Monster Con: Vincent Price in THE BARON OF ARIZONA (Lippert 1950)

We all know and love Vincent Price for his creepy performances in horror films, from his demented Henry Jarrod in HOUSE OF WAX, to all those AIP/Roger Corman/Edgar Allan Poe shockers, to his turn as The Inventor in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. But the actor was more than just a screen fiend, playing in many a film noir, comedies, costume swashbucklers, and even the Western genre. Our Man Vinnie got top billing in a strange little oater titled THE BARON OF ARIZONA, and as a bonus for film fans the director is a young tyro by the name of Samuel Fuller!

In this bloodless but gripping outing, Price plays James Addison Revis, a swindler, con man, and forger who  concocts an elaborate, grandiose scheme to gain control over the Arizona Territory in 1882. He begins his con game ten years earlier by grooming an orphaned waif named Sofia to later be declared heir to Spanish land grants, then marrying the girl when she becomes of age. The local cowboys are up in arms when Revis and his bride claim the territory as their own, going as far as throwing a bomb through the Revis’ window!

But Revis is second to none when it comes to deviousness, and his forgeries are almost perfect. The U.S. Government even offers him 25 million for the rights to Arizona, but Revis turns them down flat, and sues the Feds instead! But when Department of the Interior agent John Griff begins his investigation, things slowly start to unravel for Revis one strand at a time. When the con is revealed, Revis is almost lynched by an angry mob (in a scene that’s pure Fuller!) before he makes it to the Federal pen…

James Addison Revis is a part that’s tailor-made for the talents of Vincent Price. Based on a true story, Price’s Revis is a charming con artist who almost pulls his scheme off, and Vinnie’s at his best in THE BARON OF ARIZONA. Price has a field day as the grandiose bunco artist, and as always he’s able to say more with one arched eyebrow than any dozen lesser actors! Though he’s a thoroughly despicable cheat and crook, he also displays a tender side, truly in love with Sofia, who loves him back despite his obvious faults.

Sofia is played by another horror vet, Ellen Drew (1941’s THE MAD DOCTOR and THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL), who also does good work here, and is a standout during the courtroom scene. Seems like almost all the cast has some kind of horror connection: Vladimir Sokoloff (Pepito) later played in such fare as MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL, I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, and MR. SARDONICUS; Beulah Bondi (Sofia’s duenna Loma) costarred with Karloff and Lugosi in THE INVISIBLE RAY ; Angelo Rossitto (the gypsy Angelo) was in FREAKS and many other spookfests. And hero Reed Hadley (Griff), who also narrates, ended his career in the Al Adamson “classic” BRAIN OF BLOOD!

The legendary Sam Fuller

Sam Fuller worked as a crime reporter and pulp novelist before beginning his Hollywood career as a scenarist. After returning home from WWII, he was given a chance to direct with the low-budget Western I SHOT JESSE JAMES. The 1951 war drama THE STEEL HELMET put him on the map as a filmmaker to be reckoned with, and a string of critically acclaimed movies followed: SCANDAL SHEET, PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET, HELL AND HIGH WATER, THE CRIMSON KIMONO, SHOCK CORRIDOR. Fuller refused to play the Hollywood game, or abide by the rules, and his films are stamped with his singular artistic vision. My personal favorite is 1980’s THE BIG RED ONE, a WWII epic starring an equally singular man, Lee Marvin. Most of his movies are both violent and low-budget, yet Samuel Fuller’s films never let his audience down.

An interesting side note: Allegedly, future PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE auteur Ed Wood worked on THE BARON OF ARIZONA as a stuntman. Is it possible that’s Ed doubling for Vincent Price when he tumbles off that wagon in long shot?? I don’t have any proof to back that up, but hey… stranger things have happened in Hollyweird!!

Halloween Havoc!: THE INVISIBLE RAY (Universal 1936)


THE INVISIBLE RAY, the third Universal teaming of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi , is probably the least discussed of their seven films together. And I don’t quite know why, because I find it an entertaining meld of horror and science fiction that holds my interest for its 80 minute running time. The two stars are well spotlighted, with Bela as one of the good guys (for a change!) and Boris giving a hammy but well crafted performance as a scientist unhinged by his newest discovery.

A curly-haired Karloff stars as Dr. Janos Rukh, awaiting the arrival of a group of his fellow scientists for a demonstration of his Invisible Ray as a storm rages outside. Rukh’s wife Diana and blind Mother Rukh greet them: Sir Francis Stevens and his wife Lady Arabella, French astro-chemist Dr. Felix Benet, and Lady Arabella’s nephew Ronald Drake, who’s along for the ride. Rukh brings them to his planetarium/lab, where his ray scans the Andromeda Galaxy to reveal Earth’s history from millions of years past. They witness a meteor crashing into the African continent bearing the powerful but deadly new element known only as ‘Radium X’.

The group commissions an expedition to the Dark Continent, and Rukh separates rom the rest to search for the meteor’s location. Finding it, he’s hoisted down into a crater and extracts ‘Radium X’: “More power than any man has ever known”. But there’s a side effect: Rukh begins to glow in the dark (I’ve always imagined it as a ghastly green like the old Aurora Monster “Glow in the Dark” models!) and his touch brings death! Seeking help from Benet, Rukh is told the element has poisoned him, and may affect his mind. Benet comes up with an antidote to counteract ‘Radium X’s’ effects, but warns Rukh he’ll never be completely cured.

Benet informs Rukh that Stevens has returned to Europe tp announce the element’s discovery, causing the distraught Rukh to accuse them of thievery. Worse: the neglected Diana has written him a “Dear John” letter and fallen for Ronald! Rukh, after curing his mother’s blindness by harnessing the element’s power, heads to Paris and fakes his own death, then plots revenge on those he thinks have betrayed him by utilizing his “touch of death”…

You can ignore the scientific mumbo-jumbo in John Colton’s script and just enjoy an over-the-top Karloff as the crazed Rukh. Boris lets loose and has a ball with the part, and Bela seems to be enjoying himself too in a fairly straight role as Benet. Frances Drake (MAD LOVE ) does fine as Diana, but I find Frank Lawton (THE DEVIL DOLL ) a bit on the boring side as Ronald. Walter Kingsford and Beulah Bondi are good as the Stevens’, Violet Kemble Cooper a standout as Mother Rukh, and KING KONG’s Frank Reicher has a small part as one of Karloff’s victims.

There’s a third star in this show: John P. Fulton’s amazing special effects. And Boris’s lab is full of electronic gadgetry that must be the work of an uncredited Kenneth Strickfaden. Franz Waxman’s score is as underrated as the film itself. Director Lambert Hillyer does yeoman’s work keeping things moving – he’d move on to the next Universal Horror, as we’ll find out tomorrow. As for now, I’m recommending those who love these old school horror movies and haven’t seen THE INVISIBLE RAY do so ASAP – Boris and Bela never fail to deliver the chills!

Special Veteran’s Day Edition: BACK TO BATAAN (RKO 1945)

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John Wayne  and Anthony Quinn fight World War II on the backlots of RKO (subbing for the jungles of the Philippines) in BACK TO BATAAN, a stirring exercise in propaganda ripped from headlines of the era. The film was made to stoke audience’s patriotic fires, and succeeds in it’s objective. It’s well directed and shot, has plenty of action, and superb performances by all, including a standout from 14-year-old Ducky Louie.

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Wayne plays Col. Madden, assigned to train Filipino freedom fighters (try saying that three times fast!) to battle the invading Japanese.  Quinn is Capt. Bonifacio, grandson of Filipino revolutionary hero Andres Bonifacio. He’s having issues with his girlfriend Dalisay, who’s the island version of Tokyo Rose (what he doesn’t realize is she’s secretly sending coded messages to the Allies through her broadcasts). Madden and his ragtag crew are out to destroy a Japanese gas depot, but first they encounter schoolteacher Bertha Barnes and little Maximo, whose village has been taken over, and whose principal refused to take down the American flag, and was hung in it’s place in a gruesome scene.

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The resistance fighters come across the infamous Bataan Death March, where Bonifacio has been taken prisoner. They free him, and Madden wants the men to rally around their former leader’s heir. He’s reluctant at first, but comes around and they make things hot for the Japanese. Little Maximo returns to his village and is tortured by the cruel invaders, but refuses to talk, and ends up sacrificing his life for the cause of freedom. Soon, the Americans are coming to the Philippines, and Madden and his guerilla band hold off the Japanese while the incoming Americans land and release the natives from their bondage.

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John Wayne, complete with scruffy beard, is his usual heroic self, and Quinn has never been bad in anything (although he has made some bad films, he always rises above them). The two macho men compliment each other well, with Quinn’s passionate Filipino trading off of Wayne’s stoicism. Wayne and Quinn only made one other film together, the 1947 South American western TYCOON, and it would’ve been interesting to have seen them make more.

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The wonderful Beulah Bondi shines as the schoolteacher, who’s just as tough as Wayne and his men. Miss Bondi was a two-time Oscar nominee (for THE GORGEOUS HUSSY and OF HUMAN HEARTS); although she never won the award, she did receive an Emmy for her final role in a 1976 episode of THE WALTONS. Always a welcome screen presence, Bondi appeared in classics and near classics like STREET SCENE (her film debut), RAIN (with Joan Crawford), the fantasy ON BORROWED TIME, with Jimmy Stewart in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON and IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (both times as his mother), TRACK OF THE CAT (as Robert Mitchum’s mom), and A SUMMER PLACE.

That embodiment of Imperial Japanese evil, Richard Loo is on hand as the rotten Major Hasko. Loo, who was actually of Chinese descent, cornered the market on Nippon bad guys during the 40’s in such films as ACROSS THE PACIFIC, BEHIND THE RISING SUN, THE PURPLE HEART, GOD IS MY CO-PILOT, and FIRST YANK INTO TOKYO. Western fans will recognize Paul Fix (Micah on THE RIFLEMAN) as an American aiding the guerillas. And a young actor named Lawrence Tierney appears towards the end as Lt. Commander Waite, just before hitting it big in DILLINGER and other great noirs.

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Then there’s Ducky Louie, the boy playing young Maximo. Unlike a lot of child stars of the era, this kid had a natural acting ability, and holds his own with the pro cast. Ducky’s career was brief, appearing in only six films (most memorably in CHINA’S LITTLE DEVILS as a resistance fighter again,  and BLACK GOLD with costar Quinn). Young Ducky left show biz to become a dentist, and would be 85 if alive today (and if anyone can confirm whether he is or not, please let me know!). If his final death scene doesn’t bring a tear to your eyes, you just don’t have a heart or soul.

Director Edward Dmytryk and screenwriter Ben Barzman were the polar opposites of John Wayne politically, and I’m sure some sparks must’ve flew during shooting. Cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca lends his dark noir touches to the film, and Roy Webb’s score “borrows” from KING KONG, as well as some patriotic tunes. At film’s end, we’re introduced to some of the real survivors of the Bataan Death March, marching along with the cast. Now if THAT doesn’t get you up and saluting, I don’t know what will! BACK TO BATAAN is a rousing actioner, depicting the brutal realities of war, and the brave men who fought for liberty and freedom during WWII. It’s also a fine example of 1940’s Hollywood filmmaking, and contains many outstanding performances, particularly young Ducky Louie.

The real Bataan Death March
The real Bataan Death March

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