Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Baron of Arizona

The Baron of Arizona (1950), Samuel Fuller's second film, had a bigger budget, a great cinematographer (James Wong Howe), and it is a costume picture, also set in the same Wild West era as I Shot Jesse James. This film is also the story of an anti-hero, this time a legendary swindler, James Addison Reavis, who forged historical documents for years to create himself as "the baron of Arizona". Vincent Price has a great time in the main role tailor-made for him. Lisa Dombrowski in her excellent book on Samuel Fuller's films implies that the change in Reavis is unbelievable. But I think the change is essential. All the time Reavis works untiringly to achieve external success, and when exposed, he loses all and lands in jail. But in the final scene his wife "the Baroness of Arizona", and two accomplices, whom Reavis had also cheated welcome him back. An essential scene of the film is the one where Reavis teaches Sofia what Aristotle said: "Dignity consists not in possessing honors, but in the consciousness that we deserve them." For once, this is not a weird Fullerian high culture reference but an expression of profound conviction. Reavis has lost all external honors but he has planted an indelible sense of dignity in Sofia and those closest to him.

It is evident how much Fuller enjoys telling this tall tale. Although the cinematic discourse is more professional and accomplished than in I Shot Jesse James, thanks to James Wong Howe, there is more passion and drive in Fuller's debut film.

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