Samuel Fuller and Vincent Price would seem to make an incongruous pair. The director’s gritty, unaffected sensibility might seem antithetical to the actor’s lofty, melodramatic approach to performance. But Price is delightful as the protagonist in Fuller’s second film, The Baron of Arizona, made when the director was still working independently for the Poverty Row studio Lippert Pictures. Price is perfectly cast as the real-life con man James Addison Reavis, who tried to convince the world, through an elaborate, years-in-the-making trail of false documents, that he was the rightful owner of the state of Arizona by decree of Spain’s King Ferdinand VI. In Price’s hands, Reavis is appropriately larger than life—a wicked storyteller, a diabolical criminal, and a devilish romantic.
Like Reavis, Price was born in Missouri, although you wouldn’t know it from that instantly identifiable “mid-Atlantic English” accent, the defining trait of a voice both honey-smooth and somehow dirty. His distinct verbal mannerisms wouldn’t find their most apposite outlet until a few years later, when he embarked on the long series of deliciously villainous roles in low-budget horror films for which he is now best remembered (House of Wax, House on Haunted Hill, and The Pit and the Pendulum among them), but Price considered Reavis one of his greatest roles, and you can tell he’s having a ball playing this distinctly American charlatan. In the following scene, Reavis, dressed as a monk and on the run from the police, seeks refuge in a Gypsy community, and even then can’t stop his scheming ways.