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Featured Blu-ray Review: In Old Arizona

July 6th, 2013

In Old Arizona - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

In Old Arizona was made in 1928 and earned a number of Oscar nominations, including a win for its lead, Warner Baxter. It is also historically significant for being one of the first talkies, and the first such Western and the first such film with an outdoor sequence. On the other hand, 80 years is a long time and there is certainly a chance the film hasn't aged well. Is it a classic in its own right? Or is it only a classic because of its age?

The Movie

Warner Baxter stars as The Cisco Kid, whom we first meet as he is admiring his own wanted poster. He's a bandit, but a charming one. He robs stagecoaches, which the banks use to transfer money, but he never steals from the passengers. In fact, when he sees a woman wearing some jewelry he likes, he pays for it with gold. And later meets a barber whose gold he stole (he was sending money back home through the bank) he gives it back as a tip. Of course, the barber doesn't know who he is and just thinks he is a generous customer.

As charming as he is, The Cisco Kid is still a bandit and the local army base is tasked with finding him, and stopping him dead or alive. The task falls to Sergeant Mickey Dunn (Edmund Lowe), whom we first meet while he is running a dice game with his fellow soldiers, and ripping them off. It will be tough to catch The Cisco Kid, as no one is sure what he looks like. The pair even run into each other and get along really well. It isn't until after the Cisco Kid leaves town that Sergeant Dunn learns who he is.

Once the Cisco Kid does leave town, he heads over to the home of his girl, Tonia Maria (Dorothy Burgess). Although calling her "his girl" isn't quite accurate, as another man is there. The other guy sneaks away before the Cisco Kid knows he's there, and the Cisco Kid has no clue that Tonia might be cheating on him. Clearly this isn't a healthy relationship, and it is about to get worse. When Tonia heads into town, she runs into Sergeant Dunn. At first they hate each other, but when Sergeant Dunn learns she's the Cisco Kid's girl and she learns the Cisco Kid has a $5,000 bounty, they suddenly become a lot more interested in each other.

In Old Arizona was made 85 years ago. I bring that up because it explains a lot of the problems I have with movie. It is old-fashioned, and not in a good way. It is a very early movie with sound and the first such film with outdoor scenes. Because of this, there are a number of technical limitations they had to deal with. There's not a lot of action in the movie and most of the movie is static shots of people talking. This would be fine if it were a drama, but it is a Western and the genre needs more action. Apparently there were a couple of chase scenes that were cut from the final film, because of bad sound quality. There are also a few scenes that are clearly there just to show off the sound. (Do we really need to see ham and eggs being fried?) Additionally, the three leads are not exactly engaging. Warner Baxter won an Oscar for his performance, and he does bring some charm to the role. However, Tonia is wholly unsympathetic while Edmund Lowe's performance was too of its time. This style of acting is just too hammy, by today's standards.

The Extras

There are no extras on the Blu-ray. As for the technical presentation... Have I mentioned how old the movie is? It is 85 years old and it really looks it. There's only so much you can do to improve the video and audio quality of a movie that is this old, short of a million dollar frame-by-frame restoration, which clearly wasn't done here. There's lot of print damage, the contrast is iffy at times, while the level of details is far below what Blu-ray can handle. The audio is presented in a restored 1.0 track and a historical 1.0 track. The latter is significantly weaker, but neither is great. As for the price, it costs $15 on, which is fine for this type of release.

The Verdict

In Old Arizona is a classic, but more for its age than its overall quality. The Blu-ray doesn't look or sound particularly good, but the film probably hasn't looked this good in 80 years. If you are interested in film history, it is worth checking out.

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