey, who defines the term “larger than life”: He’s a lawyer as well as founder and editor of Osage’s first newspaper. A crack shot, he defends Osage against bullies and bandits. A paragon of virtue and decency, it’s him the town asks to conduct church services until they hire a minister. He’s a friend to Indians and fallen women. He doesn’t speak — he declaims. He wears a white hat, fer goodness’ sake.

Politically correct Cimarron is not. One character’s stutter is a source of great amusement for his supposed friends. The phrase “dirty, filthy Indians” is bandied about quite a bit. Mrs. Wyatt (Edna May Oliver), the schoolteacher, is prim, prissy, and proper. The black servant boy Isaiah (Eugene Jackson) is a painful stereotype — as they’re riding into Osage, Yancey points out to Isaiah a fruit stand selling watermelons, and the boy goes bonkers.

But get past the occasionally dated feel of Cimarron and you’ll find a cracking yarn, one that does eventually make up for itself (Sabra is a newly elected congresswoman at the movie’s close, for example, in 1929, and Cimarron is now married to an Indian princess). And Yancey turns out not to be so perfect as he thinks he is.

For its epic sweep, Cimarron is bold and memorable.

Oscars Outstanding Production 1930/31
unforgettable movie moment:
The opening land-rush sequence, grandly staged, which surely influenced Costner’s Dances with Wolves buffalo hunt.

previous Best Picture:
1929/30: All Quiet on the Western Front
next Best Picture:
1931/32: Grand Hotel

go> the complete list of Oscar-winning Best Pictures

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Cimarron (1931) | directed by Wesley Ruggles
US/Can release: Feb 09 1931

MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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