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Warner Home Video presents
Cimarron (1931)

"You shot him very nicely in the ear, darling."
- Sabra Cravat (Irene Dunne)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: January 29, 2006

Stars: Richard Dix, Irene Dunne, Estelle taylor
Other Stars: Nance O'Neil, William Collier Jr., Roscoe Ates, George E. Stone, Stanley Fields, Robert McWade, Edna May Oliver, Nancy Dover, Eugene Jackson
Director: Wesley Ruggles

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, racism)
Run Time: 02h:03m:26s
Release Date: January 31, 2006
UPC: 012569528727
Genre: western

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Edna Ferber was one of the most popular novelists of the first half of the 20th century, though she's little read any more. A number of classic films have been made from her stories of the development of America, such as the various versions of Show Boat. One of the more notorious, but seldom-seen, of the film adaptations of her work is the 1930/31 Best Picture Oscar winner, Cimarron, a tale of the settling of Oklahoma with strongly moralistic roots.

Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix) is a pioneer with a golden heart and a quick trigger finger. Foiled in his attempt to get a particular plot of land in the 1889 Oklahoma land rush, he brings his wife Sabra (Irene Dunne) and young son Cimarron to the frontier boom town of Osage, where he sets up shop as an attorney and the crusading newspaper editor determined to clean up the town. Among the problems he must face are outlaw The Kid (William Collier Jr.), with whom he rode in his younger days, and vicious bully Lon Yountis (Stanley Fields). But once he has set Osage on the road to civilization, the wanderlust strikes him again and again, producing conflict with Sabra, who wants him to stay with her and the children rather than moving on to homestead a new plot in the Cherokee Strip. The story follows the family right up to November 1930, when the film was shot.

For an early talkie, Cimarron is quite spectacular, and one suspects that the technical achievements of the production counted for more than any particular merits of the film itself. Unlike others of the period, this film features live sound with an often rapidly moving camera, such as a surprising tracking shot that follows Irene Dunne as she races across a dusty street. The opening sequence of the Oklahoma land grab, one of the seminal moments in American history, is quite an achievement too, with a big expansive feeling that is occasionally betrayed by some suspiciously uncrowded shots that look like they may have been reshoot material.

Cimarron does have a reputation as one of the weaker Best Picture winners, and that's quite well deserved. It's ambitious but can't quite live up to its ambitions. The first half flows along pretty well, but the last sections have a disjointed feeling that results from large leaps in time that are explained with a single title card. Because this is a forty-year history of the Oklahoma territory and state, it is pretty much a dry run for Ferber's equally expansive Giant, which would cover much of the same territory, including the lust for oil. But Cimarron has the flaw of much flimsier and one-note supporting characters who are there mainly to reflect off of Dix and Dunne. There are possibilities in The Kid, but they're fairly wasted by not being developed significantly. As a result he's little more than the totally cardboard villain Yountis.

Cravat's tale is a thinly disguised retelling of the Jesus story, if one imagines Jesus with a six-gun and a willingness to use it when necessary. He also manages to preach the gospel in the gambling house of Osage. Yancey stands up for the downtrodden, such as Sol Levy (George E. Stone), a peddler subject to Yountis' anti-Semitic abuses, and confronts Sabra about her naked racism toward the Indians. He also defends prostitute Dixie Lee (Estelle Taylor) from the harsh criticisms of the sanctimonious local women's club, led by Sabra. Cravat finds himself betrayed by The Kid, his former friend. Yancey's influence lives on after he disappears from the latter portion of the picture, mysteriously vanishing with a title card. Finally, he displays the requisite willingness to sacrifice himself to save a crowd of people as he returns for the mud-soaked finale.

But Dix can't really live up to the part; he's rather too stiff to pull it all off. He seems to be overcome by the rectitude of the character and neglects the humanity that it also requires. Sabra isn't really appealing until well along in the story, as she starts to get the message that Yancey was trying to instill in her; her earlier racist statements are often downright shocking. Dunne is helped not at all by the shabby old age makeup that makes her portrayal of the aged Sabra completely unconvincing, try as she will. Stone's performance as the put-upon Sol Levy, who eventually manages to become one of Osage's most respected citizens, is a memorable turn, especially in the earlier sequences as he's being mercilessly tormented by Yountis and his gang. Edna May Oliver is also striking as the sneering schoolteacher Mrs. Wyatt, though her role is mainly comedy relief. Nancy Dover is also solid as the Cravat's headstrong and status-obsessed daughter Donna, making an impression though she only has a few minutes of screen time.

With the release of this film, only two more pictures that won that coveted award remain unreleased on DVD: Wings (1927) and Cavalcade (1933). Perhaps Paramount and Fox will take notice and issue these films soon for DVD posterity.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The original full-frame picture is generally decent looking for its age. The print shows a fair amount of wear, with scuffing and scratches throughout, and a couple of spots with a brutal tear. But the detail and texture is quite nice, so it's obviously an early generation print that's being used for the source, so one can excuse a lot of issues with its condition.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 1.0 English audio track has the noise and crackle that one expects from a circa 1930 soundtrack. Dialogue is quite clear throughout, however. An uncredited Max Steiner contributes an early musical score (heard primarily during the titles) that sounds decent though of course with limited range and presence. Gunfire is feeble and rather punchless. As early talkies go, this is a decent rendition.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:55m:15s

Extra Extras:
  1. Two short subjects
Extras Review: The supporting materials consist of two short subjects. The first, The Devil's Cabaret (1930), is a nifty MGM two-strip Technicolor musical short that features Satan's sidekick recruiting for souls in Earthly nightclubs, culminating in red-hued dance numbers. It's a charming little piece, made notable by an early score from esteemed composer Dmitri Tiomkin. Warner contributes the Vitaphone Merrie Melodie cartoon, Red Headed Baby (1933), which features the common theme of toys coming to life at night, singing the title song. The black-and-white short looks fabulous, apparently the subject of a beautifully glowing restoration; it's one of the nicest prints of an early cartoon I've yet seen on DVD.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Cimarron has high goals and a reasonably solid first half, but it really needed another half hour or more to tell the balance of its story in a coherent manner and with better character development. The transfer is quite good though the print is a little rough.


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