The opening scene gave me hope that Cimarron wouldn’t be quite as much of a slog as The Broadway Melody. And while it did end up being marginally better, overall this was still an obligatory viewing rather than an enjoyable one.
In 1889, the U.S. government opened up the Oklahoma territory for settlement. Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix) is at the front of the rush (a truly phenomenal scene!), though after his preferred piece of land is snatched from him he decides to settle in Osage with his wife, Sabra (Irene Dunne) and young son. After killing an outlaw who’d killed the town’s previous newspaper publisher, Yancey decides to start his own paper, believing a newspaper is essential to the success of any town.
Several years pass. A daughter is born. Another outlaw comes to town, whom Yancey knew years before, and Yancey kills him, too. Feeling guilty, Yancey seizes on another land rush as a chance to escape. Unable to talk Sabra into coming and bringing the children with them, Yancey disappears and Sabra takes over running the newspaper.
Cimarron is certainly epic in its scope. The opening scene in particular, which involved some 5,000 extras, covered wagons, and horses, is beyond incredible, and rivals anything ever seen on the big screen.
But the rest of the film simply can’t live up to this standard. For coming in at nearly two hours, not much happens. Yancey may be a fine businessman, but he’s also self-absorbed, leaving when things get rough and traipsing back into town when he feels like it, as if nothing ever happened. Sabra is arguably a better businesswoman, but for some reason—explainable only perhaps by the era the story is set in and/or the time in which it was made—never fully grasps that her husband is, more or less, a deadbeat.
Overall, both the film and its accolades are very much a product of their time, and unless you’re particularly pressed by a need to watch all of the Best Picture winners, this is one you’ll never miss out on by skipping.