Portraying a hero eager for adventures and somehow reckless, Cimarron (1960) becomes a real ode to love when a wise and sensible woman enters the scene. The incredible love between two characters that seem to have nothing in common is what makes Cimarron an original must-watch.
Oklahoma, 1889. Yancey Cravat (Glenn Ford), known as Cimarron, and his wife Sabra (Maria Schell) leave their comfortable life in Kansas behind them to try their luck in Oklahoma, at the time of the Land Rush. After some unfortunate and unexpected events, they settle in Osage where they establish their newspaper, the Oklahoma Wigwam, using “The Truth Shall Make You Free” as their motto. From now on, Sabra tries to ensure the safety of her family, but Cimarron seems to have something else in mind.
The opening music that loudly mentions “Cimarron” sets the mood of this film that seems to be mainly centered on Yancey Cravat. Throughout the movie, director Anthony Mann highlights the paradox of this mysterious character who can display both a Robin Hood-style generosity and an extreme selfishness. Indeed, the indomitable Cimarron appears as the archetype of the American man who wants to follow his Manifest Destiny and be faithful to his values, to the detriment of his wife. Yet, this is exactly what is striking and unusual for a Western movie: while the emphasis is put on the insatiable male hero longing for adventure, fate will not turn in his favour, and soon the naïve Sabra – whose monologues full of reproach and apprehension are either annoying or moving – will prove to be the most “reasonable” character, as Cimarron himself claims to be.
Sabra’s vanishing beauty makes a good transition for this reversal that shows an ongoing change in time and space. Starting with the Land Rush of 1889, the movie ends in 1914 with the beginning of World War I. Little by little, the evolution is visible: the town is being urbanized, stagecoaches are replaced by cars, and one can even hear the telephone ringing at the end of the movie. At the same time, as their fame as reporters is growing, the movie switches from some fake and unrealistic outdoor settings – even though it was filmed in Arizona – to shots on location. As time goes by, the story follows a logical path in which love, family and gender issues are intertwined.
It may be tempting to call it a romance. Indeed, the arguments between the two lovers give rhythm to the story, but they will also be the triggering factor for such a disarming ending that may even make you cry, if you are sensitive enough. This romantic Western is a good surprise which still respects the rules established by the genre: there are fights, baddies with their guns such as William Hardy (Russ Tamblyn), Indians, dust, horses, and even prostitutes – one of them, Dixie Lee (Anne Baxter), is terribly charming.
Despite all these elements, it is a pity to note that this movie was not as successful as the first version in 1931 and failed to win the awards for Best Art Direction and Best Sound for which it was nominated. Even the book it was adapted from, written by Edna Ferber in 1929, met with greater success. Was this movie too slow-moving to become one of Anthony Mann’s major successes such as Winchester ’73 (1950)? In any case, Cimarron remains a surprising Western, which faithfully tells an exciting chapter of American history, with a romanticism that will still charm the strong and independent women of our time.
Gleen Ford as Yancey Cravat
Maria Schell as Sabra Cravat
Anne Baxter as Dixie Lee
Arthur O’Connell as Tom Wyatt
Russ Tamblyn as William Hardy (The Cherokee Kid)
Mercedes McCambridge as Sarah Wyatt
Vic Morrow as Wes Jennings
Robert Keith as Sam Pegler
Charles McGraw as Bob Yountis
Harry Morgan as Jesse Rickey
David Opatoshu as Sol Levy
Aline MacMahon as Mavis Pegler
Lili Darvas as Felicia Venable
Edgar Buchanan as Judge Neal Hefner