Glenn Ford and Maria Schell in Cimarron (1960)

Ford Springs Off

Much to the disappointment of her parents Sabra (Maria Schell) and her husband Yancey 'Cimarron' Cravat (Glenn Ford) are heading to the Oklahoma territory where they will participate in the land rush with Yancey having his heart set on a prime piece of land to start a ranch on. On the way there they not only have an encounter with The Kid (Russ Tamblyn), who idolised Yancey growing up, but Sabra gets to witness her husband's generosity when he lends his spare wagon to a family who have lost theirs. But at the land rush things don't go to plan as not only does an old flame of Yancey's, Dixie Lee (Anne Baxter), take exception to him having married but she gets the land he desired. With only land not suitable for ranching left Yancey instead takes over the newspaper, The Wigwam, and builds it up into a business empire standing up for the little people which not always goes down well with Sabra when he comes to the aid of Native Americans. But before he settled down Yancey was an adventurer and despite having a kid with Sabra he finds the calling of the wild too much to resist leaving Sabra to raise their son Cimarron and run the paper on her own.

I have tried to keep that synopsis as short as possible as to cover "Cimarron" with any more detail would take for ever as this movie at 147 minutes is an epic sage about a family in the West going from the land rush of 1889 to 25 years later and World War I. It is an epic story which was not only made in to a movie back in 1931 but is based on Edna Ferber's novel and is one of those movies which brings up that old debate over movies adapted from novels. By that it appears that those who have read Ferber's novel are disappointed by this adaptation but for those who haven't "Cimarron" works as a good sprawling western with ideas of grandeur but not quite pulling them off.

Russ Tamblyn in Cimarron (1960)

Now in that synopsis I mentioned that Yancey after building the newspaper into an empire and having a family finds the calling of adventure too much to resist and so what we have is a movie of two halves with the first half being the better of the two. That first half focuses on Yancey and Sabra building their life in Oklahoma, the journey there, the revelation that Yancey was a wildcat in his day, the building up of the business with Yancey proving himself to be the man of the people and not someone to do wrong by them for his own gain despite having the opportunity to run for Governor. All of which is entertaining and frequently exciting with Glenn Ford dominating this first half with his easy going charm but also giving Yancey an educated point of view.

This first half of "Cimarron" also features some fantastic cinematography from beautiful backdrops as we watch Yancey and Sabra cross country to the most exhilarating land rush footage ever filmed. From wagons over turning, split in half from racing across bumps to the dust flying up and people falling it is stunning and dramatic as well as horrific in places as we see one person run over by a wagon.

But then there is the second half to "Cimarron" which focuses on Sabra raising the family and keeping the business running following Yancey clearing off for a life of adventure. This is sadly where the movie struggles as whilst in the right movie Maria Schell could dazzle she struggles to command this second half of "Cimarron". And sadly there is a lot of second half which means after an impressive first half which entertains both visually and dramatically the second half lets it down.

What this all boils down to is that "Cimarron" is and epic Western tale and for those who have never read Ferber's novel it will entertain. But even then it still suffers from a second half which lacks the impact and performance of the first half.