Stranger Than Fiction: The Baron of Arizona (1949)

The Baron of Arizona (1950)  Directed by Samuel Fuller Shown: Vincent Price

“In the movie business, a good ending must sometimes hold sway over the truth.” – Samuel Fuller, A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting, and Filmmaking

Before Samuel Fuller wrote and directed his own films, he was a gutsy go-getting newspaperman. Fuller first worked at the New York Journal as a copyboy and eventually graduated to the role of crime reporter for the New York Evening Graphic, a tabloid newspaper that naysayers nicknamed the “pornoGraphic” due to its explicit content. During the Great Depression, he took his journalism skills on the road and traveled west collecting sensational stories about America, the current crisis it was facing and the rich history that preceded it. One of the stories that captured Fuller’s imagination during his cross-country journey was the strange tale of a nineteenth-century con man named James Reavis. Reavis forged a string of false documents asserting he owned over 18,000 square miles of the Arizona Territories and went to great lengths to convince the U.S. government of his claim. The story of Reavis and his remarkable crimes became the basis of Fuller’s second film, a quasi-fictional account of the events titled The Baron of Arizona (1949).

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Home Video Roundup: Witches and the West

I had a similar reaction to Mr. Stewart when I watched Kim Novak purr her way through Bell Book and Candle, just released by Twilight Time on a gorgeous blu-ray.  He also might have been agog at Westward the Women (1951), the William Wellman femme-Western released in a well-appointed DVD from the Warner Archive, which includes an audio commentary from film historian Scott Eyman. They are two films that focus on female desire, a rare occurrence in the generally leering male gazes of post-code Hollywood (pre-code films were replete with sexually independent women – check out Baby Face (1933) for a bracing example). Bell Book and Candle is set in motion because of Novak’s uncontrollable lust for Stewart, and Westward the Women kicks off because of hundreds of ladies’ self-sacrificing desire for a better life out in California, a gender bending variation on Horace Greeley’s advice to, “Go west, young man”.

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The Great Ones, Part 2: More On & Off the Set Photographs

Johnny Weissmuller strikes a Vanity Fair-like pose in this second series of candid on-the-set snapshots, oddball publicity stills and off-the-set photographs.           [...MORE]

Picnic-ing

The intrepid Twilight Time label continues their line of limited edition Blu-Ray releases with an absolutely gorgeous version of Picnic, Columbia’s romantic smash of 1955-1956. Sold exclusively through on-line retailer Screen Archives, it presents James Wong Howe’s Technicolor cinematography in eye-titillating detail. Based on William Inge’s Pulitzer Prize winning play from 1953, Picnic is a garishly entertaining melodrama that sets earthy he-man William Holden after prim beauty queen Kim Novak, upending a small Kansas town in the process.

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What Ever Happened to Jennifer?

Jennifer’s gone missing. She was supposed to be looking after her uncle’s sprawling estate, which appears to have been abandoned since the Great Depression, but no one has seen her in weeks. Did she run off with an unknown lover? Did she swindle an undisclosed sum of money from her previous boss and head to Mexico on a cruise ship? Or was Jennifer murdered by a mysterious killer and buried somewhere on the property? These are the questions that will plague Agnes Langly (Ida Lupino) after she’s hired to replace the missing woman as the new caretaker in Joel Newton’s low-key thriller simply titled JENNIFER (1953).

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Bogart & Lorre: A Match Made In Movie Heaven

The cast of PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES (1943)

PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES isn’t the type of film that normally sparks my interest. I have an aversion to propaganda films and I’m not particularly fond of prison break movies but I love Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre so I’ll watch them in anything. I’ve seen all the films that the two actors made together but for one reason or another I’ve managed to overlook PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES until now. Maybe it was all the lackluster reviews I read? I finally caught up with the movie last weekend and I’m happy to report that PASSAGE TO MARSEILLES surpassed my low expectations. It wasn’t the overlooked masterpiece I wanted it to be but I think it’s well worth recommending.

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Natalie Wood in This Property Is Condemned

Natalie Wood has been named Star of the Month by TCM, and fans and viewers will be treated to a selection of her films every Monday evening in June. Tonight’s bill includes my favorite Wood film, Splendor in the Grass, along with two she made with Tab Hunter, The Girl He Left Behind and The Burning Hills, in addition to Rebel Without a Cause and A Cry in the Night. Despite the inclusion of more favorites later in the month, such as Gypsy, Love with the Proper Stranger, and Inside Daisy Clover, I was disappointed to find that This Property Is Condemned did not make the schedule.

Expanded from a short one-act play by Tennessee Williams, This Property Is Condemned is a melodrama about love and survival in a small Mississippi town during the Great Depression. Wood plays Alva Starr, a young beauty who attracts the men who work for the railroad to her mother’s boarding house. Mama Hazel Starr exploits her daughter’s beauty as a financial asset, arranging “dates” for her with well-to-do but married men. Mama is positioning Alva to land a man with money, so that the whole Starr family can live in style.

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The blood was her life

I don’t want to talk about the man behind the candle.  Seriously, don’t even look at him, forget he’s even there.  And, believe me, I know how hard it is – it’s Bela Lugosi, you’re thinking, for gum’s sake.  Yes, this is true.  The man in the Wayne Newton ruffled shirt and cravat (why don’t men in movies wear cravats anymore?) is Bela DRACULA Lugosi himself, in fine post-career-highpoint fettle as Count Mora in Tod Browning’s MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935).  It’s a neat movie, maybe even classic by now, a remake of Browning’s silent (presumed) classic (presumed because nobody alive today has seen it) LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927), which had starred Lon Chaney (penciled in for the lead in DRACULA before cancer took his life in 1930).  Atmospherically shot by future multiple Academy Award nominee and winner James Wong Howe, the movie is only so-so as horripilating entertainment but every frame of it could be hung on a museum wall.  And the jewel in this creepy crown is Carroll Borland, pictured above and slightly behind the guy I would prefer that you ignore for the time being. [...MORE]

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