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Cimarron (1931) is a film directed by Wesley Ruggles and based on the Edna Ferber novel Cimarron.


Despite America being in the depths of the Depression, RKO immediately prepared for a big-budget picture, investing more than 1.5 million dollars into Ferber's novel Cimarron. Director Wesley Ruggles would direct stars Richard Dix and Irene Dunne with a script written by Howard Estabrook. Filming began in the summer of 1930 at the Jasmin Quinn Ranch outside of Los Angelesmarker, Californiamarker. The film was a massive production, especially the land rush scenes, which recalled the epic scenes of Intolerance some fifteen years earlier. More than 5,000 extras, twenty-eight cameramen, and numerous camera assistants and photographers were used to capture scenes of wagons racing across grassy hills and prairie. Cinematographer Edward Cronjager spent overtime planning out every scene in accordance to Ferber's descriptions.

Perceived Racism

Like many of the movies of its time, Cimarron has been perceived to represent Blacks, Jews, and Native Americans in a stereotypical fashion. However, Cimarron is notable for the conflicting attitudes of the principle characters towards non-whites. Sabra Cravat refers to Native Americans as "dirty, filthy savages" and refuses to allow her son to accept a gift of feathered head gear from a Indian. However her husband, Yancy Cravat, has a more sympathetic view acknowledging that the Indians in the back of the church are not expected to give a monetary contribution to the purchase of a white man's church organ as they have had their land stolen by the white men. That initial church meeting also highlights his seemingly minority view towards Jews. Sol Levy, a Jewish salesman, is unsure of whether he will be allowed stay in the church meeting but Yancy states that this will be a non-denominational meeting. We have seen earlier in the movie that when Sol is harassed and humiliated by the town gun-slingers, the townsfolk watch and make no effort to intervene. Eventually, Yancy intervenes. Isiah, the main Black character in the movie, is introduced as a smiling, whistling shoe shiner. But he plays a hero's role later in the movie when he attempts to keep the Cravat children out of harm's way. He dies in his efforts. It is one of the more subtle moments of racism in the movie when no one hears Isiah calling out "Masser" as he is dying. Sabra and Sol knew he ran out to find the children but neither looked for him after the children returned and he lay dying outside. Yancy's open minded view of non-whites contradicts his urges to participate in claims for newly opened land in the West bought by the government from the American Indians for far less than its market value-the "Oklahoma Land Rush." Though he does admit the unfair results of treaty between the U.S. government and the Cherokees. This complexity of racial attitudes is augmented by the flawed natures of the main characters. Yancy is the typical western hero who seeks adventure and who demonstrates chivalry that is otherwise infrequent in the movie. Yet he is deeply flawed. He abandons his family to pursue his western ambitions. There are numerous references to his past as a gunslinger, his friendship with The Kid and the notches on his gun handle. He is patronizing to his wife and ignores all her pleas.


The film was premiered first in New York Citymarker on January 26, 1931, to much praise, and a Los Angelesmarker premiere followed on February 6. Three days later, the film was released to theaters throughout the nation. Despite being a critical success, the high budget and ongoing Great Depression combined against the film. While it was a commercial success in line with other films of the day, RKO could not recoup their investment in the film.

At the 1931 Academy Awards ceremony at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angelesmarker, Cimarron took high honors. The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture (producer William LeBaron), as well as awards for Best Art Direction (set decorator Max Ree) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Howard Estabrook). The film was also nominated for Best Actor (Richard Dix), Best Actress (Irene Dunne), Best Cinematography (Edward Cronjager), and Best Director (Wesley Ruggles). A special award for make-up was given to Ern Westmore for his work on the film, as well.

Academy Awards – 1930-31

Cimarron was the 1st film to get more than six Academy Awards nominations and nominated for the Big Five awards .

It was the Winner of 3 Academy Awards.
Award Result Winner
Outstanding Production RKO Radio (William LeBaron, Producer)
Best Director Wesley Ruggles

Winner was Norman Taurog - Skippy
Best Actor Richard Dix

Winner was Lionel Barrymore - A Free Soul
Best Actress Irene Dunne

Winner was Marie Dressler - Min and Bill
Best Writing, Adaptation Howard Estabrook
Best Art Direction Max Rée
Best Cinematography Edward Cronjager

Winner was Floyd Crosby - Tabu



  1. Frank Westmore and Muriel Davidson. The Westmores of Hollywood. J. B. Lippincott, New York City, 1976.

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