Along with the lyrics of the funky song mentioned above, most people today only know the southwestern hero character The Cisco Kid from the popular 50's television series starring Duncan Renaldo; in truth, the character of The Cisco Kid has a longer and broader history. I've been a fan of the show for most of my life (Cisco is on my list of hero ideals), but only in the last decade or so did I realise how many films, radio shows, comic books featured Cisco.
The Cisco Kid had his origins in the short story The Caballero's Way, by the mustachioed writer William Sydney Porter, better known by his pen name, O. Henry. This was a different Cisco Kid from the one that we've all come to know and love; he was a wild killer, wanted and hunted from all quarters. Here's how Cisco was introduced to the world:
The Cisco Kid had killed six men in more or less fair scrimmages, had murdered twice as many (mostly Mexicans), and had winged a larger number whom he modestly forbore to count. Therefore a woman loved him.
...and here's another bit:
He killed for the love of it—because he was quick-tempered— to avoid arrest—for his own amusement—any reason that came to his mind would suffice.
Interesting, wot? As I first read those lines, I tried to imagine the suave and gentle Duncan Renaldo murdering people; it did not compute. "Winging" and "scrimmaging" are very much a part of the character that I know, but the murdering part had been weeded out of my mind by subsequent portrayals of this personal hero of mine, not only by Renaldo, but also by Cesar Romero and Gilbert Roland. I found it interesting, the contrast between the two Ciscos, and I wondered where the divide between the two began. The idea that a Latin American character existed as an American icon in the first half of the 20th century is a miracle in itself (along with the most famous of them all, Johnston McCulley's Zorro), but a foreign killer (with brown skin) being transformed into a dashing hero is fascinating. Especially in these days of overblown southern border issues and illegal immigration concerns. On the other hand, there have been more Hispanic-American action films of the last few decades, including Robert Rodriguez' blood-fest, Machete, and the earlier El Mariachi. I'm certain that the original Cisco Kid would not be out of place in those, but the Cisco Kid as an Oscar winner in 1930? Both amazing and seemingly unlikely.
Baxter was a more rakish Cisco than Renaldo, which fits the film, as he's an actual bandit, versus Renaldo's Cisco, who is basically a Mexicanised Hopalong Cassidy. It's a very interesting film, structure-wise, as well. The story wanders around more than a later film would; I think that some modern film-watchers might find it a bit too loose. Silent movie people will really enjoy it, I think. I thought it was a great example of early western drama. Also, being one of the first talkie westerns, in singing a couple of charming songs in the picture, Baxter may also be the first singing gunslinger. I was surprised by how pleasant a voice he had. I'm a big fan of his Crime Doctor films, so to hear his musical side was a treat for me. At the time of the film's release, these various elements swirled together in such a pleasant way as to garner five nominations in the second-ever Academy Awards, with Baxter winning in the category of best actor! As the Cisco Kid!
In the end, the reason that I chose The Cisco Kid (and in turn the film itself) as a good representative of Hispanic culture in America, is the very notoriety of the character. So many of my Mexican-American friends have talked about how Cisco was the only character on TV that shared their background, and in fact, that song by WAR was created out of the same feeling; to see their "one of us" in the media was important for so many who grew up in the mid 20th Century. To have him be idolised by the mainstream was big-time stuff. To have that same Latino character win the most important film award must have felt incredible, especially in the late 1920's, when racism against Latinos was pretty strong in southwestern America.
I highly suggest that film fans seek it out; it's a fun, important movie, and Warner Baxter fans will love to see him as Cisco!
This is for the Hispanic Heritage Blogathon, hosted by Movie Star Makeover and Once Upon a Screen. Please click on their names here to visit their neato blogs, and also click on the image to the right to see other contributors!
Here's an Ebook for your Kindle of the O. Henry short story collection featuring The Caballero's Way. Enjoy!