There is something inherently interesting in films about forgery. Still images flicker to create the illusion of motion. Actor take on costumes and accents to portray someone they are not. Whole towns are built in the desert only to be struck a few weeks later. History is rewritten to boost the drama. What is film if not the fake played off as the real McCoy?
The Baron of Arizona retells the exploits of James Reavis, a scheming opportunist who almost swindled Arizona out from under the United States government. Through forged land grants and a hollow marriage Reavis nearly stole away Arizona before it got a chance to become the 48th state of the Union.
Vincent Price portrays the Reavis with gentlemanly villainousness. Still, he is Vincent Price and even if he is wearing a cowboy hat. There is little getting past the familarity of Price from all those horror films.
While Price cannot help but be Price and not James Reavis, Samuel Fuller could have done more to help the Baron’s story. Told through expositional narration that sounds straight off an AP wire, the story of James Reavis sounds factual, but it is wrought with fraud. Much like his previous film, I Shot Jesse James, The Baron of Arizona hangs upon a love story. While it is true that James Reavis married in the hopes of wedding his name to the Peralta Grant, there is certainly no proof that love blossomed from this sham nuptial. The real James Reavis was not the debonair, master defrauder that Fuller makes him out to be, nor was it his love for his wife that eventually lead him to turn himself in. It was the dilligent detective work of Royal Johnson, a man who’s name never gets mentioned in the film that brought the Baron’s chicanery to light.
The fact that Fuller plays loose with facts and motives could be seen as a detrimental fault to his film or it could simply be in keeping with the spirit of the subject. However, this is not F For Fake, a film that defrauds its audience while exposing famous frauds. Fuller appears more interested into seducing you into the Baron’s transformation from greedy landlord to loving husband.