Best Picture Winners #4 – Cimarron (1931)

From a war movie to a Western.

Talk about a genre whiplash!

The fourth entry in our project brings us to a notable movie called Cimarron. For one thing, this movie was one of the only Westerns to ever win the top prize (Unforgiven and Dances With Wolves are the others that won, though others were certainly nominated). This movie was one of only two Oscars ever won by the now-defunct RKO Pictures. Oh and let’s not also forget it was the most expensive production for RKO up to that date.

Other than those notable aspects, there isn’t much else to recommend it.

Oh, wait, there was a really well-done scene in the beginning with a land rush.

Other than that……

Let’s just say that I had checked out with an hour left. Of a two hour movie.

Yes I made it halfway through before losing interest.

Don’t believe me? Check the Twitter feed.

So what was so bad about this movie then? Was it the plot? The setting? The acting?

The acting was fine and the setting was too. The setting is Oklahoma Territory circa 1880s. Here, we get to see a town called Osage springing up out of nowhere seemingly overnight when the president opens the Oklahoma Territory for white settlers in the late 1880s. For someone like me who finds weirdly abandoned ghost towns, especially ones in the Old West, to be endlessly fascinating, I loved seeing an Old West town bursting with life rather than sitting neglected in the desert sun like so many (Bodie, California; Aurora, Nevada). So I enjoyed that aspect of the movie.

The plot itself and the characters?

Not so much.

You see, within Osage, we get to know Yancey Cravat and his family, his wife Sabra, and young son Cim. He’s come all the way from Wichita to stake a claim on some land and open a newspaper like the one he had in Wichita. Fair enough, we have a decent pioneer story so far.

Except that Yancey annoyed me to no end. He came across as a pompous person to me, and I can’t even explain why. And I never felt drawn in to any of the other characters, not his long-suffering wife or even their son as he grew up.

And the story.

Drrrrrraaaaagggggeeeeedddddd. I think the problem is that there wasn’t much dramatic fire to really keep it going. It felt more episodic than anything else. One part of the movie, Yancey’s trying to establish a newspaper. Then he gets to be the pastor for their church. Then he gets bored and leaves his family to settle the Cherokee Strip. There wasn’t one overarching plot, at least in my mind, to really hold my interest.

I checked out most of the way through the movie, so I can’t even tell you exact plot details. Except there was a trial for one of the other prostitutes in the town Dixie Lee and….. Something about Sabra becoming a congresswoman in the 20s?


That’s how I felt about this movie. One big shrug.

Was it better than The Broadway Melody? Yes. But I still wouldn’t watch this again. I just found it too plodding and unfocused.

Note: I read some modern reviews of this movie that discussed the racist attitudes of the characters toward the other African-American characters. Isaiah is the Cravats’ servant boy and the way they treat him (telling him not to go to church with them, making him sit above the chandelier fanning everyone in the summer heat) is admittedly not right by our modern standards. But this movie takes place in the 1800s, when that kind of behavior was okay to do. It is a reflection of the time period. And we would do well to look at that and say, “Wow, we’ve come a long way,” and leave it at that. The racist attitudes of the characters were the least of my worries in this movie.

2 stars out of 5

Next time: the 1932 movie Grand Hotel, the only Best Picture winner so far to have not had it or its participants nominated in any other category.