When the government opens up the Oklahoma territory for settlement, restless Yancey Cravat claims a plot of the free land for himself and moves his family there from Wichita. A newspaperman, lawyer, and just about everything else, Cravat soon becomes a leading citizen of the boom town of Osage. Once the town is established, however, he begins to feel confined once again, and heads for the Cherokee Strip, leaving his family behind. During this and other absences, his wife Sabra must learn to take care of herself and soon becomes prominent in her own right.Written by
George S. Davis <email@example.com>
Owing to his trademark wanderlust, Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix) disappears from the narrative for extended periods of time, making him arguably the only character in literature who anchors a plot from which he is often absent. Edna Ferber deliberately refrained from taking readers on Cravat's adventures, forcing them to feel his absence as deeply as his family does. See more »
During the period of the film set in 1907, Yancey is the Progressive Party's candidate for governor of Oklahoma. The Progressive Party did not form until 1912, and then disbanded after Theodore Roosevelt's unsuccessful third party candidacy that year. See more »
"Sprawling" is the adjective most often associated with novels and movies-from-novels by Edna Ferber. Her stories span geographical locations, family generations and economic strata, usually with a strong female at the center. In the case of CIMARRON it's the story of how Oklahoma became a state seen through the life of Sabra Cravat (Irene Dunne), demure wife of gun-totin' macho dude Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix). It's a fascinating and not pleasant relationship: He always hankering for another risky adventure and she wanting to settle down and be respectable. He is also politically minded, a fighter for the underdog, defender of the prostitute ("victim of the social order") and the Indians (robbed of their land and cheated thereafter), dispenser of frontier justice against the bad guys (but only when provoked to the limit) and literate to boot (frequently quoting Shakespeare, Milton and the Bible). The film is splendidly produced with well staged action sequences (particularly the opening Oklahoma land rush which puts even DeMille's exodus to the Red Sea to shame) and realistic recreation of a filthy, crowded, violent and anarchic boom town which gradually gentrifies as the decades pass. Interiors are similarly authentic. Wesley Ruggles directs multiple crowd scenes with great mastery. And the whole film is structured in fully realized episodes beginning with a title card and a year (1889 to start, 1930 to finish) and ending with a close up on the character at hand as the screen slowly fades to black. The Dix character is heroic in the old style and though many modern viewers find his acting preposterous, I disagree. I think he is the perfect actor for the character he is playing. Yes, such a person would definitely be out of place in today's urban world, but so what? We aren't watching a contemporary story anyway. The supporting cast, particularly George E. Stone as a Jewish peddler who is defended against ruffians by Dix, Edna May Oliver as the pushy, judgmental neighbor and Stanley Fields as a grizzled sociopath are my favorites.
Ferber's feelings about intolerance always informed her stories and make us think. Seeing a film like this 78 years after it was made also reminds us that although the US has come a long way, the consciousness that all was not well was firmly operating even back then and available for wide public consumption. CIMARRON works as pure entertainment as well as history; in fact the film and novel themselves are now history and have been folded into the larger history of this country.
The only problem technically is the soundtrack which has become fuzzy. Maybe a pristine print is lurking around somewhere. And the supporting character of a black house servant played by Eugene Jackson will raise PC hackles from the early scene in which he is perched on a platform above the family dinner table fanning the white employers with bird feathers through one degrading interaction after another with whites. But this film was made in the age when most black actors (and black people) played servile or childlike roles, so it is not a surprise to see the practice here.
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