Just a heads up: this is going to be the worst review I’ve written so far. Not worst as in the film’s quality (although I did hate this film) nor worst as in the quality of my writing – I’ll be as wry and witty as ever I assure you. No, worst in the sense that by definition this article can barely qualify as a review, because I honestly don’t know what the hell to say.
When I was a child I remember my parents reminiscing about the old, classic films they’d watched as children at Christmas and such, and insisting my brother and I one day see these great, irreplaceable oldies ourselves. Films like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, ‘Casablanca’, ‘Great Expectations’, ‘Citizen Kane’ and many others. Anyway, of the countless recommendations they offered, I don’t recall ‘Cimarron’ being amongst them, and for good reason. Full disclosure: I am a complete ignoramus regarding the western genre. And I am this partly by choice, as I have little to no interest in it. If you asked me to name a famous cowboy, I’d say Woody from the ‘Toy Story’ films. In fairness, the western film has more or less diminished, although there have been occasional and largely cringey attempts to bring it back – ‘The Lone Ranger’, ‘Cowboys and Aliens’ etc. The genre’s best hope of revival is Tarantino, who gave it a splendid makeover in ‘Django Unchained’ and fingers crossed, will have another hit with ‘The Hateful Eight’.
If you suspect I’m try to stall the actual review with yammering, you’re correct. Okay, let’s start with the plot. From what I can gather the film is set in 1889 during something called The Oklahoma Land Rush, where thousands of hopeful American fled to seize free land. The main character Yancy, is pipped to the post by a prostitute, who grabs the property he wanted. He decides to move his family to I guess what’s known in cowboy dialect as a one-horse town. As is expected , he gets into a few shoot outs. After cleaning up, he then decides to move again, this time to land that previously belonged to native Americans, until the government gave them some magic beans and told them to get lost. His wife stays and runs the newspaper Yancy owned, while he settles the Cherokee strip. He swans back a short five years later, the length of time I felt I’d been watching this film. The prostitute he shared six minutes maximum screen time with is on trial for public nudity, and for some reason he goes all Atticus Finch on us and defends her. Then some other stuff happens involving gratuitous social commentary on prejudice towards the Indians. I’m going to end the synopsis here, partly because I don’t want to spoil the entire picture but mainly because I’m getting beyond pissed off regurgitating these two hours of boredom.
One thing I will say that really didn’t help my viewing experience was the god-awful sound quality of the copy I watched, the only one I have access to. I mean, not only was it poor, it had that weird fizzing distortion that sounds like heavy rain pounding off sheet metal. I’m not saying without that I would have liked the film itself any better, but I probably wouldn’t have been driven to the state of catatonia I was.
(Oh, you may have noticed I’ve not mentioned any actors that starred in it, or the director. Yeah, that’s because I don’t care. I honestly couldn’t give less of a fuck. Wikipedia it if you’re desperate to know.)
So here’s the problem I have. As much as I hated this film, I can’t call it bad. It’s very much a film of it’s time – cowboys back then were as trendy as zombies are now. Plus, in it’s time it would have been considered a blockbuster or an epic. There’s a reason it isn’t held in the same esteem as the aforementioned classic films: it’s not classic. It’s not timeless. The same way I highly doubt ‘Avatar’ will be in 80 years. But it wowed critics and audiences in its time, so good for it. I’m not grasping at straws for positive commentary, I’m just trying to be reasonable and keep things in context.
Thankfully, this was the only western film to win best picture, so I’m spared any further hell. Oh that is, unless you count ‘Dances With Wolves’ made in 1991, which I am looking forward to immensely. What’s that? Kevin Costner’s the director? Oh well, I remain optimistic. His skills as a director must surpass his skills as an actor. Huh? He stars in it too? FML.
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PS. There was a remake in 1961 that may be more tolerable. If you ever see it let me know.