Well, back to the poorer side of Oscar winners, I guess. The main question I had going into Cimarron was how to actually pronounce the title. Not only is this not definitively answered (several pronunciations are used in the film), the film itself didn’t seem very definitive at all. Cimarron would end up being the first western to win the big prize at the Oscars; perhaps because of this, and the film itself, another western wouldn’t take home the top honors until 1990’s Dances with Wolves, a massive gap in the genre. Is it truly because of Cimarron as a film that the western would never again be as well-regarded as other popular genres of the ages of Hollywood? Maybe, maybe not. But, seeing the film myself, especially in the modern age, to me, it very well might be maybe.
Cimarron is the story of the settling of the Oklahoma territory by the United States, in particular those who would wait at the border for the opening of the land to any who would stake their claim to the acres available. Specifically, it focuses on the Cravat family, led by wild-oats-sower Yancey and his more demure wife Sabra, who miss out on Yancey’s intended claim when he is duped by another settler who gets to the claim first. Ending up in the burgeoning town of Osage, Yancey sets up as a newspaper man, and the film follows the family from the settling of the territory to the early 1930s. The ending aside, which I thought the film rather muffed up a little too much for my taste, this film has, or should have, a lot going for it, especially for the early 30s when it was made. So, with all that it has going for it, I have to ask: why has the film aged as poorly as it has? One part would seem to be the production itself; the production value was through the roof, and man, did they ever go all out with the budget for this one, especially in paying however many extras they needed for this mammoth production. Another part that cheapens the overall effect that time has had on Cimarron is the acting. Here’s another inexplicable Best Actor nom; Richard Dix’s accent is even more overblown than his acting and diction style, and that’s saying something, though Irene Dunne was at least trying to create a character, even if she wasn’t given as much as she needed to work with. As for the technicals, the sound work could’ve done with some improvement, though it might’ve just been the print I viewed; in addition, this film is yet another early sound film that makes the mistake of focusing too much on ambient sound at the expense of having a musical score to the film, making it seem emptier than an epic otherwise should feel. Also, what is with old Hollywood and stuttering characters? It’s almost like they don’t know how to do actual comedy (even though other films would show they do) so they insert obnoxious or stuttering characters to draw out laughs as though they were drawing out blood with a needle. Hopefully Hollywood will get over this aspect of filmmaking quick, or I’ve got quite a slog to get through until they finally do.
I guess the best way to sum up my feelings about Cimarron is this: the film, with all its budget and production value, tries so hard to be a lot of a lot of things, and ends up succeeding at barely any of them. It tries to be an epic, but aside from the opening scene of the mass of settlers stampeding into the territory to stake their claims, its scope is far too limited to really succeed. It tries to cover an era of American history, but what it accomplishes instead is a small myriad of events in one family’s life in one growing settlement in Oklahoma, and little more. That’s Cimarron; it tries and tries and tries, and the only thing it does is come off as trying too hard. I can’t even say that it’s worth the watch, because it doesn’t achieve what it sets out to do in almost any regard, and this realization is largely why I ended up with the rating I did. This should be better than it is, but it’s not. It’s just a letdown. And that’s definitely not what a Best Picture winner should be.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10