"A nation rising to greatness through the work of men and women... new country opening... raw land blossoming... crude towns growing into cities... territories becoming rich states....
"In 1889, President Harrison opened the vast Indian Oklahoma Lands for white settlement... 2,000,000 acres free for the taking, poor and rich pouring in, swarming the border, waiting for the starting gun at noon, April 22nd..."
And herein begins the worst Best Picture Winner in history. I completely lost interest in this film less than ten minutes in. Yes, after the one and only scene that in and of itself had true merit: The 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush, a historically accurate event which would be best described as a free-for-all mad rush. Unclaimed land at various finish lines... Ready, Set, Go! Anyway, from there it went... Well, not exactly nowhere. More like a multigenerational family saga or an epic with missing chapters, Cimarron was an onerous endeavor!
Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix) is a newspaper magnate, or a lawyer, or both. He is the hero of our story, but most definitively does not act like one. I do not think, even in 1931, that is was perfectly acceptable for a man with a wife and children to, on a whim, disappear to chase another Pot of Gold at the end of a rainbow he has not even located yet. The film does not give a definitive time frame, but, he is gone for a time period of years, and then, when he feels like it, reappears as if he hasn't done anything wrong, like nothing has changed, like he has not abandoned his entire family; left his wife to raise their children. Aside from whether or not I agree with our "hero", transitions between time periods are confusing at best. Certain important events are only explained in retrospect, while others are completely ignored, leaving the viewer perplexed. No, the suspension of disbelief would not be enough to solve this films' disjointed array of loosely connected scenes.
Another concern I had with "Cimarron" was its shameless discrimination and racism. Yes, the times were different. But I also do not see any other films from its time period with the same level of audacity.
Sabra (Irene Dunne) is the dutiful and respectful, but opinionated and passionate wife who, in her husband's years long absences, becomes a formidable political force. Her role is one of the only redeeming qualities in the film. Along with her performance, there are a few humorous scenes involving minor characters. At times, dessert terrain and impressive landscapes make for a nice backdrop. Other than that, I found myself having little clue as to why something was happening, what the characters' motivations were, how A became B but suddenly appeared as C, where in the trajectory of the film's timeline was a scene taking place, how this film was such a success in ever way when it first came out. As if this was not enough, I have learned that Cimarron is one of only two films in history to be nominated in every eligible category, and the only one of which went on to attain the title of Best Picture.
By the end of the film, when Sabra (by chance, yet they are still married!) finds a dying husband in her arms following a nitroglycerin accident, I am ever so relieved that the story, if you could call it that, has finally decided to come to an end.