Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

THE BARON OF ARIZONA. Lippert Pictures, 1950. Vincent Price, Ellen Drew, Vladimir Sokoloff, Beulah Bondi, Reed Hadley, Robert Barrat, Tina Rome, Margia Dean, Jonathan Hale. Written and directed by Samuel Fuller.

   Vincent Price, as an actor, had unforgettable charm, an unmistakable voice, and an uncanny ability to convey meaning through an over-exaggerated posture, a wry knowing smile, or, better still, the raising of an eyebrow. Indeed, there are some movies that it is difficult to imagine working at all were it not for Price’s singular presence.

   The Abominable Dr. Phibes, which I reviewed here, is one such film. Samuel Fuller’s The Baron of Arizona, based on the true story of a notorious Old West con artist, is another. In this early Fuller-directed project, Price portrays James Reavis, the self-styled Baron of Arizona, a man who devised an elaborate scheme to defraud the United States government into transferring title of the Arizona Territory to him and his wife. The best scene, bar none, in The Baron of Arizona involves a conniving Reavis gleefully sitting at his desk in front of a gigantic Arizona map ensconced on the wall behind him.

   The plan, at least as depicted in this film, involves him forging land grant documents dating back to the mid 18th century and King Ferdinand VI of Spain. His scheme hinges upon his marrying a peasant girl, Sofia (Ellen Drew), whom he successfully convinces is the direct descendent of Spanish nobility and the legitimate titleholder to the Arizona Territory. Reavis shrewdly cultivates the young Sofia into seeing herself not as a dirt-poor peasant girl who grew up in a shack, but rather as the graceful and sophisticated Baroness of Arizona.

   Along for the wild ride in this unconventional movie is Sofia’s adoptive father Pepito, portrayed with tenderness by veteran character actor, Vladimir Sokoloff. Pepito is smarter than he looks and ends up playing a pivotal role, albeit not in the way you might think, in the unraveling of Reavis’s scheme.

   Reed Hadley, well known to Western fans for his distinctive voice, plays an unusual, slightly jarring, role in the film. He portrays Griff, an Arizona politician celebrating the entry of his State into the Union. His character is film’s narrator for the first thirty minutes or so of the film, recounting the story of Reavis from the perspective of 1912.

   It’s a narrative technique that really doesn’t work and is by far the weakest aspect in this otherwise well-crafted quixotic Western.