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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
Erik Gregersen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Samuel Fuller lived long enough to realize that movie audiences fully appreciated his innovative movies, and considered him a cinematic master. This was good, because all too frequently the tragedy of art careers is an underappreciation in the artist's lifetime. But after 1981 Fuller never made another film, and that is a tragedy. Unlike Orson Welles rumors did not suggest that Fuller was box-office poison, or a spend thrift, or an egomaniac. But like Welles Fuller had a deskful of movie treatments and scripts he couldn't get the funding for. A documentary made in the late 1990s about Fuller showed his desire to make a film biography about his favorite novelist: Honore de Balzac. Unfortunately it never got onto celluloid.
He made many historic films: mostly westerns, though he did do the underappreciated PARK ROW (the only film I know dealing with the construction of the Statue of Liberty and Ottmar Merganthaler's linotype machine and it's revolution on newspaper publishing). But one of the westerns is based on a 19th Century fraud that almost changed the face of the United States. In the middle of the Gilded Age, James Addison Reavis used an elaborate (and sophisticated) fraud to try to convince the U.S. Government to recognize his wife's family claims to ownership (from old Spanish land grants) to the territory of Arizona. The claim was that her ancestors, the Peralta family of Spain and Mexico, were given the lands of the territory by the crown of Spain, in recognition of their services. It took nearly a decade of careful investigation to discover the forgery used by Reavis (the inks he used on old documents were not made as they should have been in the 18th Century). Pictures of the Peraltas (who never existed) turned out to have been purchased at a street fair in Mexico. Instead of installing his barony on the North American map, Reavis went to prison.
Fuller turns the story into that of a basically good person who goes wrong trying to make a big place for himself in society. His Reavis does go to elaborate lengths to make the forgery as real as possible, including forging the necessary entries in ancient real estate books, and living for several years as a monk to do this work. But he is changed by the simplicity of the young woman he picks as his wife and "Peralta" heir. A decent woman, she slowly wins his love by her own devotion to him - with or without the property. Reavis also sees the more violent side of the "good citizens" of Arizona, who become vigilantes against him as they see his claims seem about to become recognized by the U.S. government. Ironically he saves himself when in a moment of disgust with these yahoos he explains that if they lynch him the claim will never be disproved, because (even with the assistance of the government expert) only Reavis knows where he slipped up.
Vincent Price, as Reavis, is a villain in that he is committing a massive fraud, but he proves he is more than a master of horror films. Here he gives one of his quietest and most effective performances, as a man who learns that happiness can be found more easily than by stealing billions of dollars in acreage. Ellen Drew is quite good as the young Mexican peon who saves Price's soul by her devotion. Vladimir Sokoloff and Beulah Bondi, as Reavis's servants are also quite good. If you can, I really recommend this film - which is not as well known as it should be.
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