Cast & Crew
In 1912, during a party at the governor's mansion to celebrate Arizona's admission to the Union, John Griff, an employee of the Department of the Interior, tells the story of the notorious James Addison Reavis, a clerk working at the land office in Santa Fe, New Mexico, who almost "stole" Arizona: In 1872, Reavis visits the home of Pepito Alvarez, a Mexican living in Phoenix. After telling Pepito that he works in the federal land office, Reavis inquires about Sofia, an infant whom Reavis left with Pepito some years previous. When Reavis meets Sofia, now a shy young girl, he tells her that he is going to bring her to live with him in Santa Fe. Reavis, who is plotting to turn himself into a phony baron, wants Sofia as his baroness and hires governess Loma Morales to school her in proper etiquette. In the meantime, Reavis spends long hours chiseling his forged land grant into a stone tablet which he will use to establish the claim of his fictitious "first baron of Arizona," Miguel de Peralta. Later, Reavis purchases some headstones to establish the births and deaths of Sofia's "parents" and then sails to Europe to complete the forgery. In Spain, he joins a monastery at which the original land grant book of King Ferdinand VI is kept. Taking the name Brother Anthony, Reavis waits three years for an opportunity to be left alone in the library so that he can alter the grants record book, giving his baron the territory of Arizona. During this time, Reavis learns from the monastery's head, Father Guardian, that a second copy of the book is kept at the Madrid castle of the Marquis de Santella. When Reavis is finally able to commit the forgery, he is caught by Father Guardian and forced to flee. Reavis steals a horse-driven cart, but it overturns along the winding monastery road. He is rescued by a band of gypsies, then travels to Madrid, and after befriending the Marquesa, convinces her to invite him to the castle. There, Reavis alters the entry in Santella's book, returns to Arizona, marries Sofia and claims Arizona. Suspecting forgery, the surveyor general, Miller, investigates the claim, which is validated by the discovery of the tablets. When Reavis begins evicting the residents of Arizona, Griff, an expert in the art of forgery, is consulted. After the local newspaper criticizes Reavis, a displaced landowner, Tom Lansing, firebombs his office in town. Reavis then rejects a government offer to buy the territory for $25,000,000, and he and Sofia are summoned to federal court to defend their claim. Griff states that he cannot prove that Reavis' claim is false, but later, Pepito tells Reavis that he plans to break his silence and tell Griff about Sofia's real parents, who were Indians. Reavis attempts to flee the country, but Griff arranges for an immediate local trial. After Pepito is shot by an angry mob, Reavis is nearly lynched, but saves himself by reminding the displaced landowners that they need his testimony in order to reclaim their land. Years later, when Reavis is released from prison, he is surprised to see his faithful wife, a now recovered Pepito and Loma waiting to take him home.
Robert H. Barrat
I. Stanford Jolley
Fred Kohler Jr.
Carl K. Hittleman
James Wong Howe
Robert L. Lippert
F. Paul Sylos
The Baron of Arizona
The hero, or anti-hero, is James Addison Reavis, a real-life con artist who nearly pulled off a monumental scam in the Arizona territory during the 1870s and '80s. His first step in the story is to scout around for a little girl of Spanish ancestry whom he can unofficially adopt, arranging for her to be brought up by a governess with a proper knowledge of aristocratic manners. Then he travels far and wide, fabricating a bogus historical record that will show the girl, Sofia, to be the heir of a nobleman who laid legitimate claim to Arizona back in the eighteenth century. Going into the desert, he carves a stone tablet declaring a nonexistent baron to be the rightful owner of the region. Heading for Spain, he joins a monastery where records of land ownership are kept, and sneaks in a forged entry supporting the fictitious claim. Learning that a second volume is kept in Madrid, he travels there with a band of gypsies and repeats the forgery. Then he journeys back to Arizona and asks Sofia to become his wife. She knows nothing of Reavis's crooked scheme, but she's decided she loves him even though she's hardly ever seen him, and he's twice her age so she says yes. This enables him to claim all of Arizona on behalf of the "heiress" he has so carefully manufactured.
Things start going wrong when the local landowners rebel against the so-called baron, especially when he threatens to evict anyone who doesn't pay high rentals to him. The territorial authorities call in a forgery expert named John Griff, hoping to prove Reavis is a fraud, and eventually Reavis goes on trial as the townspeople form a lynch mob to string him up. By this time Sofia, finally clued in to his actual nature, has persuaded him to confess and take his punishment like a man. Will he repent his evil ways? Will the lynch mob hang him first? Has he lost Sofia forever? These and other questions get resolved in the final reel.
According to Fuller's autobiography, he first heard about Reavis during his hobo days in the 1930s. Intrigued by the story, he did some research and published a magazine article about it. Then he pitched it as a movie project to Lippert Pictures, which had produced his only previous film, I Shot Jesse James, a surprise hit in 1949. Fuller wanted to convey the flavor of Reavis's larger-than-life personality, but in other respects he "concocted a yarn that was more interesting than Reavis's actual story," as he put it, inventing the love angle with Sofia and the long, elaborate preparations for the scam. The happy ending is also a fabrication, since by Fuller's own account, the real Reavis was alone and penniless in his last years.
Fuller's first choice to play Reavis was Fredric March, but Lippert couldn't afford his fee, so Vincent Price got the part. Price wasn't yet the B-movie star he would become a few years later, but he knew how to project the blend of evil and elegance that Reavis himself probably possessed, and he handles the part with obvious enjoyment. Reed Hadley, who played the title character in I Shot Jesse James, makes Griff a kind of good-guy con artist who could have been as shifty as Reavis if he'd made slightly different choices in his life. While that's a good concept for the role, Hadley is one of the film's weakest links he has only one facial expression, and his voice sounds more like a maitre d' than a government troubleshooter. Ellen Drew is very pretty as Sofia, which is apparently all Fuller asked of her. The cinematography is by the gifted James Wong Howe, who amazed Fuller by taking on a low-budget production that had to be shot in a mere fifteen days; unfortunately, though, Howe didn't contribute the high-octane visual energy that became Fuller's trademark starting with The Steel Helmet (1951) the following year. The Baron of Arizona looks solid and handsome, but it rarely looks exciting, even when Fuller throws in a few old-fashioned western thrills like a runaway buckboard and a vigilante attack.
Although some of the exteriors were shot on Arizona locations, The Baron of Arizona has drawn fire for its theatrical style, with stagy interiors and a flashback structure held together by Hadley's stiff narration. The movie has also been faulted for sympathizing too much with Reavis at the expense of the ordinary folks who just want to keep the land they've settled on. This undervalues the complexity of Fuller's vision, though, even at this early stage of his career. Reavis is definitely a sympathetic villain, but he gets his comeuppance in the end, and doesn't every successful scammer have a seductive smile and a winning spiel? The film's theatricality also makes sense when you see it as an extension of Reavis's approach to life as an exercise in showmanship for extremely high stakes. As for the ordinary citizens, who are capable of firebombing Reavis's house and howling for blood in the lynch-mob scene, Fuller refuses to sentimentalize them just because they're ordinary. When bigger-budget filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock do this, they're rightly hailed as astute psychologists of the screen.
In any case, the lynch-mob scene provides a sensational climax, as Reavis delivers an impassioned plea for justice with the noose around his neck and his voice partly strangled by the rope a moment of quintessential Sam Fuller, outrageous and unforgettable at the same time. When it comes to counterfeit nobility, the Baron of Arizona gives the Duke of Earl a run for his money.
Director: Samuel Fuller
Producer: Carl K. Hittleman
Screenplay: Samuel Fuller
Cinematographer: James Wong Howe
Film Editing: Arthur Hilton
Art Direction: F. Paul Sylos
Music: Paul Dunlap
With: Vincent Price (James Addison Reavis, "The Baron"), Ellen Drew (Sofia de Peralta-Reavis, "The Baroness"), Vladimir Sokoloff (Pepito), Beulah Bondi (Loma), Reed Hadley (Griff), Robert H. Barrat (Judge), Robin Short (Lansing), Tina Rome (Rita), Karen Kester (Sofia as a child), Margia Dean (Marquesa), Jonathan Hale (Governor), Edward Keane (Surveyor Miller), Barbara Woodell (Carry Lansing), I. Stanford Jolley (Mr. Richardson, Secretary of the Interior), Fred Kohler, Jr. (Demmings), Tristram Coffin (McCleary, New York World reporter), Gene Roth (Father Guardian), Angelo Rosito (Angie), Ed East (Hank), Joe Greene (Mr. Gunther).
by David Sterritt
The Baron of Arizona
Ellen Drew, 1914-2003
She was born Esther Loretta "Terry" Ray on November 23, 1914, in Kansas City, Missouri. The daughter of a barber, her family moved to Chicago when she was still an infant and she lived a very quiet childhood far removed from the glamour of Hollywood. She was encouraged by some friends to enter a beauty contest when she was just 17. After winning, she tried her luck in Hollywood, but found that they were no immediate offers for her particular talents.
She eventually took a waitressing job at C.C. Brown's, a famed Hollywood Boulevard soda fountain, and had virtually abandoned her dreams as a starlet when William Demarest, a popular actor's agent and well-known character actor, spotted her. Demarest arranged a screen test for her at Paramount, and she was promptly placed under contract for $50 a week.
For the first few years, (1936-38), Drew got only bit parts, and was often uncredited. When she finally got prominent billing in the Bing Crosby musical Sing You Sinners (1938), she decided to change her name, from Terry Ray to Ellen Drew. She earned her first major role in Frank Lloyd's If I Were King (1938) opposite Ronald Colman, yet for the most part of her career, rarely rose above "B" material and second leads. Still, she had some fine exceptions: Preston Sturges' enchanting comedy Christmas in July (1940), with Dick Powell; Tay Garnett's lighthearted war romp My Favorite Spy (1942) co-starring Kay Kyser; Julien Duvivier's taut The Imposter (1944), holding her own with a brooding Jean Gabin; and Mark Robson's chilling low-budget chiller Isle of the Dead (1945) opposite Boris Karloff. Drew made some notable television appearances in the late '50s including Perry Mason and The Barbara Stanwyck Show, before retiring from the entertainment industry. She is survived by her son David; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Ellen Drew, 1914-2003
James Addison Reavis (1843-1914) was a real person who, as depicted in the movie, was found guilty of attempting to steal most of Arizona by forging land grant documents. He paid a fine of $5,000 and served two years in jail.
Onscreen credits note that "the title of this Motion Picture appeared on an article published by: The American Weekly." According to a August 30, 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item, writer/director Samuel Fuller wrote a novel based on his research for the film, which he planned to publish following the picture's completion. James Addison Reavis was born in Missouri in 1843, and as depicted in the film, was found guilty of attempting to steal a major portion of Arizona. He served two years in a federal penitentiary and paid a fine of $5,000. He died in 1914. According to Hollywood Reporter, the film was shot on location in Florence, AZ. According to a October 24, 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item, a federal lawsuit was filed by producer-director Sam White against Hearst Publishing Co., publishers of The American Weekly, over "alleged plagiarism of material later sold by the Hearst firm for the basis of [the film]." The report notes that the plagiarized article was originally published in a 1945 issue of True, and the disposition of the suit is not known. According to a February 14, 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item, the studio arranged for a special screening of the film for Arizona's governor Dan E. Garvey, in conjunction with the 38th anniversary of the state's admission into the Union. Modern sources include the following actors in the cast: Stuart Holmes, Stanley Price, Sam Flint and Richard Cramer. A modern source notes that a short called The Baron of Arizona was produced for television in 1956.
Released in United States 1950
Released in United States 1983
Released in United States July 23, 1991
Released in United States 1950
Released in United States 1983 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (A "B-Movie" Marathon) April 13 - May 1, 1983.)
Released in United States July 23, 1991 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum: Sam Fuller Retrospective) July 23, 1991.)