BARON OF ARIZONA, THE (director/writer: Samuel Fuller; cinematographer: James Wong Howe; editor: Arthur D. Hilton; music: Paul Dunlap; cast: Vincent Price (James Addison Reavis), Ellen Drew (Sofia Peralta-Reavis), Tina Rome (Rita, The Gypsy), Vladimir Sokoloff (Pepito Alvarez), Reed Hadley (John Griff), Robert H. Barrat (Judge Adams), Beulah Bondi (Loma Morales), Karen Kester (Sofia as a Child), Margia Dean (Marquesa de Santella), Joseph Green (Gunther), Gene Roth (Father Guardian); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Carl Hittleman/Samuel Fuller; Lippert Pictures; 1950)
“Tells a fabulous story loosely based on true events that are inefficiently worked out thereby making it seem unlikely.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A minor low-budget Sam Fuller (“I Shot Jesse James”) bizarre western, his second feature, tells a fabulous story loosely based on true events that are inefficiently worked out thereby making it seem unlikely. It’s at first appealing but soon becomes tiresome, as Vincent Price as the lovable forger proves to be unappealing and miscast for the role. Though Price has maintained that this anti-hero role was his personal favorite.
The film opens in 1912 on the day Arizona was made the 48th state, and a group of high-placed politicians are having a drink and smoking cigars in the governor’s mansion when John Griff (Reed Hadley), a handwriting expert with the Department of Interior in Washington, tells the little-known but legendary story of swindler James A. Reavis (Vincent Price), who sometime in the 19th century was a clerk in the Santa Fe Land Grant office and forged documents that would have turned the Arizona Territory over to his wife Sofia Peralta (Ellen Drew), supposedly the heir to a Spanish landowner. Griff got to know and admire the forger when he represented the government in their challenge to his claim in a federal court.
Reavis was unduly upset that land was granted to undeserving folks because of a Land Grant treaty dating back to 1748, which was enacted by King Ferdinand VI. In Reavis’ diabolical and complicated scheme, he befriends the impoverished guardian, Pepito Alvarez (Vladimir Sokoloff), of an orphan girl, Sofia Peralta (Karen Kester), and tells him he has proof (forged documents) that she’s the last heir of the Peralta family and is really a baroness. Reavis hires a governess, Loma Morales (Beulah Bondi), to raise her as a noble. He spends years away from the child, joining a monastery in Spain where they guard the precious old records. After years in the monastery, he gains access to the locked room where the records are kept and forges the Peralta claim. He soon learns that there’s another ledger kept in an aristocrat’s castle in Madrid, where he journeys to also forge those records. Returning to Paris, he meets an adult Sofia, and marries the grateful and much younger beautiful woman.
Reavis now returns home claiming to be the Baron of Arizona, owning the entire territory and threatening to kick off his property anyone who doesn’t pay him to stay. The government is not sure that they can prove his claim false and offer him $25 million to settle, which he turns down. Reavis adamantly insists on being recognized as the rightful Baron of Arizona, and suffers from a bad case of megalomania. It leads to threats against his life and a long drawn out court battle, where Reavis’ dream of grandeur ends in a long prison term but the continued love of his loyal wife.
REVIEWED ON 3/29/2005 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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