In Old Arizona — directed by Raoul Walsh and Irving Cummings. Western. 97 minutes Black and White 1929.
Walsh loved the new sound technology. And so he decided to direct the first outdoor talkie. Off to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks he went with a crew. He was to direct and star as the Cisco Kid. He shot a lot of film, and driving back from Bryce, his car hit a hare, which flew up into the windshield and struck him, shattering the glass and blinding him in one eye. He was no longer a movie star. He lost his left eye. Irving Cummings finished the film. But the departure of the stage and big spectacle of the West with which the film began and which became the earmark of his subsequent Westerns were in place. He himself is in all the distance shots, but Buddy Roosevelt was cast as the Cisco Kid, though Buddy broke a leg, and was replaced by Warner Baxter who won the Oscar for the best actor of the year for this performance. Baxter actually looks ridiculous in Cisco’s hat and rig; but he has a lot of fun with the character. The cues are not Hollywood Crisp yet, but the actors are physically sound in their movement. But that’s not why one watches this milestone film. People were amazed at the picture; it caused a sensation: sound actually faded as people walked away, just like in real life! Walsh recovered, wore an eye patch for the rest of his life, and went right back to work, no trouble. “I would direct Victor McLaglen as Litle Red Riding Hood!” He went on to become one of film’s greatest directors, though not of this one, and in two years was to direct the greatest Western I have ever seen, The Big Trail. The public was fascinated with Baxter’s voice and with that of Edmund Lowe who plays the jackass soldier from Brooklyn full of himself set to track Cisco down. Lowe is good at it, but amusement with him flags as the dialogue scenes go on interminably, camera in one place, terrified to move because of the static sound equipment. Musical interludes pad the lack of action. All these scenes were directed by Cummings. In fact the film is largely given over to this actor and his lengthy wooing of Cisco’s girl, a mercurial and mercenary conchita played with much posturing by Dorothy Burgess. On the xylophone of human emotions she is able to strike a note. Lowe strikes another. Of course, it is being filmed by one of the great cameramen, Arthur Edeson, later to film Casablanca. But the film feels like one long screeching halt. All that happens is a huge hesitation of sandwich-filling between the crust of the stage hold-up at the start and the stale bread of the finale. One wishes Walsh had directed it all. Or is it too late for wishes? I think so.