Billed as the first outdoor western photographed with sound, Raoul Walsh and Irving Cummings’ In Old Arizona is as much an indoor as it is an outdoor western, and with the primitive sound techniques available to the filmmakers of the time, that’s purely understandable. Those new to the story may be disappointed in the very limited amount of action that’s here; it’s a very talky western melodrama despite featuring the first sound incarnation of The Cisco Kid, but those with an interest in early sound cinema will get a kick out of this early attempt to merge a popular genre with the emerging novelty of the talkies.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 1.0 DD (Mono), English 1.0 DTS-HDMA (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 39 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Release Date: 06/04/2013
The Cisco Kid (Warner Baxter) is a clever bandit operating in Arizona who robs stagecoaches and rustles cattle but whose big heart often causes him to give away to those deserving much of the riches that he has stolen. His special sweetheart is Tonia Maria (Dorothy Burgess), a fetching senorita who, unknown to the Kid, is spreading around her charms with a number of men when he’s gone on his stealing sprees. One man in particular catches her eye, Sergeant Mickey Dunne (Edmund Lowe) who promises to take her out of the southwest and introduce her to the sights and sounds of New York City. When Tonia learns that there’s also a $5,000 price on the head of the Kid, she and Mickey scheme to capture him so they can go to New York in grand style.
The Production Rating: 3/5
Rather than offering a rousing western with hold-ups and chases and shootouts, Tom Barry’s screenplay is much more concerned with the love triangle between the three principals. The Kid has no knowledge of Tonia’s treachery, and his uncompromised love for her gives the film the little bit of suspense that it contains. (The twist ending isn’t surprising, either; the script was adapted from the master of the twist ending O’ Henry’s story “The Caballero’s Way.”) Because sound equipment was so primitive at the time, there are many scenes where groups of people are together talking (so they can all be within sound distance of the microphone) which makes for a very static film. The opening stage hold-up is nicely shot, and there are a couple of other outdoor scenes that don’t require location sound shooting (one telltale sign is that during the late film cattle selling sequence, we see hundreds of cows being herded together but only one lone “moo” on the soundtrack). Due to the newness of the talkies, the movie makes sure to include plenty of songs (a male quartet sings “A Bicycle Built for Two” and a song written especially for the film by DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson “My Tonia” gets several renditions. Baxter himself briefly warbles “My Girl,” and the camera and microphone records eggs and ham sizzling in a skillet, guns blasting, and other sounds which no doubt thrilled audiences of the day. Raoul Walsh gets billed as co-director even though he shot very little of the movie. He was supposed to play the Kid and direct but was injured in the accident that cost him the sight in his right eye with the picture being completed by Irving Cummings. Only Cummings received the Oscar nomination for direction. The film was also nominated as Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematography during the second year of awards eligibility.
Warner Baxter, a silent screen actor of no great distinction, was transformed by sound. His resonant voice as the Cisco Kid was an instant success that made him a star (he’d reprise the role in two subsequent features before turning it over to other actors), and he earned (somewhat surprisingly) the Academy Award for Best Actor for this performance. He does register heartbreak and palpable disillusion when he learns of his girl friend’s betrayal, and his hearty brio also enlivens several of the very talky scenes that sometimes go on far longer than they should have. Edmund Lowe displays the rampant braggadocio that he’d be famous for throughout his movie career and, despite too much forced grinning, makes a decent foil for the Cisco Kid. In her first film, stage actress Dorothy Burgess doesn’t have the ease and poise of her male co-stars before the camera, and her haughty Tonia sometimes garbles her words to the point of distraction.
The film is framed at 1.20:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Of course, this very old film is in somewhat rough condition. There are scratches and spotting to be seen in the film’s first third though things tend to get clearer and less speckled the longer the movie runs. Sharpness is above average, but the grayscale isn’t helped by black levels that are more gray than black. Whites are handled well and do not bloom, and contrast has been dialed in nicely. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
Video Rating: 2.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The disc offers a remastered DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track and a “historical” unremastered Dolby Digital 1.0 sound mix. The compressed track features rampant hiss and other audio artifacts, but the volume is slightly louder and sometimes dialogue comes through a little clearer here than on the lossless track. The DTS-HD MA track features much more attenuated hiss, and other problems like crackle and pops are not present. However, dialogue is sometimes a bit muffled especially if it was recorded in outdoor environs; sequences shot on interior sets usually feature much clearer audio reproduction. There is no music score as such, but the many tunes played and sung during the movie form its musical background, and despite the tinniness of the audio, they sound as one would expect for a film of this era. Sound effects are clear if sometimes muted (gunshots sound almost as if they were being fired underground).
Audio Rating: 3/5
There are no bonus features on this disc.
Special Features Rating: 0/5
It was a somewhat surprising announcement that this early sound western would be released on Blu-ray, and In Old Arizona doesn’t offer much in the way of innovation to today’s audiences. But collectors will certainly welcome this early sound hit in high definition despite a rather average video and audio presentation. But those expecting a Wings-like restoration will be in for a great deal of disappointment.
Overall Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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