With the arrival of the “talkie,” sound pictures were quickly integrated into each studio. In one short year, the new technology had spread across the industry and into each genre. Some films were later in arriving to the world of sound than others. Musicals and dramas filmed on studio lots and sets were first to be wired for sound, whereas it took a bit longer for the films shot on location.
One of the defining characteristics of a western is the wide open terrain of real locations. In Old Arizona was not only the first western sound feature, but it was also the first “talkie” shot outdoors. Granted, much of the exterior action happens on a small set, very rarely showing the expansive terrain westerns were known for. There is one main robbery sequence at the beginning of the film which takes place completely outdoors. This is some of the poorest sound in the film, but it is also history in the making. Looking back at some of the first digitally created special effects is also comical now, but at the time it was impressive. I can only imagine what the film industry must have looked like in 1929.
The story is a simple love triangle set in the west, though the film’s ending is far more daring than anything you would expect to see in a mainstream film. In some ways the narrative seems to have the sentimentality of a film noir, set in a cheerful western. A charming and friendly bandit named The Cisco Kid (Warner Baxter) coincidentally makes friends with the very sheriff (Edmund Lowe) trying to kill him. In a ploy to destroy the “bad guy,” the sheriff enlists the help of The Cisco Kid’s unfaithful lover (Dorothy Burgess).
This woman is the infamous bandit’s one weakness, although she is vain and self-serving. More interested in proving that she can get any man she wants than staying faithful, The Cisco Kid’s woman quickly jumps into bed with the sheriff in a plan to kill the bandit and steal his loot. Directed by Raoul Walsh and Irving Cummings and featuring an Oscar-winning performance by Baxter, In Old Arizona is a clunky little western offering endless enjoyment despite its flaws. The Blu-ray release transfers what I can only assume is the best existing print, though not much restoration seems to have been done. The sound and picture go in and out depending on the scene, due to aging and typical wear.
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10
Historical Significance: 10/10
Disc Features: 1/10
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