In Old Arizona (1928)

It’s interesting how perspectives change over time. Consider this review from 2006 of In Old Arizona, which condemns the film for (among other things) the technical limitations of its sound recording, notably how it apparently couldn’t pick up sounds that were too far from the microphone (like this isn’t a problem now?), then consider this review from January 1929 (just after the film went into wide release after opening at Christmas 1928) which praises the film for the very same thing as a realistic detail. As for me, I just had to overcome my perplexity at an all-talking film from 1928 (it’s my own peculiarity for which I have no rational explanation; I find 1929 talkies easy to accept but the very idea of a 1928 talkie seems odd to me, even though this isn’t the first such film I’ve seen), and the accents. In Old Arizona is historic for having been the first all-talking western and the first all-talking film to have been shot outdoors, and Warner Baxter won the second-ever Best Actor Oscar for his turn as the Cisco Kid… but what material he had to work with. Nothing wrong with the story—Cisco Kid is a Mexican (?) bandit out west being pursued by a not overly bright sergeant from out east; Cisco Kid’s girl Tonia Maria comes between them, etc—and the film isn’t really hobbled by early sound film limitations than most other early talkies I’ve seen, less so perhaps in some respects, but there’s just something about the dialogue and the Hispanic accents I found off-putting. They seemed even more obviously fake than they might normally do coming from obviously non-Hispanic performers for some reason. Plus there’s an uncertainty of tone throughout, from the comparative comedy of some scenes to the grimness of the ending, that’s also kind of distracting. Still, it’s not really a bad film as such, even if it might’ve been better had it been made a few years later, and given that original director and star Raoul Walsh had to bow out of the production after losing an eye in an accident in mid-production, it’s probably remarkable that it even got finished in the first place…

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