050: Cimarron (1931) - released 1/26/31; viewed 5/13/06.
Gandhi is released from prison again.
BIRTHS: Charles Nelson Reilly, James Earl Jones, Sam Cooke.
KEVIN: Cimarron, the first western to win the Academy Award for Best Picture back in 1931, is the story of Yancey Cravat, a settler in the old west who takes his family to Oklahoma where he starts a successful newspaper business and becomes an all around town hero as the film tracks the Cravat clan from the Oklahoma land rush in 1889 all the way up to the present day. After the first hour of Cimarron, I had dismissed it as a racist, misogynist fossil of a film. The Cravat family keeps a Negro slave, the wide-eyed doofus Isaiah. The main character Yancey (Richard Dix) never listens to his long-suffering wife Sabra (Irene Dunne), and is always telling her to "go to bed" when she complains to him. There's a lot of Yancey going, "Stand aside, dear. I've got to be macho." Then the second half rolled through, and I began to reconsider. The movie is still severely dated, and the things I said about the first half still stand. Yancey is never a likable human being for one second of the film. But it seems the episodic sentiments of the film evolve with the times. Their son Cim marries an Indian girl, and the father approves. Yancey (in an uneven scene) defends a local woman in court who originally stole his land, passionately standing up for the woman's poor lot in life in the ever-changing times. He also, after single-mindedly settling on Indian land for years, takes up the good fight for Indian citizenship. Sabra becomes a congresswoman later in life, and runs the household and the company while Yancey is out pursuing other adventures (what a lout.) Irene Dunne is superb and carries the film beautifully, even when all she can do is be the long-suffering wife of the hero. I always found myself on her side.
DOUG: We power on through '31 with that year's Oscar winner for Best Picture: Cimarron, also the first western to win the honor. All well and good, except for the fact that I didn't like this movie much at all. I never found Yancey (Richard Dix) particularly heroic, just a macho jerk who's more interested in settling in Indian territory and running off for adventures than in looking out for his wife and kids. When his wife Sabra tells him that she wants to go back to Wichita and doesn't want to raise her kids out here in a place where men shoot at each other without provocation, he rather condescendingly sends her to bed. Whenever she makes a valid argument about anything, he launches off on some speech about God-knows-what. Then there's the scene where Sabra has Dixie on trial, and Yancey decides to defend her; we never get a clear idea about what she's on trial for ("public nuisance" is all Sabra says), and I wasn't too pleased to see Yancey's impassioned and off-topic argument get her acquitted. And don't get me started on Isaiah, the family's dim-witted (and black) slave. If you're looking for the reason why no one talks about this particular Best Picture winner anymore, he's it. As for good points (and there are some), the second half is better than the first, with Yancey fighting the good fight for Indian citizenship. The movie does also give us some good moments about settling in the hostile territory of Oklahoma. I was rather surprised that the movie takes us all the way to the present day (or 1929, close enough), and shows Irene Dunne with some impressive old-age make-up. In the end, if we had seen this film before, we would have definitely skipped it this time and written a retrospective review.
BTW, a couple of statistics: This is the 50th full-length film we've watched on our chronological odyssey. Also, at 124 minutes, it is the longest film we're watching from 1931. Interesting how the average running time has risen over the years.
Last film: Little Caesar (1931). Next film: City Lights (1931).