(Originally published on January 2, 2010)
At first, this movie was difficult to watch because of its outdated racism and stereotypes. It featured everything from a black servant boy with no last name and his rotund mother named Mammy to a man with a severe stutter to chanting Indians with headdresses. Everyone except the white Americans were cast as goofy, unthinking subhumans. Granted, all this was perfectly acceptable in 1931 and 1889, but I found the whole cast of characters rather annoying and agonizing to watch.
However, as I trained my brain to remember the times and the themes started becoming evident, the movie became easier to watch.
Set in the Old West in 1889, Cimarron is the epic tale of a family caught up in the glory of manifest destiny. It stars Richard Dix as Yancey Cravat and Irene Dunne as his wife, Sabra as they begin life together in “Oklahomy” shortly after Yancey is cheated out of a land claim in the famous Oklahoma Land Race.
Yancey and Sabra make a home for themselves in a boom town amidst the classic outlaws (Billy the Kid), Cherokee Indians, saloons, and loose women. Yancey serves as preacher and editor of his newspaper. He fights to protect his family, the town, the Indians, and the loose women. Ironically, he also deserts his family for five years to pursue the land race further west. And later again for nearly twenty. Sabra struggles with jealousy, raising a family, and ultimately forgiveness. Cimarron follows the growth of a family, a territory, a state, and a woman left alone. There is a sadness at the end however, that Yancey was not present to see all Sabra’s accomplishments first hand.
By the end of the movie, I was engrossed. And moved by the tragedy and triumph.
Major themes: family relationships, man’s insatiable desire to conquer new land, human dignity, redemption, women’s independence