Combustible Celluloid
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With: Warner Baxter, Dorothy Burgess, Edmund Lowe
Written by: Tom Barry, based on "The Caballero's Way" by O. Henry
Directed by: Raoul Walsh, Irving Cummings
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 99
Date: 12/25/1928

In Old Arizona (1929)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Bring on the Cisco Kid

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Short story master O. Henry probably had no idea how popular his Cisco Kid character would become when he wrote "The Caballero's Way" in 1904. The character turned up in silent movies, "B" movies and on television for decades to come, played by everyone from Ceasar Romero to Jimmy Smits. But the most popular interpretation has to be this 1929 version, directed by Raoul Walsh with Irving Cummings. As the Cisco Kid, Warner Baxter was so effective that he won an Oscar for Best Actor and became a big star.

The film sticks fairly closely to the story, as an American soldier (Edmund Lowe) decides to track down the Kid by using the Kid's bored and lonely girlfriend (Dorothy Burgess). Walsh presents the action in his usual clear, well-paced and exciting manner, unencumbered by the burdensome sound equipment that hampered most 1929 productions. The acting style by the three leads is especially interesting today; their facial and body movements appear exaggerated, but in a sexy way as opposed to a theatrical way. Tom Barry's spiky dialogue ("he buys wedding rings like you and I buy bananas") adds to the fun.

Walsh originally cast himself as the Kid, but technical difficulties forced him to shut down the production and return to Hollywood. On the way back, a rabbit jumped through his car windshield and permanently damaged his eye, leading to the famous eyepatch he wore for the rest of his career (and which also permanently ended his acting career). Subsequently, Baxter took over the role and Cummings finished up the directing chores.

Fox Home Video has resurrected this early gem on a new DVD with no extras. The picture is sharp, even if scratches and flaws are still apparent. The DVD technicians have supposedly remastered the audio track, eliminating most of the hiss from the 1929 recording. Unfortunately, they also removed most of the high registers as well, and the new track sounds muffled. (I chose the original, unmodified track.) The disc also comes with optional hearing-impaired English subtitles, and Spanish subtitles. A Blu-ray followed in 2013.

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