Cimarron (1931)

Irene Dunne and Richard Dix
Irene Dunne and Richard Dix

'Cimarron' made in 1931, was one of the first big budget epics of the Sound Era, and was directed by Wesley Ruggles and starred Richard Dix and Irene Dunne. The movie was critically well received and was nominated for seven Academy Awards, wining three, including Best Picture. It was the first movie to receive more than six nominations.

The movie was based on the 1929 novel "Cimarron", one of a series of historical epics writen by Edna Ferber. The movie's title is taken from the Cimarron Territory, which for many years was an unsettled area in what is now Oklahoma. The movie is an abbreviated history of the early American settlements in Oklahoma, from the Land Rush of 1889 to the start of the Depression in 1929. It covers almost half a century of crowded, changing events, as reflected in the life of Sabra Cravat played by Irene Dunne, demure wife of adventurous individualist, Yancey Cravat played by Richard Dix. When Yancey disappears, his wife has to take over.

'Cimarron' was a very large production and at the time the most expensive film produced by the newly formed RKO Radio Pictures. The famous land rush scenes alone took a week to shoot and employed more than 5,000 extras and twenty eight cameramen.

As well as the featured stars there is some great entertainment from fine character actors such as Roscoe Ates as the Cravats' faithful printer; George E. Stone as a gentle Jewish peddler who becomes a firm family friend; Estelle Taylor as the whore with the obligatory heart of gold and Edna May Oliver is very funny with her sniffs and meaningful glances.

The movie displays a complex and unusually mature approach to racial attitudes, as shown by the conflicting attitudes of the principal characters towards non-whites. Yancey Cravat, for instance, has a more sympathetic view to Native Americans than his wife, who shows intense bigotry to th Indians. The main black character in the movie, Isaiah, played well by Eugene Jackson, although initially shown as a stereotypical smiling, whistling subserviant black, later becomes a hero when he attempts to keep the Cravat children out of harm's way and dies in his efforts.

'Cimarron' is an important American movie that helped to create the Western genre. It appears dated to modern audiences but it was one of the first great epics in sound and it is still great entertainment.

Main Cast

Richard Dix ... Yancey Cravat
Irene Dunne ... Sabra Cravat
Estelle Taylor ... Dixie Lee
Nance O'Neil ... Felice Venable
William Collier Jr. ... The Kid
Roscoe Ates ... Jesse Rickey
George E. Stone ... Sol Levy
Stanley Fields ... Lon Yountis
Robert McWade ... Louis Hefner
Edna May Oliver ... Mrs Tracy Wyatt
Judith Barrett ... Donna Cravat
Eugene Jackson ... Isaiah


Director ... Wesley Ruggles
Producer ... William LeBaron
Screenplay ... Howard Estabrook
Story ... Based on the novel by Edna Ferber
Cinematography ... Edward Cronjager
Format ... B & W
Production Company ... Radio Pictures
Release date ... January 26, 1931
Running time ... 124 minutes

Academy Awards

Three Wins:
Best Picture ... RKO Radio
Best Writing (Adaptation) ... Howard Estabrook
Art Direction ... Max Ree
Four Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Director ... Wesley Ruggles
Best Actor ... Richard Dix
Best Actress ... Irene Dunne
Cinematography ... Edward Cronjager