Beginning in November 2019, I embarked on the Old Hollywood Best Picture Challenge, where I will endeavor to watch all 270 films that were nominated and/or won for Best Picture at the Academy Awards between the years 1927-1969. For a list of all films and reviews, please see my original post.

*****

  • Film & Year: In Old Arizona (1928 – general release in 1929)
  • Standing: Best Picture Nominee for 1928/29 season
  • Type: Western, Drama, Pre-Code
  • Other AA Nominations: Best Director (Irving Cummings), Best Writing Achievement (Tom Barry), Best Cinematography (Arthur Edeson)
  • Other AA Wins: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Warner Baxter)
  • Director: Irving Cummings
  • Studio/Producer: Fox Film Corporation / Winfield Sheehan
  • Cast: Warner Baxter, Edmund Lowe, Dorothy Burgess, Soledad Jimenez
  • Production Notes: Cinematography by Arthur Edeson, Film Adaptation by Tom Barry from O. Henry’s short story The Caballero’s Way.
  • Viewing Order: 9/270

 

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Summary & Viewing Experience:

The Cisco Kid (Warner Baxter) is wanted for robbery with a $5,000 reward on his head. Though he is a rascal, he also has principles and refuses to steal from individuals. It’s sort of no wonder that he hasn’t been caught yet because all the local law seems to do with their time is gamble, sing songs, and flirt with women. Army Sergeant Mickey Dunn (Edmund Lowe) is no different, but makes it his business in between dice throws to catch the Cisco Kid. He’s given a pass by his superior to kill the Kid if necessary with no consequences to himself. A cat and mouse game ensues between the two.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, the Kid’s girlfriend Tonia Maria (Dorothy Burgess) is seeing other men while he’s away. Tonia Maria, whose hairdo is reminiscent of one who stuck her finger in an electric socket, doesn’t hesitate to proclaim herself as the best-looking girl in town. She flirts with The Kid’s rival, Sergeant Dunn, eventually engaging in a full-blown affair with him. With the unfaithful Tonia Maria and the womanizing Dunn who “buys wedding rings” like others buy bananas, according to his friends, The Cisco Kid actually comes across as the most moral of the bunch, despite being the only one of the three on the wrong side of the law.

Tonia Maria is in for whatever she can get and agrees to help Dunn catch The Cisco Kid after Dunn promises her the reward money in return. Unfortunately for them, The Kid catches wind of their plot after spying on the two of them conspiring. In the end, one of the three ends up paying the price…

More than anything, I enjoyed the way a scene was set, the extras meandering about as townspeople would, oblivious of the camera. It was the most natural part of the film. While I thought Warner Baxter gave the best performance of the three leads, I actually found the extras, bit players, and supporting cast the most enjoyable to watch. Soledad Jimenez who wasn’t even credited in her meaty supporting role as Tonita, Tonia Maria’s sympathetic but no-nonsense cook, was the standout for me. While I’ve certainly heard worse faux Portuguese/Mexican accents than Baxter’s, I can’t say it was great. Frankly, I was surprised to hear that he was nominated for Best Actor for this performance, let alone won.

 

Behind the Scenes:

The Cisco Kid character was originally conceptualized by O. Henry in his short story The Caballero’s Way. Instead of a likeable rogue the way Baxter played him in the film, O. Henry’s Kid was a murderous villain. In Old Arizonaborrows most of the major plot points of O. Henry’s story, while changing the personalities of the characters.

The film was quickly followed up by 3 sequels: The Arizona Kid (1930),The Stolen Jools (1931),and The Cisco Kid (1931).

Why was it nominated for Best Picture?

In Old Arizona was not only the first major sound Western, but also the first talkie filmed outdoors. This was a huge accomplishment at the time, but…

How does it hold up today?

…though the innovation was exciting for viewers of the time, the jump into novelty also meant that the sound quality suffered for lack of finesse. Modern viewers won’t be so forgiving of the difficult to hear dialogue where voices tend to ring shrill and once in a while you are treated to the occasional thud picked up by the microphones. “Primitive,” “lifeless,” and “forgettable” are descriptions that pop up often in modern reviews.

  • IMDb rating = 5.6 out of 10
  • Rotten Tomatoes rating = 56% out of 100% fresh (5 fresh votes vs. 4 rotten) and 39% by viewers.

Would this be my pick for 1928/29 Best Picture?

Probably not. Though I should have found the story interesting, as it was full of twists, turns, and betrayals, sadly I didn’t. The poor sound quality was distracting and made the intricacies of the plot hard to follow at times. It also felt slow and repetitive in certain scenes and I had to fight the urge to skip forward. Overall, it was not terrible, but also not something I would like to watch again.

UPDATE: Click here for my full ranking of 1928/29’s films.