The Baron of Arizona (1950) Poster

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9/10
90% true, 100% fascinating
F Gwynplaine MacIntyre23 October 2004
'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 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.
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The Case of the "Peralta" Land Claim
theowinthrop6 August 2004
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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A Genuine Oddity, Based on Fact
dougdoepke22 April 2012
Judging from the title, probably more than a few ticket-buyers in 1950 expected a western. What they got instead was a real oddity that defies classification. It's sort of like a western, but instead of the bad guy grabbing off a ranch, this baddie (Price) wants to grab an entire state, Arizona. And he's not doing it with a gun or a gang. Instead he's doing it with years of legal fabrication and planning. Those early scenes showing him falsifying the legal groundwork are the movie's most interesting and unusual.

Despite the many novel moments, the movie's no triumph—Sam Fuller or no Sam Fuller. Lippert was a real cheapjack production company, and it shows, particularly in the skimpy sets and LA area locations. Then too, Fuller wobbles when helming love scenes (not his strength), especially with the really inept Gypsy girl (Pine) that's almost painful to watch. On the other hand, there's the lordly Vincent Price, perfectly cast in the domineering lead role. His verbal fencing with the government man (Hadley) is particularly well acted. Then there're the lynch mob scenes that are both intense and scary. Fuller is clearly at home with crowds and violence.

All in all, it's an interesting and different kind of movie, whatever its drawbacks, marking Fuller as a movie-maker to watch.
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8/10
Surprisingly mature early Fuller
tentender27 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
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 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.
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8/10
Price is excellent in an off-beat role for him
brmuhr24 January 2005
"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 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.
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8/10
Worth the Price
skallisjr20 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Vincent Price is so well-known for his role in horror films that his appearance in other kinds of film is mostly forgotten. This is one of the films that illustrates he had far more range than he's often credited for.

Likewise, Lippert Films is mostly known for a lot of quickie-cheapy kinds of films; this is a quality exception, even much ahead of its time as a crime caper film.

I saw the film when it was first released, and although I was rather young at the time, the story stayed with me for decades. I finally located a copy on a VHS taped, and snapped it up. The film still works, and I'm viewing it from a far different perspective.

That the story is mostly based on historic fact is interesting, but like many caper films, what really catches the viewer's interest is the setup of the caper, with all the research, painstaking care, and the like that goes into a committing a brilliant crime. James Reavis was an incredible con man, and watching him set up each forgery is extremely interesting. Effectively, for a brief time, he effectively stole the whole state of Arizona.

(Major Spoiler) What's really nice about the film is that the change in Reavis' character is believable, showing that even the most cold-blooded plan can be warmed by affection. That's even reflected as he teeters on the brink of being hanged: his "defense" is that if he's killed, the lynchers would be cheated out of their lands; i.e., that killing him will validate his forgeries! A very memorable film, rather obscure, and highly recommended.
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8/10
Price commanding and very human in Fuller's odd 2nd film
OldAle118 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Only slightly less impressive than Fuller's debut is this, his second film, with an excellent and slightly restrained Vincent Price as the eponymous title character, another true-life minor figure in the history of the Old West: James Addison Reavis, who in the 1880s concocted a grand schemed to defraud the United States of a large chunk of the then-territory of Arizona through forged documents showing a Spanish land grant handed down for a century and a half to the woman he was to make his bride. Price's conviction and Fuller's straightforward direction somehow make this preposterous tale ring true (many of the basics are correct, though Fuller certainly over-dramatizes the later confrontations between Reavis and the government with its allies the homesteaders that the Baron is trying to steal from). Like I Shot Jesse James this is ultimately a tale of redemption, as the Baron, like Bob Ford, comes to understand that it is not riches and titles that make him attractive to his "Baroness" Sofia (Ellen Drew) but his character. Unlike Bob Ford, he is a man capable of learning and profiting from past mistakes.

The narration, from a clubby smoking-room, seems superfluous but fits in with Fuller's "this happened, and you are there" aims. The film does drag a bit in the last third or so, and the great character actress Beulah Bondi is essentially wasted in a small role as Sofia's tutor, but Price carries the film, and the last shot, reminiscent to me of the last moments of 'The Lives of Others' carries a powerful emotional punch. Watched on the fine Eclipse DVD.
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9/10
surprisingly wonderful film
byoolives7 August 2005
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 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.
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8/10
a giant fraud seen through sympathetic eyes in a very good film.
tmwest8 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
After "I Shot Jesse James" a film which pleased the public and the critics, Fuller made "The Baron of Arizona", with Lippert, casting Vincent Price and Reed Hadley, the actor that played Jesse James. The story, which basically really happened, is about a giant fraud committed by James Addison Reavis, who pretended to own almost the whole state of Arizona. It is interesting that in spite of the damage done by Reavis, the film is sympathetic to him, creating a happy ending, which was not even true, because Reavis died alone in a shack. The story also shows how carefully Reavis planned his fraud though many years.Fuller was able to have as a cinematographer the great James Wong Howe, who wanted so much to shoot the picture that agreed to have a lower salary than usual. Fuller's direction, the great acting of Vincent Price and Wong's camera makes this a remarkable film. It is a shame it did not do so well at the box office.
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8/10
One Bold And Audacious Scheme
bkoganbing4 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Because of the fact that the USA after the Mexican War and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Gadsden Purchase which netted for the USA the southern half of Arizona, the original Spanish land grants and whoever had title to them, land office clerk James Addison Reavis hatched one bold and audacious scheme that had it been successful would have had him owning more than half of Arizona.

What you're seeing on the screen in The Baron Of Arizona is a small encapsulation of an over 20 year effort by Reavis as played by Vincent Price to pull this thing off and to stay ahead of law enforcement who after a while smelled a very large rat. Reed Hadley who narrated the film also played the part of the rat catcher.

Only a small part of the plan called for Price to marry the Peralta heir whom he created and is played by Ellen Drew. That in fact occurred very late in the game. It was only during the Nineties that Price's character marries the Drew character and goes to prison and then only for a few years. My guess is that Reavis copped a plea back in the day just to get it over with.

Still The Baron Of Arizona is a fine second film by director Samuel Fuller topped with an impressive performance by Vincent Price before he settled into the horror film genre. But the real story, believe it or not, is more fascinating than this film is.
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5/10
Early Sam Fuller, with the James Reavis' scam much more interesting than Fuller's movie. Vincent Price is just fine
Terrell-47 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
The first six minutes of The Baron of Arizona is a ponderous exposition about Arizona by a small group of dignified actors congratulating each other on Arizona's new statehood. They're in evening clothes, all white haired, all sipping brandy and all puffing on big cigars. Among them is one of the most stilted of voice-over narrators, Reed Hadley. It's a terrible start to what could have been an exceedingly clever movie. After Hadley gives us the secret of James Addison Reavis (Vincent Price), the screenwriter and director Sam Fuller moves us back from 1912 to 1872. Here, we meet Reavis at the start of his great scam to win the territory of Arizona for himself through forged Spanish land grant documents, self-created histories, great forgery skills, the placing of forged documents in a Spanish monastery, and the grooming of a little girl who he convinces her illiterate guardians is the heir to the phony Peralta land grant claim.

All this fascinating cleverness, perpetuated with a fine, serious performance by Vincent Price, has the air bled from its balloon by Fuller's tell-us-the-con-early structure and by Hadley's mannered way with a narrative. Fuller and Hadley wind up giving us a voice-over narrative that does little more that tell us what we're already watching.

As marred as the movie is, how does James Reavis' story hold up as the tale of a great ambitious con? Fuller brings us into the con by showing us the detailed preparations Reavis took before he made his move. Reavis spent years preparing his con, three of them as a monk in a monastery seeding the old archives with his forged documents. And of course, there is the manipulation of young Sophia, whom he has groomed and trained, and now intends to wed and bed...not because he loves her, but because she will inherit all of Arizona thanks to his plans. Naturally, now as a young woman she loves the guy. He loves the con and the riches to come. It's a nice setup. And when, 46 minutes into the movie, he and his wife show up in Phoenix with all the "documents" to claim title, all hell breaks loose. Our old friend Reed Hadley, now a young investigator from the Department of the Interior, is convinced it all is a scam. He intends to prove it. Does he succeed? Does James Reavis, now calling himself the Baron of Arizona, former clerk in the Sante Fe land office, become in the 1880s one of the wealthiest men in the world? In the year 2009, is the nation of Peralta- Reavis now a close ally of Mexico or of the United States? One thing Sam Fuller shows us: The native Arizonians have become violently restless. I don't want to give way any spoilers so I won't tell you if James Reavis succeeded with his scam and his heirs now control Arizona.

Vincent Price and the Reavis scam is what the movie is all about. The scam's potential keeps us interested. Price makes Reavis a complicated and intriguing character who captures our interest and a good deal of our sympathy for his hard work. The movie, however, is flawed by its flashback structure, it's jumbled first 40 minutes, by some standard B movie acting and by Hadley's limitations as an actor and as a really irritating narrator. This was Fuller's second movie, a Poverty Row effort he shot in15 days. If the director had been a guy named Vic Mikle, would anyone care about it now?

If you can get past this, Vincent Price's performance will probably make it worthwhile for you. When a role fit his style, his actorly mannerisms and his limitations, Price could be much better than the memory we have of him now as a deliberately hammy, good-natured specialist in cornball horror. Of those movies of his I've seen, I like him a good deal in this one and in Laura.
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8/10
royalty out west
RanchoTuVu14 January 2010
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 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.
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6/10
less than stellar Samuel Fuller film, a little too sentimental to crackle with life, but Vincent Price practically saves it
Quinoa198425 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The Baron of Arizona is another of Samuel Fuller's early "apprentice" type of films, where he was quickly learning his craft and becoming a master of the "B-movie". Following a superb debut and right before his first great film, he had a little downtime to cook up a film that I can't be sure either way how true or how fictional it is (then again, if it's Fuller, as he would claim, it's ALL true in the stuff he bases on the facts as an ex crackerjack reporter). Whichever way to look at it, the Baron of Arizona works up to a point as historical melodrama, but had Fuller done this kind of material later on in his career, it might have been a much better film, maybe more satirical or hard-edged with some comedic overtones. There's more craftiness than is to be had with a pot-boiler like this: Vincent Price playing a con-man who somehow thinks up a fake family heritage to place on a young abandoned girl and then spends years in a Spanish monastery in order to make up and sign some documents that would have him as the rightfully owner of all the land in Arizona.

Sounds great, and for the first half or so there's a lot of cool tension as the "Baron" keeps going through his self-fulfilling motions to get what he wants; Price is totally brilliant in the part (until Fuller's script starts to go soft in the last act), with all of his little eye gestures and slight physical and vocal intonations adding just the right notes for a devilish, charming crook like the Baron. The problem comes though in unfolding the trouble the Baron gets into with the government, a nosey man from the department of the interior. There could be a romantic angle to be had in a story like this, but I'm not sure Fuller went about it totally the right way - maybe or maybe not it would be true, there would be more honesty to the tale, in a sense, had the Baron not revealed anything, even at his wife's befuddlement over how so many people could call him a fraud. It is charming, as they fall in love over the course of the damnedest proceedings. But at the same time it also felt a little too sentimental, too much dipping into the easy, predictable route that Fuller often skewers just a little or finds in another angle.

Out of the three films that have been recently re-released by the Criterion collection's Eclipse series, this would probably be the least one on the list to recommend. That being said, it's still a pretty decent picture, with some good supporting work, including from the Baronesses's step-father, and of course for Price fans it might serve as something of a small treasure of a performance outside of his usual horror oeuvre.
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7/10
It's one of the best classic films....!
byron-11627 January 2020
The Baron of Arizona is not a shoot 'em up Western; it's a tale of the Old West ! Despite the rather low budget production, the film is surprisingly good. In large part thanks to the fine acting of Vincent Price! The depicted biographical story maintains one interest throughout. I regard The Baron of Arizona as one of the best classic films.
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7/10
Only recently saw the film, but found it surprisingly well done.
paulemzod6 May 2019
I tuned across it and almost kept going, except I watched for a moment and found myself growing interested. An entertaining premise, a well written and acted script, and although it appears to have been shot on a budget, very well produced. It reminds you what a good actor Vincent Price really was before he became pigeonholed as a master of the horror genre. There are a couple of surprising twists, and by and large I would recommend it.
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8/10
Biggest Con Ever - Needs A Remake
DKosty12310 October 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The fact that this is based on a true story makes this the most outrageous plot ever filmed. Vincent Price plays the biggest con man in US History prior to the 20th Century. The ending of the movie is Hollywoodized but amazingly the rest of the story is true.

A man named Reavis who worked in a government land office devised a complicated scheme to forge documents here and in Spain to develop a way to claim the entire state of Arizona as his own with a young girl he develops into a Baroness and marries in order to make his claim legitimate. It is hard to believe this really happened.

In this movie the United States is actually put on trial as a Defendant having to prove Reavis does not own Arizona. This movie was made on a low budget with some quality film making people behind the camera and great work by Price. The story cries for a remake although I would be frightened who would be chosen for Price's role.

If it were remade with the real true ending of the story, it would be a strong movie. Reavis only problem here is he set his sights too high. At one point the US Government offers him $25 Million Dollars to drop his claim. Considering this is the 1800's Reavis should have taken the offer. Instead he is tripped up by a dogged government expert that finally proves his scheme.

Too me there is a real chance for a great remake of the movie.Still having this one with Price carrying the film is a pleasure that is easy to endure.
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7/10
What a crafty, sneaky rascal
helpless_dancer7 February 2000
This man went to so much trouble to own his own personal territory that you almost rooted for him. He even spent 3 years learning calligraphy so he could forge the necessary land grant documents. Too bad the U.S. government go suspicious and made his little plan harder to pull off. An unusual western and a different role than we are used to seeing Price in.
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7/10
A fascinating, though flawed, story of a forgotten man
MartinHafer2 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Although I am a US history teacher, I'd never heard about James Reavis and his claim to be the Baron of Arizonia (most of modern Arizona). So I was fascinated to see a film about this huckster who had the audacity to try to claim this huge chunk of territory as his own private land in the late 19th century. So fascinated that I did a bit of research on Reavis after I finished the movie.

It seems that when the US got this land from Mexico, it promised to honor all existing land grants. Reavis, a talented forget and swindler, concocted a complicated scheme to take this land--a claim that ALMOST worked!

The film stars Vincent Price in one of his earlier starring roles. While he'd been in Hollywood for about a decade, most of the time he was relegated to supporting roles. Here in THE BARON OF ARIZONA, he was clearly the star and the film benefited from his fine acting. However, you may be surprised to see Price acting a bit more like an action hero at times in the film, as he is much more macho than his usual persona--occasionally resorting to kicking the snot out of his enemies!

The film was one of the earliest directorial efforts of the legendary Sam Fuller. While I didn't like how the story was fast and loose with the real facts of the case, Fuller must be commended for making such a professional looking film with only 15 days shooting!! Usually such a quickly made film would be a cheap horror film along the lines of an Ed Wood movie, but this one has all the polish of an A-picture.

As for the plot, despite the facts that so much of the script is wrong, it still is a very captivating movie and at least it captures the essence of who Reavis was--even though the details are more than a little wrong. This playing fast and loose with details is fairly common in Hollywood films of the era, so I don't hold this against the film that much.

Overall, the film is fascinating, tough to stop watching and a quality production throughout most of the film. However, despite Fuller's reputation for not being a sentimentalist, the last 15 minutes of the film are indeed heavy on sentiment and actually is about the worst part of the film. Plus, in reality Reavis only got a 2 year sentence (not 6) and his wife did indeed leave him--and the way the film ended and how he was caught is pure fiction.

For a much more correct version of the real case, see http://jeff.scott.tripod.com/baron.html . It has a link to a very exhaustive site by Michael Marinacci. Oddly, the true facts of the case are in many ways much more interesting than this film!!
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7/10
The con of the century
kapelusznik1829 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
***Minor Spoilers***Samuel "Sam" Fuller's second directed film after "I Shot Jesse James" tells the true story of con artist and womanizing creep James Reavis played by Vincent Price who uses this little Mexican peasant girl Sofia, Keren Kester & later Ellen Drew, in a plan to get control of the US territory of Arizona by claiming that it was given to her ancestors back in 1748 by the king of Spain. After spending years going to Spain and forging the official papers, or land grants, to prove Sofia's legal claims to the Arizona territory Reavis come back to the US and married the now grown up and sexy looking Sofia to become the sole owner of the future state of Arizona: All 113,990 square miles of it!

It's US Government official- for the Department of the Interior- James Griff, Reed Hadley, who smells a rat in all this and plans to expose Reavis' attempt to swindle the government as well as tens of thousands of Arizonans out of their land. That ends up with Reavis together with Sophia running for their lives in trying to avoid a neck tie party being thrown for them when they show up to notarize their claims at the state government office.

Were told all this to a state of local board of directors by US Government official Griff at the very beginning of the movie. While their smoking Havana cigars and drinking brandy who were in fact victimized by Reavis but had since gained great respect for him in what he did to pay for his many crimes. As rotten as Reavis was and what he was facing,a rope round his neck, his ace in the hole-That saved his miserable life- was that if he's killed by the outraged Arizonans everything he took from them will be gone in him not facing trail and admitting to his guilt.

Having lived high off the hog, as well as the fat of the land, for some 10 years now a broke an beaten man Reavis was to spent 10 years behind bars knowing that he got the best deal he can get from the US Government, as well as his fellow Arizonans, compared to what he did to it. In the end a free man but without as much as a pot to p*** in Reavis is met by his loving wife Sofia as well as her adopted father Pepito,Vladimir Sokoloff, and former governess Loma, Beulah Bondi,outside the prison gates to welcome him back to freedom as well as getting a new start in life. The film made James Reavis look a lot more likable then he really was due to the great acting of Vincent Price not the fact that in real life he his actions were really to enrich himself at the expense of others whom- like Sophia Pepito & Loma-he lead into a life of crime & deceit without them even knowing about it.
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6/10
Baron story deserves better.
st-shot8 May 2014
In one of the boldest land grabs in US history Confederate vet Samuel Reavis through energetic and ambitious duplicity managed to claim and convince the government and the land's occupants that Arizona Territory belonged to him through his wife by way of recognized Spanish decree who supposedly deeded the rights to her family. In the Baron of Arizona Sam Fuller does an effective job of briskly and clearly detailing the convoluted and exhausting efforts of Reavis but his threadbare production values and awkward handling of tension inducing moments fails to do the audacious act itself justice and the film fails to ignite.

After his quirky directorial debut in I Shot Jesse James Fuller follows up with another offbeat Western legend in Reavis and while Vincent Price has the sinister chops and countenance to smugly bamboozle those that need to be he fails abjectly when called on to wield weapon or punch it out with the locals. In a sloppily edited climax, Price with a rope does save his best for last but the film's solid story begs ( and deserves) a bigger budget with more of a two fisted huckster (Douglas or Lancaster) in the lead displaying more energy and guile, less contempt and condescension.
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6/10
"I've known many women but with you, I'm afraid."
utgard142 May 2014
Vincent Price plays real-life swindler and forger James Reavis, who cooks up a scheme to steal the territory of Arizona. The true story of this man is pretty interesting. Obviously, as is always the case with movies based on real events, some facts have been altered for dramatic purposes. It's not a bad little movie. There are some dull stretches but Vincent Price's performance is good enough to keep your interest throughout. He is really the whole show. The support is fine but nobody's quite on the level of Price. Ellen Drew is pretty but miscast. Nice direction from Sam Fuller. Certainly worth a look, especially for Price and Fuller fans, but it doesn't have much repeat value for me.
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8/10
Good Entertaining True Story
Richie-67-48585228 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
The idea that someone can come along and make a claim to major land holdings today is far fetched. But, If you go back 100 years or so, when systems in place literally accept any claim filed within reason, it then becomes a fascinating story to be told. Add Vincent Price a very fine actor who is able to hold your attention with ease and you have a good movie on your hands. I like true stories and many a story got its start in some truth. One thing that kept gnawing on me was that if this guy James Rivas who the story is based on didn't get so greedy, he could have done quite well for himself. All he had to do is quit while he was ahead. Then, make a gesture to grant the remaining parcels to the government and forever take a different part in the history of Arizona. I bet it got addicting to see with ease how the plan took root and was honored especially when the big monies started coming in and important people validated the claims with their support. But then, we would have had a different movie too. As the story enfolds and you get pulled in, right around the middle of it you are so glad that it is not over because it is so entertaining. You just have to wonder where it was all going and how it will turn out. Its a snack-able movie with a good drink. Get comfortable and enjoy this one..I have seen it 3 times and it holds well...
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7/10
A fake, a forger,a swindler and a thief.
weezeralfalfa19 February 2018
Warning: Spoilers
A more extreme version of the numerous westerns in which a 'town boss' is brought down, or a cattle baron is pitted against a group of small operators. In the present case, the greedy James Reavis (Vincent Price) doctors various old documents relating to a large land grant(the Perlata grant) by the Spanish crown that includes most of present Arizona, to make it look like his young wife, Sophia, is sole heir to this grant. Thus, James wants to charge the residents a rent for using his resources. It was the policy of the US government to honor grants given by the former Mexican or Spanish owners of the lands ceded to the US. James even spend 3 years in a Spanish monastery to access an important document, then worms his way into the home of a Spanish nobleman, who has another important document. .....James and Sophia are based upon historic people, but the details are mostly fictional. The real James did spend nearly 2 years in prison: a totally inadequate punishment for the magnitude of his crime. In the film, a hanging mob had a more appropriate punishment in store. But, he talked his way out of it, pleading that they couldn't get a clear title to their properties unless he was found guilty of fraud and forgery in the courtroom.....Tina Pino played a gypsy girl who pleaded for James to take her away from her gypsy group, while Margia Dean played the Marquesia in Madrid who also fell for James during his brief stay, in which he found another important document. Like these women, Sophia really was little more than decorative through most of the film, although she eventually had an important influence in causing James to give up his charade. Beulah Bundi played Loma, who acted as governess for Sophia to teach her how to be a lady. Reed Hadley played Griff, a government agent, who played the major role in tracking down James' activities. Edward Keane played the surveyor,who became suspicious of the validity of the Perlata land grant, and called for Griff. Vincent probably portrayed a less menacing James than the historic one. .......In all, a modestly interesting western. See it on YouTube
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8/10
***
edwagreen10 November 2015
Warning: Spoilers
A very interesting and something completely different for Vincent Price. Although he has that same ruthless character that did him so well in so many films during his career, he is a leading man here and he actually shows some humility by the film's end.

A true story of a man who spent a life-time forging documents, traveling to Spain and concocting all sorts of stories and taking a plain girl and claiming that papers in the 1700s granted by the king made her ancestors owners of the entire land encompassing Arizona. Naturally, he marries the young lady.

Interesting to view how this scheme unraveled and with it all, the love that his wife had for him and how he was ultimately able to survive. Ellen Drew is very good as the wife, who showed such faithfulness to her husband when his dishonesty was finally unmasked.
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7/10
Great performance from Price carries a pretty good film
TheLittleSongbird6 January 2015
Vincent Price, who I'm a fan of, and the interesting story The Baron of Arizona is based on were the main draws into watching. And while it is a case of the lead performance being better than the film, it is still pretty good and worth watching.

Some of the last act is not as good as the rest of the film, The Baron of Arizona does get draggy here and the writing goes rather soft and sentimentalised. The love scenes are clunkily written with more of a sense of unease than affection, Tina Pine's agreed faring worst. There are a couple(big emphasis on couple) of parts where the editing's sloppy, particularly in the otherwise quite suspenseful climax, and one does wish that there was more of Beulah Bondi, a great character actress whose talents are not put to full use due to little screen time.

The Baron of Arizona is a good-looking film though, mostly well photographed and the sets are handsome, while the score is rousing and Sam Fuller's direction is wisely straightforward and always dependable. The film is well scripted in at least two thirds of the film, with a lot of detail without being too bogged down in it. The story is briskly paced and every bit as intriguing as the true story, with a number of scenes having genuine energy and tension. All the performances are solid enough but only one is great and that's from Vincent Price. It's not his best performance by all means but it was great to see him so subtle while always commanding, his character change coming across believably and movingly.

In conclusion, a pretty good film carried by a great lead performance. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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