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The First Films of Samuel Fuller [3 Discs] [Criterion Collection] [DVD]

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Overview

Synopsis

The Baron of Arizona
Samuel Fuller wrote and directed this lively drama based on the real-life adventures of James Addison Reavis, one of the most ambitious swindlers of the 19th Century. In 1871, Reavis (played by Vincent Price) began hatching an elaborate scheme to claim the Arizona territory (then three decades away from statehood) as his own. At the time, land grants established during Spanish rule of Arizona were still valid, and one rainy evening Reavis visited Pepito Peralta (Vladimir Sokoloff) and his daughter Sofia (Karen Kester) with some exciting news. While working as a real estate clerk, Reavis found documents which granted ownership of nearly the whole of the Arizona territory to one Miguel Peralta, who was named Baron of the new land by Spain's rulers, and as his heir Sofia will become Baroness when she reaches adulthood, giving her claim to the territory. After giving Pepito and Sofia money and hiring a governess (Beulah Bondi) to educate the girl in a manner befitting the Barony, Reavis sailed for Spain on business; unknown to the Peraltas, Reavis posed first as a monk and then as a gypsy in order to revise old land grant documents to conform with his story. Several years later, Reavis returned to Pepito and Sofia's home, and asked the young woman (now played by Ellen Drew) to marry him. Once wed, Reavis presented his carefully forged paperwork to the Arizona authorities which gave him and his bride royal claim to the land; however, not everyone believed Reavis's elaborate tale, and John Griff (Reed Hadley), an expert in falsified documents, was brought in to examine the evidence. The Baron of Arizona gave Vincent Price a rare leading role in a non-horror vehicle, and he cited it as one of his favorite performances on film. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

The Steel Helmet
Writer and director Samuel Fuller enjoyed his first box-office and critical success with this hard-boiled but human tale of men at war, informed by his own experiences in the armed forces. Zack (Gene Evans) is a gruff U.S. Army sergeant who is the lone survivor of an attack on his outfit in North Korea. Rescued by a friendly Korean orphan he dubs Short Round (William Chun), Zack tries to make his way back to friendly territory with the boy as his guide. Zack crosses paths with Thompson (James Edwards), an African-American medic who like Zack narrowly escaped death after an enemy attack, and as they make their way through the jungle they encounter a platoon led by Lt. Driscoll (Steve Brodie), a humorless by-the-books type who has no use for Zack. Zack, Thompson and Driscoll's men -- among them Japanese-American "Buddhahead" Tanaka (Richard Loo), former conscientious objector Bronte (Robert Hutton) and nervous grunt Baldie (Richard Monahan) -- make their way to an abandoned Buddhist temple to set up an observation post, but they soon run afoul of the enemy. Shot in a mere ten days, with the battle scenes staged in Los Angeles' Griffith Park, The Steel Helmet captured the tension and gritty circumstances of war with commendable accuracy and Evans delivered a superb performance in his first starring role as Zack. The film proved controversial in some quarters due to scenes in which Fuller's characters discuss racism against Asians and Blacks in the United States, though the film manages to be resolutely patriotic at the same time. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

I Shot Jesse James
This dark, gloomy Western chronicles the shame and self-destruction of Bob Ford, the real-life James Gang member that murdered Jesse James for the reward money. In this fictionalized account, James (Reed Hadley) tends to Ford (John Ireland) after he is wounded during a heist. When Ford's longtime love, Cynthy (Barbara Britton), gains a new admirer, he decides that settling down and buying a farm is the only way to win her for himself. He learns that the governor issued a 10,000-dollar reward and amnesty for Jesse's murder, and, after some deliberation, shoots his savior in the back when the outlaw turns to straighten a painting. Neither the government nor Cynthy takes kindly to his treachery: Ford is jailed, collects only 500 dollars, and is dumped. He is reduced to re-enacting the infamous murder in a stage show, hearing a traveling minstrel sing about his dirty deed, and running from the would-be gunfighters that hope to kill the man who shot Jesse James. The film follows Ford's vain attempts to achieve redemption and win back Cynthia's heart. I Shot Jesse James suffered through several casting related problems. Producer Robert L. Lippert refused to hire Lawrence Tierney, director Fuller's first choice to portray Ford. Barbara Woodell replaced Ann Doran as Jesse James' wife only days before production. Lastly, casting director, Yolanda Molinari's, name was misspelled "Yolondo" in the film's opening credits, making many believe that she was a man. ~ Aubry Anne D'Arminio, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Vincent Price
    Vincent Price - James Addison Reavis
  • Ellen Drew
    Ellen Drew - Sofia Peralta-Reavis
  • Beulah Bondi
    Beulah Bondi - Lona Morales
  • Vladimir Sokoloff
    Vladimir Sokoloff - Pepito
  • Reed Hadley
    Reed Hadley - Grill
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