In 1931, the film to win Best Picture was a film by the name Cimarron. A film that crosses vast distances in time and space, Cimarron takes place during the expansion of the United States. A film that creates heroes and villains where you least expect it, Cimarron is a thought provoking work of art.
Cimarron is the story of Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix), a man thirsty for adventure. After the United States government opens the Oklahoma Territory for settlement, Yancey brings his wife Sabra Cravat (Irene Dunne) and his son to the settlement of Osage. A lawyer and newspaper editor, Yancey sets up a newspaper and quickly becomes well known around town. Yancey begins to do all he can to help Osage, protecting the town from a group of roughnecks that live there and dispatching a group of outlaws that raid the town. Growing restless, Yancey eventually goes to settle Cherokee Territory, leaving his wife to run the newspaper and fend for herself. The rest of the film follows the Cravat family, now with daughter Donna Cravat(Judith Barrett), as they grow up with their father appearing only even couple of years.
This film was a very well done film with a great story. First off the character of Yancey Cravat was absolutely fascinating. Yancey is set-up as a hero figure. He civilrously attempts to save a woman, Dixie Lee (Estelle Taylor), though Dixie ends up stealing Yancey’s horse and his plot of land. Furthermore he saves Osage from bandits on his own and turns the town into a much safer place to live. While overall Yancey seems heroic, he is not as heroic with his family, constantly leaving them on their own so that he can go out in search of adventure. It is difficult to decide how to feel about Yancey. He has done great things for Osage and the country but is not the husband and father a traditionally “good” character should be which makes it difficult to know how to feel about Yancey.
This film moves through a number of different time periods, showing Yancey and Sabre as they grow older and older. Moving through time serves a larger purpose than just showing the characters grown up. In a film that is based in the expansion and growth of America, moving through time also shows how America grows. We see the settlement of Osage turn into a city and see America expand its borders. Beyond simply growing in size we also get to see how America grows socially. The film touched heavily on the racial issues between the pioneers and the Native Americans. By the end of the film time had passed and feelings had changed. The drastic hops through time were a fascinating aspect of the film.
The name Yancey is often turned into an insult but that is not a result of this film. Yancey walks with a cowboy-like swagger, moving through the films action scenes with quick hands and a quicker tongue. This film was well written with well developed characters and a structure that allows the film to delve into some social issues. In 1931 Cimmaron beat East Lynne, the Front Page, Skippy and Trader Horn for Best Picture. The film also won for Best Art Direction and Howard Estabrook took home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. This was a B film for me, not necessarily what I think of when I think of an Oscar Best Picture winner but a great film all the same.