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Plot: The U.S. government recognizes land grants made when the West was under Spanish rule. This inspires James Reavis to forge a chain of historical evidence that makes a foundling girl the Baroness of Arizona. Reavis marries the girl and presses his claim to the entire Arizona territory. Written by… Runtime: 97 min Release Date: 04 Mar 1950
90% true, 100% fascinating (by F Gwynplaine MacIntyre)
'The Baron of Arizona' has a title that makes it sound like a Western, especially since it was directed by Sam Fuller. In fact, this is a remarkable and hugely improbable drama, made even more remarkable because much of it is true.SPOILERS THROUGHOUT. James Addison Reavis 1843-1914 was an obscure veteran of the American Civil War on the losing side who drifted into the Southwest at the time when whites were settling that region, displacing Amerindians and Mestizos. Thousands of acres were free for the taking by U.S. citizens, but the U.S. government -- under the Treaty of <more>
Guadalupe Hidalgo -- were determined to honour the existing deeds of Spanish settlers who had arrived during the time of the conquistadores. When Reavis learnt this, he hatched one of the most audacious schemes in the history of real estate: he literally stole the entire Arizona territory.Carefully stealing 16th- and 17th-century parchments from obscure libraries, and duplicating inks from that period, Reavis forged documents deeding thousands of acres to Miguel de Peralta, a fictitious Spanish grandee. Reavis ingeniously salted these documents into legitimate archives. Among his other gambits, he traveled to Spain and infiltrated a monastery, where he unstitched the bindings of antique books, inserted his forged documents, and restitched the bindings. He invented an entire family history for the Peralta clan, planting fake documents in appropriate places in Arizona, Mexico and Spain ... even carving a message ostensibly written by Peralta's expedition onto a boulder in the remote Arizona desert, knowing that other developers would eventually 'discover' this.As gringo Reavis was unable to pass for a descendant of Peralta, he then found a Mestiza girl in a Mexican orphanage, whom he supplied with forged documents allegedly proving her pedigree as the descendant of Miguel de Peralta. Reavis then married this 'heiress' to solidify his claim to the land. Armed with his authentic-looking deeds, Reavis then solicited backers including William Randolph Hearst's father to press his claims against the U.S. government.The scam paid off, very nicely indeed. Settlers and developers -- including the officers of railway lines -- who believed they owned land in Arizona now learnt that Reavis was their landlord, and the rent would be very expensive. For several years in the 1880s and '90s, millions of dollars' worth of tribute poured into Reavis's coffers. He and his wife toured Europe, where genuine nobility treated them as fellow bluebloods, and they were even received at court by Queen Victoria. These true incidents are not in the movie. But then a federal investigator noticed a discrepancy in one of the documents...Vincent Price, not yet the ham actor he would be later, gives a riveting performance as Reavis. We know from the beginning that he's a fraud, and we're in on the scam as he puts his brilliant scheme into operation. Master cameraman James Wong Howe surpasses himself here, especially in one sequence in which Price emotes with an improbably large map of Arizona behind him as a backdrop. When Reavis's scam is rumbled, the lynch mob break into his land office to hang him on the spot. In one of the best scenes of his entire film career, Price explains to his swindled victims why they'll be better off if they let him live: Reavis is the only one who can untangle the web of his forgeries.Another fine performance is given by dwarf actor Angelo Rossitto in a supporting role. In silent films and well into the 1930s, Rossitto was cast in movies purely because of his physique, and he was a wretchedly bad actor, being especially inept with dialogue. His scene with the armless woman in 'Freaks' is painfully inept. By the 1950s, Rossitto had acquired some acting ability largely through his friendship with Bela Lugosi , and he was a fine dramatic actor. I hail him as the only performer who worked with both Lon Chaney Snr *and* Mel Gibson! Sadly, Ellen Drew is far less effective here in the crucial role of Sofia de Peralta, the counterfeit Baroness who owes all her wealth to Reavis's connivances. Drew is utterly unconvincing as a Mestiza ... this is fatal to her characterisation, as the sole reason for Sofia's presence in the scheme was her Latina ancestry.Regrettably and unnecessarily, the taut screenplay of 'Baron of Arizona' deviates from the historic record. There's evidence that the real Reavis's convoluted scheme involved at least one murder; this isn't mentioned in the film. Reavis's marriage to the false Dona Peralta produced twin sons: in this film, the two boys are combined into a single character. The movie ends touchingly: Reavis confesses his crimes, is convicted, endures the confiscation of all his wealth, and serves a long prison sentence. Years later, he emerges from prison -- broken, broke and disgraced -- and stumbles out into the rain, only to find Sofia and their son waiting for him in a carriage. 'Get in,' says Sofia tersely. In real life, the ending was much more inglorious. As soon as the money was gone, Sofia and her twin sons vamoosed into the mesquite. James Reavis spent a year in prison awaiting trial, then served two years: a surprisingly merciful sentence. He emerged an utterly broken man. Allegedly, he spent the last two decades of his life haunting libraries -- the same archives he'd previously scoured for materials -- pathetically re-reading old newspaper accounts of his past glories.'The Baron of Arizona' is an astonishing film, with unusual subject matter, briskly told. I'll rate this movie 9 out of 10.
I only use the word surprising because I happened upon this movie very late one night a long time ago. I remember looking in the T.V. guide and seeing that I had a choice between this movie and nothing else. I mean what kind of title is this ? i remember thinking , and starring Vincent Price of all people, who at the time I could only recall from the somewhat silly "The Fly". Well I figured what the hell. So I settled in and expected to be bored and disgusted for as long as I could stand. Then the surprise happened. I was thoroughly captivated by this unique and well made story <more>
which to my other great surprise also happened to be true, the attempted theft of the entire state of Arizona by a schemer apparently without equal. Vincent Price's performance completed the trifecta by amazing me with his skill as a legitimate actor. I would very much like to see this movie again but am not hopeful at the present. Like so many others it seems to have vanished. What is interesting about this fact is that when T.V. was free, there was more to choose from, unlike today where we pay to see the same things over and over.
Price is excellent in an off-beat role for him (by brmuhr)
"Baron of Arizona" is a quirky,excellent film. The fact that the main character is based upon an actual one-time real person makes it even more interesting. Price is excellent in the title role and makes you almost want him to succeed.....I emphasize almost! The supporting cast,especially Drew,also perform well. This is an overlooked,but well done film. Of course,with Samuel Fuller in charge,that's not unusual. The action is not really what draws one to watch this film; the story itself is enough to make it an interesting and watchable film. Many of the characters add a great <more>
deal to the story itself,even though at times one gets the impression that some of them are there for continuity more than realism.HIGHLY recommended.
Many years ago, at a festival honoring Fuller in Ann Arbor, I saw most of Fuller's pictures. In fact it was just as his career was coming apart -- he had recently disowned "Shark" a/k/a "Caine" and was contemplating "The Big Red One," still several years off. The incredibly audacious later pictures, especially the insanely plotted but gorgeous "The Naked Kiss," and the riveting "Underworld U.S.A." were wildly impressive, but it was clear that Fuller had something very special right from the beginning: "I Shot Jesse James" used <more>
to great advantage for once the disturbingly brutal and sexy talent of John Ireland, and "Park Row" actually his fifth picture was a fascinating inside story of the turn of the century newspaper milieu in New York. Still, I was not prepared for "The Baron of Arizona," his second film and one that seems to have provoked little critical interest over the years, to be such a disarmingly lucid and entertaining effort. The title -- suggestive of aristocracy in the lawless Old West -- is provocative -- like Sirk's "Sign of the Pagan" strange and paradoxical, making one ask in advance "What kind of film could this possibly be?" Well, it turns out to be something quite interesting: a study of a unique character, embedded in a historical context. What's most interesting is following one's sympathy and antipathy to the Baron character played really quite subtly by -- yes! -- Vincent Price . His goal, to achieve through forgeries and deceit not only the ownership to the entire Arizona territory but hereditary title to it as well -- is mad and imaginative enough to elicit strong interest from the viewer -- without actually gaining our sympathy. We want him to succeed because he wants to succeed, but we want him to fail for his own good and that of his very sympathetically portrayed wife, not to mention all the settlers in Arizona . Fuller manipulates our emotions with great skill, which perhaps should not be surprising: he is clearly one of the born storytellers of late Classic cinema. Ellen Drew plays his wife and victim very charmingly, and Beulah Bondi, while given disappointingly little to do, is always a pleasure to watch. The one minor weakness of the film is the slow-paced and clumsy opening -- interestingly shot, with Reed Hadley's back to us as he narrates the story's pre-history, but drearily deliberate. Once the story proper begins, though, the pace is brisk one is indeed surprised at one point to find that three years have elapsed in the course of one dissolve! , and Hadley ultimately is very good as the forgery expert who is the Baron's downfall.
Vincent Price plays James Addison Reavis, a government clerk in a land office in Arizona, who tries to swindle his way to owning the entire territory through forged documents and an elaborate plan which is enlivened by another superb Price performance. He sets up his plan by establishing a false identity for young Sofia who becomes beautiful Ellen Drew which makes her the Baroness de Peralta, essentially the heiress to the whole Arizona Territory. Reavis returns to the Arizona Territory and implements his plan first by marrying her and then by evicting all the landowners. However, the plan <more>
unravels when the U.S. government starts to get on to his forgery. The film tells an historically interesting story of Price trying to reestablish the Spanish Empire in the Wild West.