With the combination of both Glenn Ford and Anthony Mann I was sure Cimarron (1960) was going to be strong western. Maybe I was expecting too much when I look at Mann’s later work which was not as strong as that of the James Stewart films or even his later films which don’t really sit well with me. What I found with Cimarron was a flawed attempt at a Giant (1956) in the west. Both indeed take place in the developing frontiers of America.
Looking back at Giant as I did a few months ago I found it to be a larger than life epic that really looked at the lives of all affected by the times they were in. Whereas Cimarron which starts out with great intentions from the land rush of 1889 of Oklahoma that filled the screen like only an epic can do, seemingly thousands of wagons, men and horses ran across the open plains, making for exciting viewing, it could have gone on forever as settlers made it across the open country to claim a bit for themselves. There was a real sense of history being brought alive as all creeds of men and women had gathered together, as if a hundred wagon trains had reached the end of the Oregon trail before they split up to go in different directions to find a home. I felt such potential for the film which for the first hour stayed with it. The growing territory that would later become a state from the wooden buildings that saw a community grow before the audience over a 25 year period.
If only Glenn Ford was onscreen for more of the film it may have made for a better film. Leaving the film to be lead by Maria Schell as Yancey ‘Cimarron’ Cravat‘s (Ford) wife Sabra Cravat who does the best she can and ably. Maybe I was just expecting more of Ford who when onscreen was a man of ideals and principals which he stuck too throughout. From coming to the defence of the Native American’s who chose the settlers life, the white mans way. To the greed of money that began to consume those around him.
Instead of the gold rush that took place at the start of the century, we have the striking of black gold, Oil which bursts into the hands of the most unlikely of people, that Tom and Sarah Wyatt (Arthur O’Connell and Mercedes McCambridge), who enjoy the highlife, beginning to ignore their roots, living the American dream to excess. Whilst the simpler Cravat family struggle on running the local paper which allows Cimarron to share his views with the world if they like them or not.
When he leaves the screen it’s all the air is beginning to escape from the balloon that keeps this film floating, I want him to come back, During which time things progress with the other characters. For Sabra a growing dependence for loans is developed to keep the family going, a theme that does run through, the over-reliance of money, not understand that a better life does not come with more money when Cimarron is later offered a powerful position which could benefit his family.
I guess the themes discussed in the film do save it from falling apart, it’s a strong film on those merits, yet without the strong central character that draws the audience is off the screen we want him back. At least when it comes to Mann and westerns he will always be remembered for those he made in the previous decade, strong, dark and mysterious, characters filled with dark desires that are more memorable. What I can take away from this film is great visuals of a changing country that you usually find in different films.