The first Western to win an Oscar and the first Western to win a Best Picture Oscar. It would be another 59 years before a Western would win the Academy Award for Best Picture again when Dances with Wolves (1990) took the main prize.
The justly celebrated land rush sequence took a week to film, using 5,000 extras, 28 cameramen, six still photographers, and 27 camera assistants. The scene is so iconic that, three decades later, when MGM remade the film, the camera angles for the land rush sequence remained almost identical to the original.
Yancey Cravat, the character played by Richard Dix, was based on real-life lawyer and gunfighter Temple Houston - the son of Sam Houston, whom Dix played in Man of Conquest (1939) and upon whom the 1960s western TV series Temple Houston (1963) was based.
The movie lost $565,000 on a budget of $1.433 million. It finally turned a profit following a 1935 theatrical re-release and the selling of both the film and subsequent screen rights to MGM in the 1940s.
According to Anthony Holden's book "Behind the Oscar" (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), R.K.O. lost $5.5 million (approximately $58 million in 2003 dollars, when factoring in inflation) on the movie despite its winning a Best Picture Academy Award. It is arguably the only winner of the Best Picture Oscar to lose money during its initial release. The film received excellent critical reviews, but its initial financial failure was blamed on its being released during one of the darkest periods of the Great Depression.
In the decades since it was released, "Cimarron" has been unjustly accused of racial stereotyping. In fact, Edna Ferber's tale is progressive in its frontier spirit, presenting the social problems of the late 1800s (i.e. black slavery, Indian annihilation, the Oklahoma territory being opened up to 'whites'), carrying through to the breaking down of such issues through Cravat's legal and journalistic crusades. The film also champions feminism through Sabra's lifelong ability to maintain Cravat's business for years at a time while he gives way to his wanderlust (she eventually is elected a Member of Congress). The film climaxes with the Cravats' son defiantly marrying a Native American, which causes a divide between his parents, one of whom is liberal, the other conservative.
One of the first talkies that took place nearly all out of doors. To this end, RKO purchased eighty-nine acres in Encino, California, for the construction of Max Rée's spectacular, Oscar-winning design of a complete western town, representing the fictional Oklahoma boom town of Osage.
The film did not recoup its investment until 1941, when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer purchased the screen rights from RKO for $100,000 for a projected remake that wasn't produced until 1960. As was customary at the time, once Cimarron (1960) was released, the original was kept out of circulation so as not to drain profits from the more recent production. Like The Merry Widow (1934), Roberta (1935) and Show Boat (1936), the original "Cimarron" did not resurface until MGM/UA Home Video released it on videocassette in the late 1980s.
Owing to his trademark wanderlust, Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix) disappears from the narrative for extended periods of time, making him arguably the only character in literature who anchors a plot from which he is often absent. Edna Ferber deliberately refrained from taking readers on Cravat's adventures, forcing them to feel his absence as deeply as his family does.
The first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture while also earning the greatest number of total Oscar wins for the year, and the first Best Picture Oscar winner to win Best Adapted Screenplay.
Despite being in the depths of the Great Depression, RKO Radio Pictures was determined to raise its level of prestige in the industry. The studio invested more than $1.5 million into its lavish production of Edna Ferber's novel. While the gamble paid off in critical accolades and a record number of Academy Award nominations, the film initially lost money at the box office.
On the strength of the thundering land rush sequence that opens the film, "Cimarron" is often labeled a western, but only a portion of the film occurs in that time and place. The persistent march-of-time theme carries the plot ever forward, and many of its most elemental plot points occur in 1929 New York City.