The Pioneer Woman

Jean Arthur in Arizona (1940)

Tucson, Arizona and pioneer woman Phoebe Titus (Jean Arthur) has her heart set on owning the largest ranch and the biggest heard of cattle in the territory. And when Peter Muncie (William Holden) shows up with a wagon train she thinks maybe she has found the man to build her empire with. But Peter has his heart set on spending time in California before settling down and heads on his way, promising to come back one day. In his absence Tucson changes as the army leaves, the Confederates arrive only for the Union men to come back with Muncie now part of them. In the midst of all the change Jefferson Carteret (Warren William) and Lazarus Ward (Porter Hall) show up and plot to destroy everything which Phoebe has built up including her freighting company so they can get her land.

"Arizona" is the sort of western which was above average when it was made but never quite achieved the epic status that it possibly could have. And as such this becomes one of those westerns which does a better than usual job of keeping you engaged and leaving you feeling like the time spent watching "Arizona" was worth it but not to the point that you feel like you must watch it again.

William Holden in Arizona (1940)

That sense of satisfaction comes from having a multi-layered storyline which draws on a bit of history as well delivering drama and romance. There is a beautiful balance to all of this so whilst it starts with a meet cute as Peter meets Phoebe it quickly evolves as Arizona changes during the war with the scheming Carteret and Ward muscling in on things. And in typical fashion they are land thieves who have a variety of tricks up there sleeves to get what they want.

About the only thing which is missing from this is some character depth as whilst every character is entertaining and well played with Jean Arthur entertaining as a pioneer woman they are thinly written. As such whilst we learn that Phoebe wants the biggest ranch we never know why, we never really learn why Peter wants to go to California and most significantly we never really get to know what attracts them to each other. It is the movie's major failing as the look of the movie is rich in detail despite not always having that sense of scale that you get with a really epic western.

What this all boils down to is that "Arizona" is a thoroughly enjoyable western which has a nicely written, multi-layered storyline and a great look. Its only issue is that when it comes to the characters they are lacking depth which lets it down.

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