Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Winning of Barbara Worth

It's amazing how many love stories are set against the backdrop of disasters, and possibly more amazing how blatantly Hollywood movies foreshadow some of those disasters. A good example of this is The Winning of Barbara Worth.

The movie starts off with an introductory sequence that's a good fifteen minutes. Jefferson Worth (silent actor Charles Lane, not to be confused with the character actor from movies like It's a Wonderful Life who is a different Charles Lane) is leading a group of people through the desert looking for a place to settle. They come across young Barbara, who has been orphaned when her father died in the desert and then Mom was killed in a sandstorm. So Jefferson takes Barbara and treats her as an adopted daughter.

Fast forward about 20 years. Barbara (Vilma Banky) is all grown up and Jefferson wants to irrigate the portion of the desert he's living in, to turn it into a paradise by damming the Colorado River and diverting some of the water. So he hires an engineering firm, led by James Greenfield and junior partner Willard Holmes (Ronald Colman). Willard sees Barbara and immediately falls in love with her. But Barbara insists that she's a product of the desert, and that the big city isn't for her. Plus, if she loves anybody it's Jefferson's surveyor Abe Lee (a very young Gary Cooper).

The irrigation scheme gets built, but Jefferson and a bunch of his employees point out that the dam isn't big enough, and when the big rains come closer to the source of the Colorado, the dam isn't going to hold. So we know that there's going to be a failure of the dam. In addition, Greenfield decides he's going to fire anybody who disagrees with him. Worse, he's going to bankrupt them.

Worth and his men decide to start a new town, another company town in which Worth runs everything. Greenfield makes certain none of his banker friends will extend credit to Worth. And when one does, Greenfield sends his henchmen to shoot Abe and Willard who are transporting the cash for the payroll back to Worth's town. Willard makes it back to town just in time, as well as just in time to learn that the dam is in fact bursting and threatening Greenfield's town....

The Winning of Barbara Worth is a beautiful movie to watch. I was very impressed by the quality of the print I saw on the TCM recording. Daytime desert scenes are tinted yellow, while nighttime scenes have a blue tint. All three leads are photogenic, depending on what you're looking for in an actor. There are numerous plot holes, mostly centering around the time it takes to cover various distances. When Jefferson Worth gets the line of credit, for example, it's supposed to take 20 hours to transport the money back to Worth's town. However, the information somehow reaches Greenfield instantly. And how were they able to get from Worth's town back to Greenfield's to warn of the impending deluge when the journey in the reverse direction was shown to be gruelling?

Plot holes aside, The Winning of Barbara Worth is an entertaining silent. It's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive, too, although that of course means it's a bit pricey.

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