June 26, 2013

Richard Dix, Cimarron


I have never read Cimarron, nor do I ever plan to. A lot of people think that Richard Dix's performance in the film is terrible and one of the worst to be nominated--but a few folks online have said that he plays the character of Yancey just the way it was written in the novel. I for one, am indifferent. This is very much your typical overacted, hammy performance that was very prevalent in films of the time. But on the other hand, I thought Dix captured the passion and the charm of the character quite well.

Terrible hair and horrifying eyebrows aside, Yancey is supposed to be this extraordinary, larger-than-life character, so I can understand how he can come off as annoying to today's viewers. But I think Dix gets a lot of flak--playing a person who is hammy by nature during a time when film acting was pretty terrible exaggerated enough as it was can't possibly age well through the years. I did feel that Dix conveyed the confidence of Yancey quite effectively--whenever he fell into one of his rousing talks, whether it was to his wife or the crowd at church or to the jury in the courtroom, he does it with a power that made me understand, if only for a moment, how this man was able have everyone at the palm of his hand at all times. Even when he abandons his wife and kids for years at a time, he comes back and charms the pants off of you with some heartfelt little monologue and through that passion you forget that he's kind of a douchebag. Yes, it's dramatic acting, and it's very in-your-face, but if in fact that is truly what the novel calls for, then perhaps we're all judging the performance a little too harshly.

One of the film's major flaws is that it doesn't explore Yancey's wanderlust deeply enough. This is a man who is deeply passionate (though only temporarily) about certain things (and that aspect of him is established well enough) but this is also a man who isn't capable of staying devoted to his responsibilities. I've read people describing him as feeling "trapped" when he remains in one place for too long, but that never translated onto the screen for me. All it takes is one time lapse in the film and Yancey is ready to go elsewhere, and there isn't any development that would help us understand his psyche. He merely smiles and runs away, and we're not sure how to feel because the film neither treats this as good or bad behavior. And this is even worse in the film's final hour, when he disappears via intertitle and doesn't show up again until the film's final minutes. It's sloppy filmmaking and Yancey Cravat's characterization suffers for it--the film literally belongs to Dix before gradually disposing of him very nonsensically in the latter half. So in the end, there's a lot lacking from Dix's performance, with Yancey not being a translucent enough character as I'd like, but I'd attribute the blame more to the screenplay rather than him.

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