Samuel Fuller in Arizona like O. Henry in Texas, "beautiful and simple as all truly great swindles are" ("The Octopus Marooned"). The desert drenched in rain introduces just the right whiff of tall tale, Vladimir Sokoloff answering the door as "Pepito" cements the lovely lunacy. America in her 19th-century infancy is still a set of floating pieces, Reavis the clerk (Vincent Price) makes a grab for one of them with a monumental forgery scheme, laying claim to a whole state and asking ranchers to buy their own land back. The geography-changing path to becoming Baron is a painstaking one, it involves literally effacing and rewriting the past, years at a Spanish monastery (a maze of doors with documents chained to the shelves), crashing a royal soiree with a gypsy caravan and, above all, molding a smudge-faced, barefoot orphan into the Baroness (Ellen Drew). Lording over things from his office against a giant map of his territory, he still has to face settler ire ("In God we trusted, in Arizona we busted," reads a banner) and the government agent (Reed Hadley) who smells "a bad cigar wrapped in a rich Spanish leaf." History on the move, the media already at hand: "Letís not have any violence. At least until I have my story." A strange Western that namedrops Aristotle and Columbus, an American fable of impostors and miracles (a counterfeit man turns real at the end of a rope and in the gaze of a woman), a Balzacian comedy recalled by a man who, like Fuller, canít help admiring a rogue who can wield ingenuity in a wolfish world. Welles weaves the theme into F for Fake, Herzog gives the antithesis in Cobra Verde. Cinematography by James Wong Howe. With Beulah Bondi, Robert Barrat, Tina Pine and Karen Kester. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce