Cimarron was the first Western to win the Oscar for Best Picture--and, until Dances with Wolves in 1990, the only one. The film begins on April 22, 1889, the opening day of the great Oklahoma Land Rush on the Cherokee Strip. Boisterous Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix) is cheated out of his land claim by the devious Dixie Lee (Estelle Taylor). Instead of becoming a homesteader, Cravat establishes a muckraking newspaper, and with pistols in hand he becomes a widely respected (and widely feared) peacekeeper. He also displays a compassionate streak by coming to the defense of Dixie Lee, who is about to be arrested for prostitution. Cravat's insistence on sticking his nose into everyone's affairs drives a wedge between him and his young wife Sabra (Irene Dunne), but she stands by him--until he deserts her and her children, ever in pursuit of new adventures. Sabra takes over the newspaper herself, and with the moral support of her best friend, Mrs. Wyatt (Edna May Oliver), she creates a powerful publishing empire. Cimarron makes the mistake of placing most of the action early in the film, so that everything that follows the spectacular opening land-rush sequence may feel anti-climactic. While it's always enjoyable to watch Irene Dunne persevering through the years, it's rather wearing to sit through the overblown performance of Richard Dix, who seems to think that he can't make a point unless it's at the top of his lungs. Cimarron creaks badly when seen today, but it still outclasses the plodding 1960 remake.
by Hal Erickson synopsis