A Movie A Day: THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH (1926) Maybe we ain’t got the brains, maybe you ain’t got the guts!
Published at: Sept. 18, 2008, 1:43 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we follow Gary Cooper back into the silent era from yesterday’s 1939 Adventure/war flick THE REAL GLORY. Today’s flick is called THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH and marks the first silent film of the column so far.
I’m not very well versed in silent film outside of most of the classics, the Chaplins, the Keatons, a couple Chaney Sr’s… But most of the silent films I’ve seen have been theatrical. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever watched a silent film for the first time at home before this film.
So, maybe not having a live orchestra affected my viewing experience on this one. I’ve seen silents I respected more than enjoyed (BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, for instance), but on the whole the silent film experience for me has been a good one. THE GENERAL, THE UNKNOWN, GOLD RUSH, METROPOLIS and more stand out as amazing theatrical experiences.
But for the first 20 minutes of this movie I was bored to tears. Here’s what happens: A wife buries her husband in the desert as her little girl looks on. Another band are traveling the desert and have some supper. A storm sweeps through and the mom dies, the other dudes pick up the girl and keep her for their own. That takes 20 minutes.
I will say that the film picks up quite a bit as we’re introduced to Barbara Worth, played by silent screen beauty Vilma Banky and her suitor, Abe Lee, played by Gary Cooper in his first screen appearance as a co-lead.
The main thrust of the story is how Barbara Worth’s adoptive parents realize their dream of settling in the desert, turning it a “second Eden” using irrigation to pull water from the Colorado River. A big wig richer (EJ Ratcliffe) comes in to fund the operation only to raise the prices in the town so the workers can’t afford to live there anymore, charging $2 for a shave, etc.
The richer’s sidekick is an up and coming banker with a sleazy mustache played by Ronald Colman. Even though this film is in the Gary Cooper box set, Colman’s really the lead here. It’s his arc, going from zero to hero and trying to win the heart of Ms. Worth.
So, Barbara Worth’s daddy has had enough and moves all the work force out of the booming new town. There’s also the little problem that Richy Rich is too cheap to reinforce the dam and the town is in danger of flooding. So, no matter which way you look at it, they gots to get out.
But we soon come to find that these workers are actually a group of impatient assholes. They call Papa Worth their savior for leading them out of town, but when Richy Rich uses his influence to make Papa Worth’s line of credit null and void and he misses one payday, the ingrateful bastards are ready to lynch him and his daughter.
Fucked up, right?
From that point on it’s a race against time as Colman and Cooper try to get the payroll to the towspeople, whoever succeeding likely to win the heart of Barbarba Worth (with the added bonus of saving her life). So who’s it going to be? Her best friend since childhood who worships the ground she walks on or the reformed banker do-gooder with the creepy ‘stache?
The climax of the movie involves a rather large flood and some really fucked up moments, like a mother getting hit by a speeding carriage, causing it to flip.
Also look for a swastika embroidered on a pillow in the final scenes… I guess this was back when it was still a good Native American symbol before Hitler ruined it for everybody.
Final Thoughts: The movie does pick up after a slow, slow, mind-numbing start, thank God, but ultimately I’d only recommend this one for serious cinephiles. They play with colors in the film (blue colored film for night scenes, yellow for everything – because it’s the desert, see – and a couple others that make for an interesting viewing, but it’s not a classic film. It doesn’t stand up with the best I’ve seen, but if you’re a big a big film fan it’s a fascinating watch just because it still exits.