“Gentlemen, it has the stench of swindle.”
In late-1800s America, a talented con-artist named James Reavis (Vincent Price) plots an elaborate scheme to establish young Sofia (Karen Kester) — a peasant girl cared for by her adopted father (Vladimir Sokoloff) — as a Spanish baroness whose ancestors held a claim on Arizona territory. Reavis becomes a monk and then a gypsy in Spain in order to forge original land-grant documents, then returns and marries Sofia (now Ellen Drew) — but his claim to be Baron of Arizona infuriates all citizens, and sparks an investigation by a known forging expert (Reed Hadley).
Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, Sam Fuller’s second directorial feature — made after I Shot Jesse James (1949) and just before The Steel Helmet (1951) — is a “weird film even for [Fuller].” Peary argues that the “film is too claustrophobic and slow-moving, but keeps attention because [its] premise is so unusual”, and points out that “despite being set in gorgeous Arizona, [the] low budget of the film required that scenes take place indoors or at night” (a backdrop of an enormous map of the Arizona Territory serves as a pivotal visual in many scenes). I’m essentially in agreement with Peary’s assessment: despite its limitations, it’s impossible not to be fascinated by this fantastic tale given its historical basis and the inspired casting of Vincent Price in the lead, who inevitably heightens the surreality and melodrama of the proceedings. There’s some truly ripe dialogue:
“I’ll want you until the day I die. It is not death, it is dying that alarms me. It is not your crime, it is your weakness that alarms me.”
which somehow doesn’t feel entirely out of place. James Wong Howe’s cinematography adds to the atmosphere of this hard-to-classify low-budget western crime-caper love-story.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- A compelling and unusual storyline
- James Wong Howe’s cinematography
Yes, once, as a novel story by a unique director.