Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chris 2010 Viewings #11: The Baron of Arizona

US, 1950. Directed by Samuel Fuller. Starring Vincent Price.

When you see Sam Fuller's name on a movie, you know it's going to be an odd one. One of the most subversive directors to ever work within the studio system, he usually found a way to combine social commentary with such oddball subject matter that even if you knew you were being preached at, you don't much mind because it's so deliriously peculiar. One of the great American films of the 1960s is Shock Corridor where Fuller tackles the major, controversial issues of the day - racial, political - in the guise of a lurid murder mystery set in a mental institution.

The Baron of Arizona is Fuller's second film, and nowhere near as wild as his later pictures, but has a definite eye for the odd. Based on a real historical figure, the film follows the exploits of James Reavis (Vincent Price), who contructs a massive con trick and forgery to claim ownership of the entire state of Arizona. Price is ideally cast, in his pre-horror icon mode, as his oily charm allows him to insinuate himself into the trust of some Mexican peasants, Spanish monks, gypsies, and Americans in order to set up his cunning plan. Though we - and Fuller - are never really on his side, Price's insinuating charisma has you half-hoping he can get away with it, even though we know from the opening scenes (and hell, history) that he doesn't. Fuller even gives Price's Reavis a happier ending than history did.

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