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DVD Review: CIMARRON (1960)

I’ve been on a Brain Food Diet that has kept my thinking processes in overdrive this week.  Even when my body would scream “No more!!” my brain would keep barreling down the highway with a cinder block on the accelerator.

In order to chill, I spent Columbus Day morning sipping red wine and watching CIMARRON (1960), recently released on DVD:  a great experience of having a movie wash over you for two and a half hours.

So many things to like about this film.  First of all, I love how the suffix “1960” is always added to this film.  The original version won the 1931 Best Picture Oscar, and is a creaky White Elephant.  Yet, it’s not called CIMARRON (1931), just CIMARRON.  The fact this one is cataloged with 1960 on the end seems somehow poignant as moviemaking of this kind, mass audiences for this type of film and even venues for showing this type of celluloid monolith would vanish during the decade after its release.  The “1960” seems more like an epitaph than a denotation.

Then, there’s Anne Baxter in the second lead as the hooker Dixie.  Earlier this year, I read her memoirs, Intermission, about the time in her life when she gave up her film career to marry and move to a ranch in the bush of Australia.  Her grandfather Frank Lloyd Wright, a strong male influence in her life, had just died, and meeting a younger man bound for Australia with large ambitions and charm filled the gap left by Wright.  CIMARRON (1960) was one of her last contractual obligations before departing for the sheep ranch.

Then, I had seen CIMARRON (1960) as a kid at the drive-in.  What we had come to see was the second feature, George Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE, and it was torture for me to sit through all this Edna Ferber baroquery.

Anthony Mann directed.  In general I prefer his taught 1940s black-and-white thriller films like RAW DEAL to cast-of-thousands 1960s sprawling films like EL CID (a film which is to me — borrowing a phrase from my buddy Jim G. — a “14 butt-ache movie”).  In this film, Mann directs in widescreen with a wonderful sense of the aspect ratio:  with these sprawling horizontals, every nuanced verticality he brings to the frame has an operatic impact.

The political correctness of this film is really schizo:  it addresses anti-Semitism and prejudice against Native Americans, yet celebrates that all this Oklahoma land is “free for the taking.”  Huh?

With a Franz Waxman score, focused performances by Mercedes McCambridge and the excellent, underrated Glenn Ford, and shots drenched in the brassy hues of MetroColor, CIMARRON (1960) is what Mildred Atkinson in IN A LONELY PLACE would call “a real epic!”

Doug of PostModernJoan

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