Baron of Arizona: Samuel Fuller Noir Western (Second Feature) Starring Vincent Price

A follow-up to “I Shot Jesse James,” writer-director Samuel Fuller’s second feature, “The Baron of Arizona,” is a strange noirish Western, which suffers from an incoherent text and preposterous plotting, but benefits from the striking cinematography of ace lenser James Wong Howe, considering that the movie had a low-budget and was shot in three weeks.

Loosely based on fact, it relates the adventures of James Addison Reavis (played by Vincent Price), a nineteenth-century forger who nearly grabbed the entire Arizona territory, and his young ward that becomes his loving, unsuspecting wife (Ellen Drew).

“Baron of Arizona” is not one of Fuller’s best or characteristic films that the next one, the Korean-set “The Steel Helmet” would become, though it’s not devoid of cinematic interest.  The movie is well-acted, especially by Price as the charismatic con artist, who travels the world in his escapades, from a bizarre Spanish monastery, which gives the narrative the aura of a horror movie, with its confined space, ominous shadows, and chained manuscripts, to the open land of the Southwest.

The tale gets more conventionally melodramatic as it goes along, all the way with a court trial, held in the Baron’s house to avoid public exposure.  However, the next-to-last nocturnal sequence, with a massive angry mob marching with torches, while threatening to lynch Reavis, is scary and ominous. 

The happy ending, which celebrates love between Reavis and his loyal wife, is fake.  Even so, it’s worth watching the picture for the dominant performance by Price, who manages to keep a straight face while delivering some inadvertently funny lines.  Asked, “What made you confess?” he says, “I fell in love with my wife.”