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Thursday, April 16, 2020

Where Vincent Price Steals A State


The Baron Of Arizona (1950) Is Lippert Spelled Deluxe

A fascinating historic premise that Sam Fuller, a student of America's colorful past, dug up and proposed to Robert Lippert as one of his budget trio for the producer's B factory. Fuller's yarn told of a sharpie who faked documents toward ownership of the entire state of Arizona, a page from the past that had surprisingly not be addressed by movies before 1950, a natural for Believe It Or Don't telling. Lippert committed larger-than-ever spend of between three and four hundred thousand, according to Variety, a meaningful step up from an average $70K that went into that company's output. Taking titular, and unexpected, lead was Vincent Price, who'd from there on call this his favorite role. It was departure from character and chill work the actor would be associated with, something of a tour de force that Price could point proudly to on his resume.




The rented Nassour studio, where Africa Screams had lately wrapped, was host to the Baron crew. Filming wrapped a day ahead of schedule in November, 1949, at which point Lippert took a look at a rough cut, then sent the crew back to Arizona location for "four-to-five days" (Variety) of additional shooting, the producer having decided to boost the budget on what shaped up as a special for his low-cost company. Lippert thought enough of the finished product to fly himself and a print to New York for arrange of countrywide Baron bookings which he'd oversee personally. This was still an era where an independent could roll up sleeves and stump for product on man-to-man basis with exhibs. Many such dates were settled over drinks in management offices, guys like Lippert calling many a far-flung showman by first name and knowing his favored brand of liquor. Bob stayed busy into 1950 with not only Baron business, but thirty-two other releases flowing through the thirty-four exchanges he maintained in the US and Canada.




Quality turnout of the film led to beefed up campaigning on Lippert's part, even a tie-in with postal inspectors who'd print up and display "wanted" posters showing Vincent Price in Baron guise. $100K was pledged toward exploitation for The Baron Of Arizona, an unprecedented layout for Lippert. Ad placement in nationally distributed magazines was also a first for the company, which till then had kept bally regional. A gala Phoenix premiere was arranged for February 29, 1950 to which a "planeload of stars" was sent. Live television coverage played a part in events as well, a possible first linkage of on-the-spot vid to a film opening in that state. Variety expressed doubt as to boxoffice prospects, its reviewer cautioning that Baron's "drama slant mitigates its chances in the general action market." It was also suggested that the film's 96 minute run time be "tightened." New York's Palace Theatre took the brunt of Baron's weakness in urban markets --- only $14K for a first (and only) week wherein vaudeville was tendered with the feature. By June '50, however, Lippert was said to be "flushed" by overall Baron success as he addressed a national meeting of the exchange force, excitement over the pic surpassed only by the larger splash made by Rocketship XM, a hit that dwarfed everything so far offered by Lippert's shop. The Baron Of Arizona was released on DVD by Criterion among three Samuel Fuller features in their "Eclipse Series 5." Other titles were The Steel Helmet and I Shot Jesse James. Quality is excellent for each. The Criterion set may be out of print, as I did not see it offered at Amazon, although there is at least one listing on Ebay. 

10 Comments:

Blogger John McElwee said...

Dear John:

"New York's Palace Theatre took the brunt of BARON's weakness in urban markets --- only $14K for a first (and only) week wherein vaudeville was tendered with the feature."

If you look closely -- don't blink! -- at one of the night shots of Times Square circa 1950 in George Stevens' SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR, you can spot the marquee of the Palace promoting "8 Acts Vaudeville -- Vincent Price in THE BARON OF ARIZONA."

I am terribly fond of this Fuller film. It has a clever -- even ingenious -- historically-based narrative, well-paced and told. Price is ideal in a part that utilizes so many of his skills. It's an inexpensive movie, but there's a lot on the screen here; the riot late in the picture in which a crowd of furious Arizonans plan to lynch Price's character seems particularly impressive. But, say -- how did Lippert afford a great cameraman like James Wong Howe? His expert lensing really adds distinction to this, certainly making it seem a bigger and more elaborate movie than it actually is. Swell post.

Regards,
-- Griff

10:31 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

We watched SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR a few months ago and I noticed those wonderful marquee shots, but had forgotten that one of them was for THE BARON OF ARIZONA. Thanks for reminding me, Griff.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Bob Lippert knew full well that Hollywood wasn't making as many pictures after the war, leaving many screen actors scrounging for more work. He didn't pay much, but it was better than nothing. I interviewed Jean Porter years ago and mentioned that she made two pictures for Lippert. She sighed heavily and groaned, "Yessss..." Then she explained why she accepted the offer: "I needed a new refrigerator." I have to hand it to Lippert for getting so many major-studio names in his pictures: Veronica Lake, Zachary Scott, Vincent Price, Buster Keaton, Jack Holt, and a host of featured players: George Reeves, Ralph Byrd, Tom Neal, Anne Gwynne, Evelyn Ankers, Robert Lowery, Cesar Romero, Jean Parker, Don Barry, Richard Lane, Russell Hayden, Lyle Talbot, Allen Jenkins, Ed Brophy, Michael Whalen, Douglas Fowley, and on and on. Not forgetting Sid Melton, who must have been Lippert's favorite character comic.

6:14 AM  
Blogger Randy A. Riddle said...

The Fuller dvd set from Criterion is still listed for sale at their site.

11:39 AM  
Blogger Robert Fiore said...

It's streaming on the Criterion Channel, along with the rest of the Early Sam Fuller set.

12:58 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

The images accompanying the text on the website have all disappeared!
The banner picture is still up, though.

5:00 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Same thing is happening to other Blogger-supported sites. According to their Help Center, Blogger techs are working on it. The problem is on their end, not Greenbriar's. We have seen such glitches before, of course, all the way back to Greenbriar's inception in 2005. Google will fix it, I'm sure. It is just a matter of time. Meanwhile, all the pre-March 30 Archive stuff is OK. Ah, the problems of modern life!

8:10 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Disappearing photos happening on my blog, too. Another symptom of COVID-19!

10:06 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Never saw "Rocketship XM" as a picture with the makings of a box office hit. I guess neither did Lippert.

10:38 AM  
Blogger William Ferry said...

I'm reminded of the late film buff Herb Graff. He often told a story of his first date in 1950: a double feature of CITY LIGHTS and THE BARON OF ARIZONA. After the show, the girl told him how much she enjoyed BARON. Herb walked off without a word.

3:43 PM  

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