Well, the good guys get out of their predicament just the same, setting up an OK Corral style showdown. Now Vidor rises to the occasion, filming the action mostly in a single take, following the three heroes as they march guns blazing into a cloud soon thickened by gunsmoke until we can only hear the action. In time the smoke clears enough that we can see that Dix is the last man standing. But as he bends down to tend to his friends, we see that Calhern had found shelter in a building. He now emerges at the top of a commanding outside staircase to pick off the unsuspecting Dix. The classic moment follows: we see Calhern raise his rifle and we hear a shot, but it's Calhern that falls. But how did that happen? Now Vidor shows his ace in the hole.
I'd never heard of Etta McDaniel until tonight, so I was prepared to do the Mondo 70 equivalent of clickbait and title this post, "Hattie McDaniel Kills!" until I double-checked the casting. Regardless of which sister did the deed, there's still an important question to be answered. Is The Arizonian the first Hollywood film to show a black woman killing a white man, not to mention show it as a positive act? For all the political incorrectness of Gone With the Wind, I always want to give it credit for the scene in which Everett Brown, as Big Sam, rescues Scarlett O'Hara from a gang of white trash at a bridge, since it must be one of the first movies to allow a black man to beat up white men. Now we see that The Arizonian licenses a black woman to kill a white man, and not just to protect a white man but to avenge a black man's death, and does it four years earlier. I don't think they ever tried that in the Pre-Code era. Dudley Nichols came up with the idea the same year he earned an Oscar for the screenplay of John Ford's The Informer. He has far better known westerns to his credit, including Ford's Stagecoach (adapting Ernest Haycox's story), Henry Hathaway's much-underrated Rawhide (his westernization of the 1935 gangster film Show Them No Mercy) and Anthony Mann's The Tin Star. But Nichols may well deserve a place in western movie history for The Arizonian's breakthrough moment of inspiration alone.