Do you remember Warner Baxter? Can you name any of his films, other than 42nd Street? Read on and we’ll provide some visual clues.
First, just who IS Warner Baxter? Answer: A silent movie veteran who successfully made the jump to mostly run-of-the-mill talkies. (He made over 100 movies over a 32-year career.)
As British critic David Thomson puts it: (Baxter) is now hardly known because only a handful of his films are ever seen.
Besides 1933’s 42nd Street, in which Baxter plays a harassed director, the actor is best remembers perhaps for John Ford’s 1936 adventure outing The Prisoner of Shark Island, which has Baxter playing a doctor imprisoned for setting John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg; and for Howard Hawks’ 1936 combat saga, The Road To Glory.
Let’s not forget Baxter’s Oscar-winning performance as the Cisco Kid in the 1928 western, In Old Arizona.
Good fortune (at least for Baxter) played a hand since Raoul Walsh was initially all set to play The Kid (see below) in this first talkie to be filmed outdoors (in Utah and in California’s Mojave Desert). An auto accident resulted in a lost eye for Walsh, who had to withdraw. (He went on, of course, to become a distinguished director.) In any case, Warner’s career as a dashing matinee idol seemed assured.
But as Baxter himself noted, his career — which lasted until the year before he died in 1951 — had its wild swings. I was a failure and a success three times in Hollywood. ‘In Old Arizona’ ended a two-year slump, he said, and ’42nd Street’ revived me after The Cisco Kid had worn off.
But throughout the Thirties and Forties, stardom eluded him. Few of his 1930s movies have lasted well, noted Thomson. There was something subdued in Baxter, so that he often looked best in support of some other star.
Still in all, Baxter can be highly ranked among the most successful actors to weather the transition from silents to talkies. A notable survivor.