One thing I really enjoy about writing for Spectrum is when we do career retrospectives for directors. These feature series require lots of movie viewings and research and it’s always satisfying to slog through an entire auteur’s career in search of the defining themes and touchstones. We finished Truffaut a few months back, and are now doing Samuel Fuller. Here’s an excerpt from my piece on his second film, The Baron of Arizona (with Vincent Price).
Pairing with D.P. Ernest Miller on the low-budget 1949 western dustup I Shot Jesse James brought out an unlikely moral fable from Samuel Fuller’s first shot at playing writer-director. But just a year later, with innovative cinematographer James Wong Howe’s low-key eye channeling Fuller’s parade of dark foibles, The Baron of Arizona is no less ambitious than the reaches of the self-styled “Baron,” James Addison Reavis (Vincent Price, in one of his own favorite roles), a common land use clerk turned two-bit charlatan who pursues a scheme in 1872 to defraud the federal government of the entirety of the Territory of Arizona.
As with Fuller’s beginnings as a pulp novelist and budding screenwriter, the Baron’s are inconspicuous; taking issue with a provision that allows for the grandfathering in of claims from minor Spanish-Mexican nobility on land within the Territory, he externalizes his desire for judicious vengeance in a bout of forgery and perjury that will see him raise up a false claimant, an orphan whom he declares is in fact Doña Sofia de Peralta, and subsequently marry her in order to carve an oversized slice of the American Dream for himself. Along the way he teaches himself counterfeiting, crosses the Atlantic to live in a secluded Spanish monastery for three years and is threatened by mobs of lynch-hungry Arizonans homesteaders. All the while he maintains his legitimacy, even stooping to admonish his cherished Golden Goose earlier on in her dirtier, less cultured My Fair Lady days, in the Pricean lisp, “You must never take what is not yours.”
Read the rest here: Spectrum Culture: Oeuvre: Samuel Fuller – The Baron of Arizona