Saturday, November 26, 2011

Irene Dunne, in Cimarron

approximately 52 minutes and 43 seconds

45.45% of the film

The film

A newspaper editor settles in an Oklahoma boom town with his reluctant wife at the end of the nineteenth century.

You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

Well, the film is still one of the worst Best Picture winners, I’d say. I’ve first seen it 2 years ago, and I definitely didn’t find it better this time: it’s a naive, clich├ęd, unintentionally racist, silly written epic-wannabe film.

Irene Dunne as Sabra Cravat

I think most of us bloggers can find at least a film we’ve seen in which Irene Dunne was insanely charming, or funny, and definitely adorable. That’s easy; and I think she became even more popular years after her career ended, because she’s so easy to love. Cimarron doesn’t fall into that category of great Irene roles because… well, it was the beginning of her career and I’m sure she was taking whatever they were giving her: including this epic western, in which Irene gets to play the mostly-boring role of the devoted wife.

Irene plays Sabra, a wife and mother who adores her free-spirited justice-seeker husband, a newspaper editor that moves the family to the new land of Oklahoma. There, Sabra gets to
witness the birth of a town and has to deal with her husband’s independent nature and ideas. It doesn’t seem like much of a role, and it probably isn’t; but I did appreciate how Irene’s character slowly takes control of the film towards the ending; and Irene finally gets a couple of decent scenes.

In many ways, this is the typical role of the wife and it offers too little for Irene to work with. She’s nice to look at, investing a maternal, caring quality into the character, but the focus is almost never on her, at least in the first hour. The most she gets to do is to play the faithful wife, with plenty of resignation to her husband’s spirit of adventurer.

At the same time, she’s the one keeping the family together, so Irene does get to act a bit as the bossy woman, the one responsible character in the film, who ends up taking control of the family
business. As I said, she mostly walks around, with little range to be shown other than love & the occasional moments of anger; can’t really blame Irene for that, as the failure falls mostly on the director and the messy screenplay.

Where she does grab the attention is in the final chapter of the film, when the husband character seems finally out of the picture; the focus is now on her, and while the screenplay doesn’t suddenly become attractive, she does get to give a couple of speeches and shakes things up a bit (performance-wise) with the effective aging makeup.

Actually, that might be her best moment in the film: giving a believable performance as the old, wise Sabra who gets to deliver a speech while accepting an award. Irene does justice to the character by properly expressing regret and sadness, and actually making Sabra seem more interesting than she really was.

There isn’t much to say about this performance, given how dated it looks, the limitations of the screenplay and the overall quality of the film. While she doesn’t get to shine, Irene definitely gives the best performance from the cast, she is a calming presence throughout the film, and the one voice of reason that’s not completely annoying.


dinasztie said...

I'm still interested in her. I'm a huge fan of Irene and I really want to find out how she is when she's not fantastic. :)

Calum Reed said...

The second half is this film so boring and removed from the first that it's a pretty bad Best Picture win. I'd say she's one of the few plus points about it, but two stars is definitely right (look at us in agreement!!).

Still, this is a better performance than her one in "I Remember Mama," but you have that joy to come ;-)

Fritz said...

That movie is sooo bad. She's the best thing about it but that's not saying too much...

Jose said...

Love that your screencaps are from the Hispanic TCM. For once I agree with Cal's lack of enthusiasm for this performance.

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