Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Baron of Arizona

Directed by Samuel Fuller and written by Fuller and Homer Croy, The Baron of Arizona is the story about the notorious forger James Reavis who would create a scheme to claim some land in Arizona in the 19th Century. A largely fictional-based film about Reavis’ exploits, the film explore a man and how he would scheme his way into being the Baron of Arizona as he is played by Vincent Price. Also starring Ellen Drew, Vladimir Sokoloff, Beulah Bondi, and Reed Hadley. The Baron of Arizona is an excellent film from Samuel Fuller.

The film is about the exploits of James Reavis and how he forged documents to make claims that a young woman was inherited the land of the Arizona territory as he would marry her and become the Baron of Arizona much to the dismay of the settlers and the American government. Yet, it’s a film that is told from the perspective of Reavis’ adversary in John Griff (Reed Hadley) who tells the story of Reavis’ exploits to other men on the day Arizona has officially become a state. The film’s screenplay has a narrative where much of its first half moves back-and-forth from Griff telling the story of Reavis’ meticulous and ambitious plans to claim the Arizona territory in the late 19th Century through forged papers and other things claiming that a young woman named Sofia (Ellen Drew) is a descendant of a family who was given the land of Arizona to King Ferdinand in 1750.

After traveling to Spain and pretending to be a monk for three years to get access to documents that he would forge, Reavis would go into great lengths to get the land. The film’s second half is about Reavis and Sofia stating their claim to the land only to deal with settlers who are afraid to lose their home while Reavis would meet his greatest opponent in Griff. Griff was the Secretary of Interior at that time as he wanted to prove that Reavis is a fraud but also has some mutual respect towards him. While the script does play around with some of the historical aspects as well as take a few liberties, Samuel Fuller and co-writer Homer Croy do manage to make Reavis a very captivating character in not just the way he is determined to get the land. Reavis is also a man who wants to do what he thinks is right until he finds himself being challenged by Griff as well as coming to terms with his actions.

Fuller’s direction is very simple in not just the way he presents close-ups, medium shots, and wide shots but also in the way he meshes drama with some suspense. Even as Fuller showcases every detail into what Reavis does such as creating writings on rocks to claim that the land is Sofia or the great detail he does into forging papers. Much of the film is shot in the American Southwest as Arizona and Spain while Fuller manages to keep things lively while going into some melodrama as it relates to Reavis being overwhelmed with his troubles and what Sofia wants. Particularly as the film’s third act would have Reavis deal with the stakes of holding the fates of an entire territory in his hands as he’s made too many enemies. Though some aspects of the climax is a little over-dramatized, it does showcase what Fuller can do to keep the story going and not lose too much of its intentions. Overall, Fuller crafts a very engaging and compelling film about a schemer who does whatever it takes to own Arizona.

Cinematographer James Wong Howe does excellent work with the black-and-white cinematography from the way some of the daytime exterior scenes look to the use of shadows and lights for the nighttime scenes. Editor Arthur Hilton does terrific work with the editing as it‘s mostly straightforward while using some stylish dissolves for some of the transitions. Production designer Jack Poplin, with art director F. Paul Sylos and set decorators Otto Siegel and Edward R. Robinson, does fantastic work with the set pieces from the home of Reavis and the office he had with the map of Arizona behind his desk.

The special effects work of Ray Mercer and Donald Steward is quite nice for some of the action that occurs in the film. The sound effects work of Harry Coswick is superb for the gunfights and fistfights that occur in the film. The film’s music by Paul Dunlap is pretty good for its orchestral-based score to play into the melodrama and some of its suspense.

The casting by Yolanda Molinari is amazing for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small performances from Margia Dean as a gypsy Reavis meets in Spain, Robert Barrat as the judge deciding on the fate of Arizona, Karen Kester as the young Sofia, and Beulah Bondi as Sofia’s tutor Lorna who would teach Sofia to be a refined woman. Vladimir Sokoloff is excellent as Sofia’s guardian Pepito Alvarez as a man who raised Sofia as a child and would help Reavis out while he would also be the film’s conscience of sorts despite his loyalty to Reavis. Reed Hadley is superb as John Griff as this government official who challenges Reavis’ claim while being an unlikely adversary that Reavis would have respect for.

Ellen Drew is wonderful as Sofia as this woman who believes that she inherited Arizona while being very loyal to Reavis as she also comes to term with the trouble of being a baroness. Finally, there’s Vincent Price in a brilliant performance as James Reavis as this man who would go to great lengths to claim the land of Arizona as it’s a performance full of wit and charm as it’s one Price’s quintessential performances.

The Baron of Arizona is a stellar film from Samuel Fuller that features an incredible performance from Vincent Price. A mixture of western, adventure, suspense, and melodrama, it’s a film that showcases a man’s desire to scheme with great lengths. In the end, The Baron of Arizona is a superb film from Samuel Fuller.

Samuel Fuller Films: I Shot Jesse James - The Steel Helmet - Fixed Bayonets! - Park Row - Pickup on South Street - (Hell and High Water) - House of Bamboo - (China Gate) - Run of the Arrow - Forty Guns - Verboten! - The Crimson Kimono - Underworld U.S.A. - Merrill's Marauders - Shock Corridor - The Naked Kiss - (Shark!) - (Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street) - The Big Red One - White Dog - (Thieves After Dark) - (Street of No Return) - (The Madonna and the Dragon)

© thevoid99 2014


Dell said...

I'm a fan of Vincent Price, but I've never heard of this one. In fact, looking over your list of other movies by Fuller, I don't think I've seen any of them. I'll have to give a couple of these a spin.

BTW, don't know if you saw this, but I passed a relay over to you...

thevoid99 said...

Thank you. I kind of lost track on what was going on in the blog-a-thon. I thought I wasn't going to be reached.

As for Samuel Fuller, I'd start with Shock Corridor, The Naked Kiss, and Steel Helmet. This film is one of Fuller's earlier work which is part of a Criterion Eclipse set of his first films.