Monday, January 20, 2014

Film Review: In Old Arizona

"In Old Arizona"  ** (out of ****)

With the announcement of the 86th annual Academy Award nominees, as has been tradition, I will review past Oscar winning and nominated films, leading up to the award show on March 2nd. First up on my list is "In Old Arizona" (1929).

"In Old Arizona" is a western directed by Irving Cummings and Raoul Walsh (even though Walsh is credited as a co-director, it has been widely reported he dropped out of production early on after an accident) starring Warner Baxter, Edmund Lowe and Dorothy Burgess. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, including best picture and director. It won one award however for Baxter in the best actor category.

"In Old Arizona" is your typical story of good vs evil. The law against the bandit. In that sense the movie is fairly routine and predictable and quite frankly, isn't much fun to watch. But the movie has a few elements in its favor. It has some "fun" performances by the leads, none of which are convincing in a realistic sort of way and a remarkable ending by 1929 standards. Heck, few films today would dare end the way this one does. Outside of that however, there is little to recommend.

This is a Cisco Kid story with Baxter playing the famous bandit. These were popular stories back in the day and there were several film adaptions of Cisco Kid stories. The Cisco Kid was a singing bandit and a great lover. In this movie he is presented as a bad guy with a good heart. He feels sorry if he steals from the poor for example. In one scene, when we see him rob a stage coach, he asks one of the female passengers for a pin she is wearing. But, rather than steal it, he kindly offers her money for it. See, all bandits aren't so bad!

Meanwhile the army (the story takes place in the old west) is after the Cisco Kid. Their best man, Sgt. Mickey Dunn (Lowe) has been assigned to track down the Kid. Mickey is what us old timers used to call a "good time Charlie". He is kind of a man's man. A good natured, quick-witted, arrogant guy always looking for a good time, whether is involves gambling, drinking or ladies. Especially the ladies. Mickey fancies himself a ladies man. In this respect he and the Cisco Kid are similar.

The Cisco Kid is in love with Tonia Maria (Burgess) an unfaithful, gold-digging flirt. She has the Cisco Kid wrapped around her finger. While the Kid may think of himself as a lady killer, he says he always remains true to Tonia. She is the love of his life. But she does not share his affection. She is only with him what for he buys her and the money he steals. The Kid is not as savvy as he thinks he is. Love can do that to a person. Make us lose sight of reality. Not see people for who they really are.

These three people will intersect. Mickey will use Tonia to get to the Kid. But, has Mickey fallen for Tonia? Is Tonia using Mickey? Is the Cisco Kid on to them? All of these question will immediately be answered. And that is just one problem with the movie. There is no suspense. Everyone is pretty much what they seem. The movie has no clever twist and turns, except for that wonderful ending!

Lowe is chewing the scenes he is in. It is amazing he doesn't gag. Baxter's Spanish accent is a joke as is Burgess'. Completely over the top. The movie is typical for the time period, wanting to impress you with its use of sound. In an opening scene we see passengers board the stage coach. The sound track is filled with lots of chatter. Multiple characters, those on-screen and off, speaking at once. It wants the audience to be amazed it is watching a sound picture. You will notice scenes like this in several early "talkies". They want to load the soundtrack with dialogue. By gum they are going to take advantage of this "new" technology. And that is why we hear several characters speak with accents. There is an Irishmen in the opening scene, a gentlemen with a southern accent, Mickey speaks with a New York accent and the Kid and Tonia with Spanish accents.

The problem I have with "In Old Arizona" is it simply bores me. I have now watched it three times and all three times I have come away with the same reaction. There is nothing exciting about the movie. Nothing interesting. It is all predictable and boring. Outside of the campy performances, there is nothing memorable about the movie. I'm willing to bet a majority of my readers haven't seen this movie. It hasn't lived on as one of the classics of early Hollywood. And there is a reason for that. It is not worth your time. So, why write about it? Well, it did win an Oscar. It has some curiosity value to it. If you love the history of cinema as much as I do, you will want to see it. You just won't enjoy it.

"In Old Arizona" is forgettable fluff. Over-the-top performances, predictable story-line and a surprise ending. That about sums up "In Old Arizona".