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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Wesley Ruggles
Cast:
Richard Dix, Irene Dunne, Estelle Taylor, Nance O'Neil, William Collier Jr., Roscoe Ates, George E. Stone
Writing Credits:
Edna Ferber (novel), Howard Estabrook, A.B. MacDonald (descriptive passages from "Hands Up"), Fred E. Sutton (descriptive passages from "Hands Up")

Tagline:
Earth-shaking in its grandeur! A titanic canvas sprung to life!

Synopsis:
Spaces were neither wide nor open in most early Sound Westerns. Not so in Cimarron. It starts with one of the most renowned giddy-ups in cinema history: a thundering recreation of the 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush. From there, Cimarron, based on the bestselling epic by "Giant" and "Show Boat" novelist Edna Ferber, traces the generations-spanning saga of that land. There rugged Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix) and his resourceful pioneer wife Sabra (Irene Dunne) sink roots, persevere, give shape to their dreams. Around them, rickety boom towns give way to pavement and brick, oil derricks become spires of prosperity and a new West emerges. It's a story of change, told with an authenticity that moviegoers who have lived through that era recognized - and told with a skill that earned it three Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Box Office:
Budget
$1.433 million.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 123 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 1/31/2006

Bonus:
• “The Devil’s Cabaret” Musical Short
• “Red-Headed Baby” Cartoon


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Cimarron: Special Edition (1931)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 31, 2006)

Does anything make me happier than the premiere of an Oscar Best Picture on DVD? Well, sure – c’mon, I’m not that obsessed with the site! Still, given how few titles remain unreleased on DVD, each one becomes even more of an event.

With the debut of 1931’s Cimarron, we only find two absent titles: 1927’s Wings and 1933’s Cavalcade. Cimarron opens in 1889 and introduces us to an attorney named Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix). Though he maintains a good life in Kansas, he aspires to the open country and tries to snare a plot of land when the president allows prospectors to grab newly opened Indian territory. Alas, a woman of ill repute named Dixie Lee (Estelle Taylor) tricks him and beats him to the punch.

Instead, Yancey takes his wife Sabra (Irene Dunne) and young son Cim (Junior Johnson) to the new frontier town of Osage, Oklahoma. There he puts out his shingle and also starts a newspaper. Yancey wants to clean up the town and helps do so, though his wanderlust continues to lead him away from Osage and his family. The film follows the growth of Osage over a 40-year period, and we also see what happens to the Cravat clan.

I’ll bet the original novel by Edna Ferber was quite good. I feel that way since Cimarron has tons of potential. It boasts an epic story that could’ve been a winning movie in the right hands.

Unfortunately, it didn’t end up in good hands back in 1931. Clumsy storytelling robs Cimarron of all its potential. The film skips from one scenario to another with little fluidity or logic, and it barely bothers to develop its characters to any notable degree. Why does Yancey have such wandering feet? Why does Sabra stick by him? And what about all the thinly developed supporting chatacters? The movie fails to dig into these in a satisfying way, as it leaves us with stock personalities and nothing more.

It manages to explore the very early years of Osage to a decent degree, as we get a reasonable feel for the town’s initial growth. After that, however, the movie turns into a highlight reel. The film flies through the years with abandon and alights on the various eras so briefly that they mean little to us. Some of this becomes inevitable when you turn a long novel into a movie, but more skilled filmmakers could have presented more fluid transitions.

Since Cimarron came out in the formative years of Hollywood, I can cut it some slack for its flaws, I suppose. It’s always good to try to view a movie through the eyes of its era, though that trend can only go so far. For one, it’s virtually impossible to ignore 75 years of cinematic progress. For another, there’s one big problem when you have to look at a movie as good for its era: if it’s unwatchable now, then this doesn’t really matter.

I wouldn’t classify Cimarron as “unwatchable”, but it certainly hasn’t held up well over the years. Frankly, with its clumsy story-telling and hammy acting, it’s hard to believe it ever looked all that good, but obviously lots of folks must’ve liked it since it took home the Oscar. Today it looks like one of the weaker Best Picture winners.


The DVD Grades: Picture D/ Audio D/ Bonus D+

Cimarron appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Perhaps the strong visuals of the recent King Kong DVD spoiled me, but I thought Cimarron looked weak, even for a movie from 1931.

Sharpness varied. Much of the flick exhibited fairly good clarity and accuracy, but more than a few shots came across as loose and ill-defined. The movie lacked consistency and jumped from sharp to soft frequently. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and only a little edge enhancement appeared.

All parts of the movie suffered from lots of source flaws. I saw specks, marks, streaks, tears, grit and blotches much of the time. The scratches were so prevalent at times that it looked like it was raining onscreen. Missing frames occasionally made the image jump. Some scenes are uglier than others, but virtually no part of the movie escapes without defects.

For the most part, blacks were nice. They showed good depth and definition, and low-light shots were acceptably distinctive. Contrast was fairly clear and accurate.

Really, the main issue with Cimarron stemmed from all the source flaws. The movie badly needs a clean up. While I expect there’s only so much that can be done for a 75-year-old flick, I’m sure it could look better than this messy transfer.

Given the age of the audio, I didn’t expect much from the monaural soundtrack of Cimarron. Indeed, I didn’t get much from it, as the audio seemed problematic even when I accounted for its age. Speech tended to be edgy and coarse. It could sound moderately muffled at times and never remotely appeared natural. The lines were often so tough to understand that I kept on the subtitles through the whole movie.

Music showed thin tones and lacked definition. Effects followed suit and were feeble and tinny. Both sounded rather shrill and distorted much of the time, though this wasn’t a big problem for the music since so little score accompanied the movie; as often was the case in this era, music popped up mainly during the opening and closing of the flick. Tons of background noise interfered with the presentation. Popping and other issues made the audio even tougher to understand. This was a very flawed soundtrack.

Bizarrely, the packaging refers to this DVD as a “Special Edition”. That occurs despite the absence of many supplements. We get two shorts. First we find the live-action musical The Devil’s Cabaret. Released in 1931, this 16-minute and 22-second piece tells a minor story in which the Devil uses a flashy floorshow to recruit new sinners. It’s silly and not very entertaining, but it’s a nice archival piece, especially since it showcases an early attempt at color photography.

Next comes a cartoon entitled Red-Headed Baby. The six-minute and 37-second short shows the toys at a workshop as they come to life and party. Like “Cabaret”, it lacks much entertainment value, but at least it gives us a glimpse of the era’s stylings.

Somewhere inside Cimarron we find a good movie waiting to emerge. Too bad the awkward storytelling of this film robs it of its potential and makes it jarring and lackluster. The DVD suffers from consistently problematic picture and sound, and it lacks substantial extras despite its “Special Edition” moniker. Folks who want to see every Oscar Best Picture winner should give Cimarron a look, but I’d advise all others to skip it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 5
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