Based on the true story of James Reavis – however his wikipedia article sounds like the true story would make for a far less interesting movie than Fuller’s script. It’s got the pen-and-ink technicality (his forgery is discovered because he uses the wrong kind of ink), the marrying a trumped-up land heir, and the prison time, but it lacks the monastery, the gypsy camp and Reavis-Price’s completely solitary audacity of it all (the real Reavis had financial backers, co-conspirators and hired thugs). Also the guy who exposed the fraud was named Royal Johnson, not John Griff.
Vincent Price hadn’t found horror fame yet, but he acts up a storm in this – convincing as a showman, a lover, a silent conspirator and an enraged victim of mob violence (see below). His plan involves the U.S. government honoring Spanish land grants – he trumps up his young ward (later his wife, ew) as the sole living heiress of a previously unclaimed grant for the whole territory of Arizona, planting her fictional parents’ gravestones, engraving a proclamation into a giant stone, posing as a monk for three years to inscribe the false grant into the ancient records and getting some gypsies to help him break in where the copy of the records is kept.
For all that work he is very nearly killed by the angry villagers, but the government saves him in order to imprison him. His wife (Ellen Drew of Christmas In July, who again fails to make much of an impression) apparently forgives him for giving her a false identity and roping her into his land-grab scheme, picks him up from prison at the end.
Fictional-historical adventure-romance-dramas aren’t exactly what Sam Fuller is known for, but he pulls it off. I guess he was one of the few writer/directors out there at this time, and The Steel Helmet wasn’t far behind. The only bit that doesn’t work for me is the silly framing device of old men smoking cigars and reminiscing about the Baron’s crazy scheme. At least Sam worked cigars into the story somehow.
That’s Reed Hadley as Griff, the government’s expert fraud analyst who manages to debunk Price and help him escape the angry crowd. Within a couple years of this, Hadley played both Jesse James (for Fuller) and Jesse’s brother Frank, and appeared in two MST3K-bait films.