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Yancey Cravat Yancey Cravat
by Asa Butcher
2007-01-19 08:36:30
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Information
Film
Cimarron
Directed by Wesley Ruggles
RKO Radio Pictures, 1931
When settling down to watch any movie from the late-20s or early 1930s, you must take into account social values and attitudes of the time, plus make allowances for technological inadequacies. However, when you watch a movie that won or was even nominated for an Academy Award during that period you can raise those expectations.

Cimarron beat off competition from East Lynne, The Front Page, Skippy and Trader Horn to win the 1931 Best Picture award and having only seen the winner I would say it deserved it. The film is certainly not without fault, yet this is another sign of modern times. Its racial stereotypes and racist depictions will make you gasp, but these are thankfully confined to a few scenes.

Strangely enough, Cimarron is about tolerance and over-coming prejudices, which convinces you to forgive its occasional slip-ups and immerse yourself in a great film. The story takes place over forty years following the life of Yancey Cravat, who has one of the best names in cinematic history.

The film begins in 1889 and the Oklahoma land rush, which took a week to film, using 5,000 extras, 28 cameramen, 6 still photographers and 27 camera assistants. The opening scene is incredible and would have been overwhelming to watch on a large screen, even though I had to make do with a TV set and a DVD it was breathtaking. Yancey, played by the imposing Richard Dix, moves his family from Wichita to the new frontier and opens a newspaper.

The film tells the story of the gradual progress and change of this frontier town into an urban metropolis, yet Yancey is unable to stay in one place and often vanishes for long periods of time leaving his wife Sabra (Irene Dunne) to raise the family and run the newspaper. Sabra slowly overcomes her own prejudices about those 'dirty Indians’ and builds her own career and formidable reputation.

Edna Ferber’s novel of the same name inspired Howard Estabrook to write the screenplay, for which he won a Best Writing (Adaptation) Oscar. Ferber also wrote Giant a few years later, which follows the same storyline and was made into a film starring James Dean. I haven’t seen Giant for a long time, so I am unable to compare the two movies. However, Cimarron really captured my imagination.

It is not very often that a film gives me the feeling that my heart has swelled in size and I must watch the film again to satisfy my craving. I do not understand why films that span a man’s lifetime are so appealing to me, yet this one does just that. Cravat is man larger than life, a man we would all love to meet some day, and Richard Dix has a screen presence that does the character justice, which is why he was nominated for his role.

Granted, there are times that Dix looks quite effeminate with his floppy hair, dramatic close-ups and mellow lighting, but this was just a remnant of the Silent Era when drama was expressed through looks. Director Wesley Ruggles (another great name) was nominated for his directorial efforts and he had a long career before Talkies hit Hollywood, so that explains the smoldering, slightly too long, close-ups of his stars.

Despite the film being labeled the first Western to win an Oscar, it was more of a frontier movie than cowboys and Indians. Yes there are guns, Old West towns and saloons, but the movie is set just at the end of that era. In fact, in one scene Cravat kills a wanted outlaw and the crowd declares he has killed the last of the notorious gunslingers, which was actually one of Cravat’s old friends.

Despite Yancey Cravat being the primary focus of the film, it is really his wife Sabra that demands the title role. With Yancey regularly disappearing for years at a time, Sabra has to hold life together back in Osage and her performance justified the first of her five Academy Award nominations. This was only the second film of Irene Dunne’s career, yet to see her acting ability from the start to end will leave you in doubt at this fact.

Cimarron is a difficult film to find on DVD outside of the US, but I wholeheartedly recommend for you to seek it out and watch it. I can’t recall how far into the film it was until I had forgotten that it had been made over 75 years ago. Cast aside your own prejudices of old black and white movies and take a look at the third film ever to win the Best Picture award.

    
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Mary Taylor2008-10-02 05:20:09
I wish we had a man like Yancey Cravat running for President. Cimarron is a great movie, full of action and good values. The sets seem so real - it's right there along with Stage Coach. It's a don't miss!


Boo Hargis2015-03-14 19:08:17
I just watched the 1960 film with Glen Ford. I never heard of it. This movie is a good as any I've ever watched. I will now search for the 1931 original.


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