Arizona (1940 film)

Arizona is a 1940 American Western film directed by Wesley Ruggles and starring Jean Arthur, William Holden and Warren William.

Arizona 1940.jpg
Theatrical release poster.
Directed byWesley Ruggles
Produced byWesley Ruggles
Written byClaude Binyon
Based onArizona
1939 novel
by Clarence Budington Kelland
StarringJean Arthur
William Holden
Warren William
Music byVictor Young
CinematographyFayte M. Browne
Harry Hallenberger
Edited byWilliam A. Lyon
Otto Meyer
Columbia Pictures
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • December 25, 1940 (1940-12-25)
Running time
122 minutes
CountryUnited States

Victor Young was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Score, while Lionel Banks and Robert Peterson were considered for the Academy Award for Best Art Direction, Black-and-White.


Life in the Arizona Territory in early 1861 is hard, but Phoebe Titus (Jean Arthur), the only American woman in the pioneering community of Tucson, is up to the challenge. She catches the eye of Peter Muncie (William Holden), a handsome young man with a wagon train passing through on its way to California. He begins courting her but tells her he is not ready to settle down in one spot. As a possible solution, Phoebe offers him a job heading a new freight company she has just formed with store owner Solomon Warner (Paul Harvey). He, however, is determined to see California, but promises to return when his wanderlust is satisfied.

Phoebe is more than a match for freight competitor Lazarus Ward (Porter Hall). However, a dandy named Jefferson Carteret (Warren William) shows up just as the American Civil War breaks out. He helps her persuade wavering residents to stay after the Union garrison pulls out, leaving them without protection against the Indians. Carteret pretends to be Phoebe's friend, but coerces Ward into making him a secret partner.

The treacherous pair try every underhanded way they can to destroy her business. They bribe Indian chief Mano with guns to attack her wagons. The Confederates gain the (temporary) allegiance of the community by sending some troops, but they are soon recalled east. Union troops of the California Column, with Peter among them as a sergeant, return in April 1862 just as Tucson's situation becomes desperate. He helps Phoebe secure a lucrative army freight contract, but Carteret has Ward slander her to the Union commander, claiming that she supplied ammunition for the departed Confederates. Peter and Phoebe get the truth out of Ward at gunpoint and regain the contract. Soon after, Peter's enlistment expires.

Phoebe persuades Peter to go to Nebraska to buy cattle for the ranch she has always dreamed of owning. She has already purchased a great deal of land cheaply from those who lost heart because of the Indian troubles and moved on. However, the $15,000 paid her by the army is stolen by Carteret's men disguised as Mexican bandits. Carteret then offers to make her a loan, with her business and land as security. She accepts. Six months later, Carteret tells Phoebe that her loan comes due the next day.

However, Peter is half a day away with their herd. Carteret gets the Indians to attack but Peter and his men are able to fight them off. Peter gets a confession from one of Carteret's men, but Carteret kills the henchman after he shoots Ward in the back to rid himself of the last incriminating loose end. The entire town celebrates as Phoebe and Peter get married. Then he has her wait for him in Solomon's store while he goes to settle accounts with Carteret. Shots are heard, then a relieved Phoebe takes her slightly wounded new husband home.



Santa Rita Hotel in Tucson, where the cast and crew stayed during production

Ruggles read the Clarence Budington Kelland novel Arizona in 1939 and thought the story had a lot of potential for a film. He proposed to Columbia Studios to direct the film in Tucson, Arizona. Scouting on location, he found a filming spot about 10 miles (16 km) west of downtown Tucson in the Sonoran Desert, against the backdrop of the Tucson Mountains. Filming was postponed until the spring of 1940 due to concerns about World War II in Europe.[1]

500 head of cattle, 150 oxen, stray dogs, and 250 extras and crewmen were brought in to shoot the picture. During the shooting, the cast and crew stayed at the Santa Rita Hotel in Tucson, and would attend variety shows and baseball games.[1] Upon arriving in Tucson, Arthur was initially dubious about working with Holden, 18 years her junior and romantic interest in the film. Holden enjoyed riding horses and insisted on doing his own riding during chases and stunts. Filming was a significant challenge, given the extreme summer heat,[2] something which had been unaccounted for by the studio, causing delays which eventually put the film well over budget at $2,000,000 and resulting in a $500,000 loss for Columbia. Ruggles was blamed for the loss and was never sent again to Tucson to shoot a picture.[1]

After filming, the site lay dormant for a few years during World War II, but was revived and made into a full studio after the war.[3] The studio continues today as Old Tucson Studios.[1][4]


The film premiered in Tucson on November 15,[5] 1940, but was not released nationwide until two months later. The picture was not well-received by critics, which influenced the mediocre takings at the box office. Theodore Strauss of The New York Times wrote: "What Phoebe [Arthur] needs, obviously, is a strong man around - not exactly William Holden... [He is not] sufficiently far from knee-pants to seem credible as protective knight in armor".[1] J. E. Smyth saw the film as an attempt to "repeat Cimarron's epic revisionism and historical seriousness". He described Arizona as an "early feminist western".[6] Scott Weinberg of DVD Talk rated the film 3.5 out of 5, writing "It's got a few nifty action scenes, a handful of funny bits, and just enough craftiness and character to keep you watching for the whole two hours. It's not as gritty as John Wayne or as romantic as Louis L'Amour, but the flick's a solid enough black & white throwback to keep the Western fans suitably entertained."[7]

Victor Young was nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Score, while Lionel Banks and Robert Peterson were considered for the Academy Award for Best Art Direction, Black-and-White.[8]


  1. ^ a b c d e Lawton, Paul J. (2008). Old Tucson Studios. Arcadia Publishing. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-7385-5629-1.
  2. ^ Capua, Michelangelo (9 October 2009). William Holden: A Biography. McFarland. pp. 25–6. ISBN 978-0-7864-5550-8.
  3. ^ John H. Rothwell (9 March 1958). "' Tucson': Movie Mecca: Noted Arizona Screen 'Set' Attracts 'Badlanders' Troupe and Tourists". The New York Times.
  4. ^ Graye, Michelle B. (2004). Greetings from Tucson: A Postcard History of the Old Pueblo. MBG. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-9760173-0-1.
  5. ^ Arizona Daily Star, November 15, 1940, front page
  6. ^ Smyth, J. E. (2010). Edna Ferber's Hollywood: American Fictions of Gender, Race, and History. University of Texas Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0-292-71984-2.
  7. ^ "Arizona". DVD Talk. 15 December 2005. Retrieved 5 May 2017.
  8. ^ "Arizona". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2012-10-17. Retrieved 12 December 2008.

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