Fox // 1928 // 99 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // June 24th, 2013
A must-own cinematic treasure!
It's remarkable to consider what a spectacular pop culture run The Cisco Kid had during the first half of the 20th Century. The character originated in the pages of the O. Henry short story The Caballero's Way. In that tale, he was a vicious outlaw who killed for sport, but over time he was transformed into a more heroic figure. Dozens of films featuring the character were produced between 1914 and 1950. The Cisco Kid was a popular fixture on the radio airwaves between 1942 and 1956 (it was this series that introduced the Kid's famed sidekick Pancho) and on television between 1950-1956. And then...well, The Cisco Kid just disappeared, only re-emerging for a quickly forgotten 1994 made-for-TV movie starring Jimmy Smits.
As far as big-screen adventures are concerned, the most significant Cisco Kid flick is undoubtedly Fox's 1928 production In Old Arizona. Not only was it the character's first talkie, but it was in fact that very first major western to use sound. It popularized the notion of "the singing cowboy" and garnered multiple Oscar nominations (including a win for star Warner Baxter). As such, it's an important addition to the library of anyone with a serious interest in western movie history and the early days of sound. Unfortunately, it doesn't hold up too well in the present day.
The film gets off to a promising start with its introduction of The Cisco Kid: in a memorable scene, Cisco (Warner Baxter, star of the silent version of The Great Gatsby) robs a stagecoach of a large bank deposit, but leaves the passengers alone and charms them with his easy-going demeanor. And then...well, then the movie decides it's just going to chill out for the next hour or so, following Cisco and a handful of other characters as they don't really do much of anything in particular. There's a casual romance of sorts between Cisco and local girl Tonia Maria (Dorothy Burgess, Hold Your Man), a subplot involving a pompous sergeant (Edmund Lowe, Dillinger) and plenty of visits with other local townfolk. I realize that cinematic pacing wasn't generally too frantic in 1928, but the degree to which In Old Arizona skimps on action and drama is absurd.
Truthfully, much of the entertainment value the film offers is unintentional. When Lowe's character is first introduced, we see him making a masturbatory gesture while talking about how excited he is. After what seems like an eternity, we finally figure out that he's just preparing to roll some dice. In another scene, there's an absurd conversation between Lowe and the local barber (an actor employing a hokey Italian accent which makes Mario's voice seem naturalistic) in which the two discuss the various female body shapes they find attractive ("I like 'em a-fat!"). Save for Baxter's cheesy-yet-sturdy turn, the performances are alarmingly clunky most of the time, particularly Lowe's strange northeastern pronunciation of certain words ("Now listen hyeah, goily!"). There's some legitimate drama during the closing act, though the film's semi-tragic ending is given some extremely heavy-handed foreshadowing.
In Old Arizona (Blu-ray) arrives sporting a solid 1080p/Full Frame transfer which is pleasantly light on scratches, flecks and other bits of damage. Detail is strong and depth is quite good for a film made in the late '20s. Unfortunately, the DTS HD 1.0 Master Audio track is damaged beyond repair (or was just rough to begin with) in many cases, meaning that you pretty much have to turn the subtitles on if you want to understand what people are saying (this also provides some additional unintended comedy, as the subtitle track frequently tosses up phrases like "incomprehensible banter" or "mutters something"). Sadly, there are no supplements included to supply any additional historical context.
I was able to find small pleasures (intended and otherwise) littered throughout In Old Arizona, but it's easy to imagine many viewers growing impatient rather quickly. It's not a great piece of entertainment, but it's certainly a significant piece of film history and I'm happy it's been well-preserved with this Blu-ray release.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame (1080p)
* DTS HD 1.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 1928
MPAA Rating: Not Rated