In Old Arizona (1929): Early Sound Western, Starring Warner Baxter in Oscar Performance

Fox’s Oscar-nominated “In Old Arizona” is considered to be one of the first Westerns of the sound. Raoul Walsh was supposed to play the saga’s central figure, the outlaw hero Cisco Kid, and to helm the picture, but on the way back from a location in Utah, a jackrabbit jumped through the windshield of his car, causing a bad accident that resulted in permanent blindness in the right eye. When Walsh was unable to finish the film, Fox replaced him with the industrious helmer Irving Cummings and cast the lead with Warner Baxter.

Based on a story by O. Henry, the film boasts some primitive gunfights and cattle roundups. But for an outdoor picture, at least one third of the scenes take place indoors. Chase scenes were dropped in the editing room as a result of the poor quality of sound; the recording equipment had to be kept in stationary soundproof booth. Even so, a number of sequences were shot in California’s Mojave Desert and the Zion National Park.

Warner Baxter, a good-looking actor with a pleasant voice who began his career in the silent era, gives an endearing performance that surprisingly won him the Oscar and made him a star. Today, however, he’s much better remembered for playing the sick producer in the Warner musical, “Forty-Second Street” (1933).

The character of the Cisco Kid has outlived the first feature, first in a series of B-Westerns starring Warner Baxter, Cesar Romero, and Gilbert Roland, and then as a TV series featuring Duncan Renaldo.

Oscar Nominations: 5

Best Picture, produced by Winfield Sheehan
Director: Irving Cummings
Writing Achievement: Tom Barry
Actor: Warner Baxter
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson

Oscar Awards: 1

Actor

Oscar Context

The Best Picture (or Production, as it was then called) went to the tedious MGM musical, “The Broadway Melody.” The other nominees were: MGM’s musical “The Hollywood Revue of 1929,” the crime drama “Alibi,” and Ernst Lubitsch historical piece, “The Patriot,” starring Emil Jannings.