Wed 25 Nov 2015
Musings by DAN STUMPF on:
THE RETURN OF THE CISCO KID. Fox, 1939. Warner Baxter, Lynn Bari, Henry Hull, Cesar Romero, Robert Barrat, Kane Richmond, Chris-Pin Martin and C. Henry Gordon. Written by Milton Sperling. Directed by Herbert I. Leeds.
I’ve told the story before, but…
The little Repair-and-Sale shop where I bought my first typewriter had a framed photo of Warner Baxter on the wall, signed “Thanks for everything, Warner Baxter” and a typewritten note beneath it to the effect that the owner of the shop once loaned then-salesman Baxter $100 to go to Hollywood and get started in the Movies.
The typewriter purchase was in the late 1970s, and I doubt that anyone then much noticed the photo nor remembered Baxter as the guy who told Ruby Keeler, “You’re going out a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star!” much less as the actor who won an Oscar for playing the Cisco Kid in In Old Arizona (Fox, 1929.)
In the years following Old Arizona, Fox shuffled Baxter into a number of Gay Bandido roles, including a reprise of Cisco in 1930, but in 1939 they apparently toyed with the idea of a series of B-features around the character and launched it with The Return of the Cisco Kid.
That this was intended as a B series was clear from the assignment of director Lederman and writer Sperling, who spent most of their time working on things like the Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto series. And though Return is done with the customary Fox gloss, the lack of ambition is evident throughout, particularly in some of the worst fake-riding-past-back-projection scenes ever committed to film.
Baxter himself looks a bit tired and tatty to be dashing about as O. Henry’s Robin Hood of the old west, and his romancing of Lynn Bari (a B starlet if ever there was one) has a rather pathetic edge to it, particularly as she prefers the younger Kane Richmond for story purposes. In fact, when Fox launched the Cisco series proper later that same year, they promoted Cesar Romero to the lead — more on him later, but now on to the Plot.
It’s Western Plot #A-5: heroine & father (Henry Hull, feasting on the scenery even more than usual) swindled out of their ranch. Fortunately they cross paths with Cisco and his pals Lopez (Romero) and Gordito (Chris-Pin Martin) a sort of 2-man Hispanic Defamation Society: dirty, lazy, dishonest and greasy, fleeing criminal pasts in Mexico for more promising prospects here in the U.S. “Where perhaps,” Cisco muses, “I weel become the Presidente!”
Okay, we’ll just let that one pass uncommented-on. Suffice it to say Cisco takes a hand, there are fights, chases, merry badinage, clever trickery and a surprising lack of gunplay for a B-western. And an ending that rather surprised me so I’ll throw in a
WARNING: IF YOU THINK YOU MIGHT WATCH THIS MOVIE OR REMEMBER THIS REVIEW, STOP HERE!
Robert Barrat is the heavy in this one, a dishonest Sheriff, callous swindler and something of a tough guy — he beats a young Ward Bond in a fair fight and challenges Cisco to duke it out at one point — so when the two have their last confrontation one expects a bit of conflict.
Only it doesn’t happen. What we get instead is that Cisco warns Barrat to leave his friends alone, and Barrat promises to do that if Cisco stays out of his territory. The deal is struck, there are press releases, smiling photo-ops, and Cisco rides away to further adventures.
And that’s it. To western fans accustomed to the cathartic conclusions typical of the genre, it may come as something of a disappointment, and it certainly caught me off-guard, but on reflection I rather think I’ll remember this one long after other B-westerns have faded from recollection.