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Cimarron Movie Review

yancey dix dunne richard

1931 – Wesley Ruggles –

This maudlin, melodramatic film is of interest more for historical than for dramatic reasons. It represents an early effort in the sound era to make a convincing epic. Based on Edna Ferber's novel, the film begins with its best moment, a sweeping recreation of the 1899 Oklahoma land rush. Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix) takes his wife Sabra (Irene Dunne) from Kansas to the new territory, and we see the civilizing changes of the next forty years. The first half is more coherent than the second. The film toys with a number of possibilities in developing itself—becoming a movie about civilizing the West, a family drama about Yancey and Sabra, and a town-taming saga with Yancey improbably playing the roles of crusading newspaper editor, roughneck lawman (he shoots it out with Billy the Kid), frontier lawyer, part-time preacher, and eventually would-be governor.

One of the problems is with the adaptation. The sprawling Ferber novel seems to have overwhelmed the screenwriters, and their effort to span the forty years of the book results in an episodic gallery of scenes. Transitions are accomplished by the tired device of citizens standing before a newspaper bulletin board discussing the news of the day. The last hour leaves the biggest gaps in the story, and events take place ridiculously fast. Yancey returns from five years of adventure seeking, hugs his family, and within minutes decides to the defend the town's scarlet woman Dixie Lee (Estelle Taylor) against charges of immorality. The acting dates the film as much as the scratchy print and the long master shots of the early sound era. Irene Dunne is somewhat subtler than Richard Dix, and she ages into a rather convincing, frumpy middle-aged woman. Dix declaims in the worst manner, and when he rises to address the jury in the trial scene, his determination shows he's getting ready for some of his biggest ranting. Cimarron probably ranks with Wings and The Greatest Show on Earth as the worst movies ever to win a Best Picture Oscar.

Cast: Richard Dix (Yancey Cravat), Irene Dunne (Sabra Cravat), Estelle Taylor (Dixie Lee), Nance O'Neil (Felice Venable), William Collier Jr (The Kid), Roscoe Ates (Jess Rickey), George E. Stone (Sol Levy), Stanley Fields (Lon Yountis), Robert McWade (Louie Heffner), Edna May Oliver (Mrs. Tracy Wyatt), Nancy Dover (Donna Cravat), Eugene Jackson (Isaiah), Frank Beal (Louis Venable), Tyrone Brereton (Dabney Venable), Dolores Brown (Ruby Big Elk) Screenwriter: Howard Estabrook Cinematographer: Edward Cronjager Composer: Max Steiner Producer: William LeBaron for RKO Running Time: 131 minutes Format: VHS Awards: Academy Awards, 1931: Adapted Screenplay, Interior Decoration, Picture; Nominations: Actor (Richard Dix), Actress (Irene Dunne), Cinematography, Director (Wesley Ruggles); National Board of Review Awards, 1931: 10 Best Films of the Year Box Office: $2M.

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