Cimarron (1931)


For God's sake, please cover up!

I’m beginning to really enjoy this project. My enjoyment does not come from basking in the brilliance of Hollywood’s masterpieces, but rather from seeing some of the worst movies known to man and wondering just why they were given such top honors. Granted, Cimmaron was released 8 years before the first Palme d’Or was awarded in Cannes and talkies were still in their infancy, so it’s not as if the Oscar held the prestige that it does now. But, dammit, this movie really deserved nothing more than a giant cold sore on its mouth.

It’s been over a month since I first watched this film. I had a busy month of May, chock full of laziness and procrastination, thus derailing this project for a bit. When I did get around to reviewing my notes on this movie, I found the following entries:

  • “I need to drink more in order to enjoy this movie.”
  • “I’m gonna miss Conan for this!”
  • “Was the Wild West just full of bored assholes who need jobs?”
  • “If this movie was a person, I would punch it.”
  • “STFU Yancey!”
  • “Yancey is supposed to be an untamed spirit, but he’s more of a boring ass.”

Ah, Yancey…

You might ask yourself why I want to punch Yancey in the crotch repeatedly. In case you’re curious, the guy with the open shirt in the picture above (a scene that thankfully doesn’t appear in the film) is Yancey. Yancey is the hero of the film. He’s a noble, untamed spirit who stands up for Native Americans and prostitutes. He’s admired by men and desired by women. He walks with a giant stride and has a great big booming voice that commands attention. He’s everything a hero should be but fails on all levels.

Yancey is a dreamer and idealist who drags his wife and young child with him to join the masses in settling the Oklahoma Territory despite the fact they have a happy life in Wichita. Their life in Wichita is, in fact, very comfortable. His family is well-to-do and Yancey is the editor of a local newspaper. He give it all up because of his sense of adventure.

So, off they go on a wild adventure full of gun fights, bar room brawls, train robberies, a lost city of gold, the discovery of the meaning of life and a scene involving Yancey finally learning how to read.

Naw. Just kidding. The movie pretty much centers around Yancey and his wife settling in the new town of Cimarron. It focuses on the problems of founding a new town and the need to have someone keep it all together.

It’s quite riveting.

Apparently, Yancey’s reputation precedes him for reasons that escape me mainly due to the fact that the film does not say why people love/hate him so much. Sure, he was the editor in chief of a newspaper in Wichita where he defends the rights of the various Native American nations. But, for some reason, people praise his existence or want to gun him down in the street.

There’s a particularly odd scene in the movie where he asked by the townsfolk to preside over a mass attended by the entire town. A giant tent is set up in town and everyone attends. After a long, boring speech by Yancey a couple of things happen:

First, Yancey asks the townsfolk to contribute some money in order for Cimarron to have a proper church. Fair enough. Churches don’t build themselves and they often are built using contributions from the congregation. He then utters the following statement: “Anyone caught contributing less than two bits will be thrown out personally by me. Not including Indians.”

Good ol’ Yancey. Always protecting Native American rights.

Secondly, Yancey concludes the ceremony by shooting and killing one of the outlaws that had been plaguing him for something like a half an hour of the film. I think this has to do with something about one of Yancey’s friends being murdered by this guy. I’m not sure. I do know that someone should tell Yance that God has a thing about killing people, especially in a ceremony set up to worship Him.

The best part of this scene is when Yancey’s wife, Sabra, utters the line, “Did you have to go an kill him like that?” No, dear. I could have stabbed him in the head repeatedly with a rusty nail, stripped off all my clothes, bathed in his blood and yelled, “Hail Satan!” but I would have thought that it would have been perceived as an unmotivated murder.

This brings up Sabra. Sabra is the stoic heroine of the story. She basically puts up with so much crap from Yancey and says nothing. She is the silent, selfless victim of the entire 131 minutes of this film.

As the film progresses, Yancey gets word that the government has opened up the Cherokee Strip for settling. Excitedly, he tells his wife that he’s off for another adventure. But, she shouldn’t worry. He’ll be back for her and their, now, two children.

Yancey disappears for five years. There’s rumors of him eventually going off to fight in the Spanish-American War. Sabra does not hear from him during this time. Yet, she faithfully waits for him to come home. She goes so far as continuing publishing the newspaper he started, including keeping his name on masthead as publisher.

Yancey returns for a brief visit. It’s long enough for him, in classy move, to compare himself to Odysseus and Sabra to Penelope. He also defends the town prostitute in some sort of legal case because, in his absence, he obviously went to law school and knows a shit ton about morality. Then, he leaves again to go worship his image in the mirror for a few decades.

In his absence, Sabra keeps publishing the newspaper, still with Yancey’s name as publisher. The film jumps a few decades, to the then modern time. Sabra has now amassed a fortune, making her a powerful woman in Oklahoma. So much so that she successfully runs for a seat in the Senate.

As Senator Sabra is touring an oil field with a delegation, they learn that there’s been — gasp! — an accident! The young man, rushing to reach a phone, excitedly tells them that the victim is some old man who had been hanging out in the oil fields for a while. Some old man named “Yance.” Sabra desperately runs to Yance’s side where he dies in her arms. The film ends with a statue of Yancey being erected in the middle of the modern city of Cimarron.

I really want to punch something right now.

Cimarron is chock full of melodramatic idiocy. Also, it’s full of racism and stereotypes. The Jews are poked fun of. Stutterers are, once again, used as comedic relief. There’s also a scene where Yancey points out a watermelon vendor to his young, African-American servant.

I really am enjoying this project despite the fact that it’s leading me towards having violent outbursts.

Next up: Grand Hotel

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