Wednesday, December 5, 2007

CIMARRON (RKO 1931) Warner Home Video


Based on Edna Ferber’s novel, Wesley Ruggles’ Cimarron (1931) is a gargantuan undertaking, overly idealized and ambitiously spanning forty years of urban progress; roughly from 1889 – 1929. Emerging at the dawn of the sound era, the film is maudlin by today’s standards and full of stagy set pieces that are static and not terribly compelling. But the production values are colossal. The land rush sequence alone took a week to shoot, employing some 5,000 extras, 28 cameramen, 6 still photographers and 27 camera assistants.

Although both the sequence and the film received glowing reviews upon its release, Cimarron holds the dubious distinction of being the only Oscar winning Best Picture to ever lose money on its initial release - $5.5 million when the dust settled on the accounting ledger.

The plot begins in earnest when the U.S. government opens up the Oklahoma territory for settlement. Restless, fiery free spirit, Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix) claims his plot of free land and moves wife Sabra (Irene Dunne) and his family from Wichita into the wide open spaces. Effortlessly bouncing from one profession to the next, Cravat is at one time or another, a lawyer, then newspaper man, then cowboy.

Cravat eventually gains the respect and prominence of his peers in the isolated boom town of Osage.However, settling down and becoming content with his station in life is decidedly not in the cards for Yancey. After establishing the town and becoming its’ most prominent citizen, Yancey abandons both the town and his family for the unabashed adventurism of the Cherokee Strip, a move that forces Sabra to reassess her loyalties and defy her husband’s wandering heart to take on the respectability and prominence of a great citizen herself.

Warner’s DVD transfer on Cimarron is quite adequate given that the film is pushing the 90 year benchmark. Having said that, age related artifacts, including long vertical scratches run through a good length of the running time and are somewhat distracting. A lot of the picture appears softly focused, either by choice (soft focus, poorer film stock, etc.) or through the ravages of time.The overall characteristic of the image is soft and light to dense gray. There are no deep blacks or brilliant whites in this transfer. Still, the overall characteristic is smooth and easy on the eyes. The audio is mono and suffers from the inherent shortcomings of all early sound recordings – appearing quite unnatural and flat.

This critic is REALLY at a loss to explain why Warner Home Video has labeled this DVD as a Special Edition since apart from their usual sterling commitment to bringing classic movies to the forefront in respectable looking transfers, there are NO special features on this disc – not even an audio commentary – but rather a pair of short subjects, which is pretty much par for the course of their most recent output.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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