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In Old Arizona Blu-ray Review

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#1 of 5 OFFLINE   Matt Hough

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Posted June 06 2013 - 01:56 PM

In Old Arizona Blu-ray Review

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.


Cover Art


Studio: Fox

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-ray

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Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)

Region: A

Release Date: 06/04/2013

MSRP: $24.99




The Production Rating: 3/5

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.

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.



Video Rating: 2.5/5  3D Rating: NA

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.



Audio Rating: 3/5

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).



Special Features Rating: 0/5

There are no bonus features on this disc.



Overall Rating: 2.5/5

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.


Reviewed By: Matt Hough


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#2 of 5 OFFLINE   Ken Volok

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Posted June 06 2013 - 03:07 PM

Enjoyed it last night, with restored soundtrack. They must've just run the sound thru a a catch all filter but sounds good, next time I watch I'll watch with the unrestored sound.



#3 of 5 OFFLINE   Lromero1396

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Posted June 06 2013 - 08:03 PM

I'm still surprised that Fox bothered to release this with the unrestored track in lossy DD just porting it over from the DVD with no other extras. Why they opted to release this and send the more marketable (and in better physical condition) Drums Along the Mohawk to Twilight Time supposedly along with Becoming John Ford. Fox marketing just has no logic anymore.



#4 of 5 OFFLINE   JoHud

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Posted June 06 2013 - 10:24 PM

I recommend watching this with the unrestored audio.  The "restored" audio is too over-processed and loses some of the ambient background noise and subtle tonal range in an attempt to filter out sonic debris.

 

I also enjoyed this feature.  A bit of a Western melodrama vaguely in the vein of some of the Lon Chaney dramas of the era.  Edmund Lowe's cocky East Coast New Yaw-ker dialogue is a hoot (and with very interesting contemporary slang of the period) and this is only one of a few Warner Baxter performances I've seen in which he actually plays a different character other than a mild variation of his own regular manner of speaking and acting.  For a 1929 talkie, it's definitely above average and show's Raoul Walsh's skill in transitioning from silent film to talkies.

 

I'm still surprised that Fox bothered to release this with the unrestored track in lossy DD just porting it over from the DVD with no other extras. Why they opted to release this and send the more marketable (and in better physical condition) Drums Along the Mohawk to Twilight Time supposedly along with Becoming John Ford. Fox marketing just has no logic anymore.

 

It certainly is very unusual.  There really seems no rhyme of reason to what Fox releases themselves or hands over to TT.  Did the DVD of In Old Arizona really sell that well?  At any rate, I'm very pleased with what Fox does release in wide retail, this film included.


Edited by JoHud, June 06 2013 - 10:29 PM.

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#5 of 5 OFFLINE   Lromero1396

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Posted June 07 2013 - 08:26 AM

I recommend watching this with the unrestored audio.  The "restored" audio is too over-processed and loses some of the ambient background noise and subtle tonal range in an attempt to filter out sonic debris.

 

It certainly is very unusual.  There really seems no rhyme of reason to what Fox releases themselves or hands over to TT.  Did the DVD of In Old Arizona really sell that well?  At any rate, I'm very pleased with what Fox does release in wide retail, this film included.

TT's releases are getting disturbingly more mainstream. Many like to use the excuse that the films in poor physical condition are sent to TT, but that is obviously not the case here. Great films like Leave Her to Heaven and soon Drums Along the Mohawk will be left to languish in obscurity at TT instead of being seen by the masses. Those are two films (as I previously mentioned) that would have been successful in a wide retail release. I don't see In Old Arizona moving units. I seriously hope that Fox hasn't handed off The Ox-Bow Incident to TT as rumors have suggested. If they have, what will become of Yellow Sky, My Darling Clementine, The Bravados, etc.??? Fox never fails to piss me off with their licensing decisions.

 

Edit: perhaps the licensing decisions were made back in 2011 when Fox originally struck their agreement with TT and didn't care about catalog. I seriously hope that they regret licensing all this top-tier catalog.







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