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Cimarron (1931)



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Cimarron starts as a wondrous spectacle, opening with a mass of horses and wagons stretched out across the midwestern plains for as far as the eye can see. They're all lined up on the Oklahoma border, awaiting the moment when Oklahoma becomes officially open for white settlement. The gun goes off, and they all race westward to stake their claims.

It's an amazing scene, but afterward the film quickly devolves into one of the most hammy, overblown character epics imaginable. The main character, Yancey Cravat, is painted by the film as a visionary genius who does great things in life and is just so great, his family and friends cannot understand -- they must simply trust in his greatness and abide his seeming eccentricity. Blah blah blah. What I see when I watch this film is a selfish blowhard who, sure, does some great things. But he also abandons his family whenever wanderlust takes him, disappears for years at a time without a trace, and some day maybe wanders back with enthusiastic greetings and expecting to be welcomed back like it was just another day at the office. And then he is. What's so great about this man? The movie is in love with the guy, but it rarely has anything substantial to back him up.

I realize part of the problem is that I'm seeing this movie from the vantage point of another time and place. Released in 1931, Cimarron is closer in time to the times this movie depicts than to the present. Social values have changed dramatically since then Men of great standing were not questioned nearly so much as they are today. But few movies from 1931 and even before are so badly dated. And if a narrative work of any kind is to revolve around establishing the heroism of a particular character, it ought to back it up by showing the guy doing some heroic things. I guess he does, here and there, but his brighter moments are overshadowed by long stretches of selfish indulgences and pretentious posturing. Maybe the latter wasn't the character so much as the horrendously theatrical acting. In any case, it angered me that a guy like this would be heroized in any time in history.

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