The woodwinds and brass crescendo, a chorus of voices swells in epic awesomeness. And “epic” is the target word in 1960′s Cimarron, directed by Anthony Mann et al, a frontier saga that swells with its own importance from the opening credits. Full disclosure: I have not yet completed watching this film. Why? Because I have baser instincts, such as punching the remote’s off button with exasperation after the main pioneer woman character, an immigrant of German descent, says for the umpteenth time, “Tell me what to do!” to her husband. Because this movie actually addresses the tensions between settlers and Native Americans during the land rush days of Oklahoma in 1889, I will soon complete watching this movie, perhaps playing a drinking game, two fingers of whiskey every time Maria Schell gazes adoringly at Glenn Ford. Or maybe it’s just jealousy. Schell girl, I want to be gazing adoringly at Glenn Ford.
But from the beginning strains of the opening credits, I knew what I was in for. Franz Waxman, he of swelling soundtracks, created this score to tug at the heartstrings of mid-century Americans filled with patriotic fervor and economic promise. Yet during the “land rush” sequence, which I suspect is the only facet of Anthony Mann’s work that remains in this film, his music ratchets up the tension as pioneers in careening wagons, flat-out galloping horses, and skidding bicycles (yes, bicycles) hurtle across the plains to stake out their own patch of paradise.
It’s a cruel sequence: one loser trying for a better life for his family falls to the dust, remaining a loser; three baddies take out a Native American family’s wagon, which sets off a pileup of wagons and horses that kills an elderly newspaper publisher in a gruesome way. Glenn Ford’s own dash to a piece of paradise is thwarted by Ann Baxter’s Dixie, a tart with a heart of ambition–their previous connection is only hinted at and here she gets the land they had no doubt promised to stay on forever, once upon a time. If only he’d stayed with her instead of the simpering woman waiting for him back at the wagon… This is only in the first half hour of the movie; as Cimarron is a “saga,” Glenn Ford’s Yancy “Cimarron” Cravat has yet to mature, with his chosen town, in epic fashion.
Franz Waxman was no stranger to plucking at a film audience. Let me amend that. He was the shit for movie music magic. A Hollywood mainstay for 32 years, he composed the music for Bride of Frankenstein, To Have and Have Not, Sunset Boulevard (winning an Oscar), Peyton Place, among others. And the title track of Cimarron, sung by the Roger Wagner Chorale, is the epitome of heartstrings being pulled. To my modern ear it jars, but no doubt to the mainstream of 1960′s America, the chorus of voices, fruity and lush with emotion, got them feeling all warm inside.
Move along! Move along!
What do the covered wagons say?
Follow your dreams today!
Cimarron! Cimarron! CIMARRON!
Compare this song, pre-Leone, to the most recent of western soundtracks, that of True Grit. Which I will. In the next posting…Yeehaw!
In the meantime, the stirring “land rush” scene. Oh crap. It’s in Spanish. But actually, that works. But I have to warn you, cover your eyes at 4:50.