Sunday, August 24, 2014

Tonight's Movie: The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

The silent film THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH (1926) is one of the latest releases in the Warner Archive's line of Samuel Goldwyn Classics.

While many of the Goldwyn Classics are being released on DVD for the first time, THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH is a reissue of a title which was included in a 2007 Gary Cooper collection which is now out of print.

Longtime readers know I've never been much of a fan of silent movies, finding the narrative cards tedious, but over the last couple of years I've developed a real fondness for Harold Lloyd and have felt more open to trying other silent films. I'm very glad of that, as THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH was an absolute treat, a visual masterpiece with scene after scene of stunning beauty. I felt at times as though I were watching a series of gorgeous paintings. It was filmed by Gregg Toland and George Barnes with striking amber, blue, and red tints.

Little Barbara Worth (Carmencita Johnson) is orphaned when her pioneer parents die on the trek West. She's found in the desert and adopted by Jefferson Worth (Charles Lane).

Years pass and Barbara becomes a young lady (Vilma Banky). Engineer Willard Holmes (Ronald Colman) comes to the desert with a plan to build a dam and irrigate the area. He falls head over heels for Barbara, who is also loved by Abe (Gary Cooper), a young man she's grown up with.

A moving three-way romance develops alongside an action-packed story. The film builds to quite a spectacular flood sequence with impressive special effects.

I really loved this film, which has not one but two gorgeous leading men who are also superb actors, sound or no sound. Colman was so effective, I felt I could almost hear his wonderful voice saying his lines as I watched the film. (Vilma Banky, incidentally, apparently had a thick Hungarian accent which meant an early end to her film career when sound came in.) And then there's that tall drink of water, Gary Cooper -- wow. Those eyes! The camera loves him.

It's a testament to Colman's acting and appeal that although I was initially rooting for the lovestruck Cooper, Colman eventually won me over, just like Barbara. Their last scenes at movie's end are quite charming.

This well-paced, exciting film runs 89 minutes. It was directed by Henry King, whose later films included fine Americana such as MARGIE (1946), DEEP WATERS (1948), and I'D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN (1951).

Carmencita Johnson, who played Barbara as a child, was one of a family of child actors. She appeared in many other films including MRS. WIGGS OF THE CABBAGE PATCH (1934) and THESE THREE (1936). According to her obituary, she later served as a double for Lana Turner and swam in Esther Williams movies. She passed away in 2000 as a result of a car accident. She was 77.

Internet sources indicate that the organ score on the DVD was a live 1971 recording of a performance by Gaylord Carter.

The Warner Archive release of THE WINNING OF BARBARA WORTH is highly recommended. I'm delighted the Archive has made this treasure accessible again to a wide audience.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.


Blogger Blake Lucas said...

I liked this movie a lot the one time I saw it and have really wanted to see it again sometime. So good to know it's out there and I'm glad you enjoyed it so much too,

Yes, Henry King had a way with Americana, much more than most directors. I kind of studied the evolution of his career in the last year and I noted the other main current in his work, films with spiritual themes, begin in the silents but when he started at Fox, they liked him for the Americana and that's dominant until SONG OF BERNADETTE, then he gets to do both kinds of films, and of course some of the movies have both things, like I'D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN.

I just recorded and watched REMEMBER THE DAY (1941) off TCM - Claudette Colbert day; I hadn't remembered this well and it's very good, not even one of King's very best but has so many beautiful things, and is more evocative Americana. I'd also consider a movie like ALEXANDER'S RAGTIME BAND Americana--as well as being a musical loaded up with great Irving Berlin songs--because it carries a kind of social history of its years through the story. I think that movie is just superb--seems to me one you'd like and you no doubt have seen it, maybe more than once.

Laura, I hope you'll stay with silent movies after enjoying this one. You may find you'll get used to the title cards and just take it as part of what movies were then. I know you will be getting to SUNRISE soon--don't know how you'll react to that one though most people find it exquisite. There are so many others worth knowing too, for someone who spends a lot of time watching movies and loves classical cinema. They really had it together in those silent days.

12:02 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Blake! Loved your comments and really appreciated them.

That is interesting insight that one of the common themes throughout King's career, in addition to Americana, is spirituality -- which, as you say, merged with Americana in I'D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN. (I only wish that wonderful movie were a little longer -- based on stills some of it was left on the cutting-room floor.) I've not seen REMEMBER THE DAY although I did record it from TCM. And believe it or not, although I own the Fox Studio Classics DVD, ALEXANDER'S RAGTIME BAND is a Tyrone Power-Alice Faye film I still need to see for the first time!! I love them both and I'm sure I'll enjoy it -- your praise makes me even more anxious to see it.

After focusing so heavily on "big screen movies" in the first half of the year, as well as taking on reviewing Warner Archive DVDs, I need to now turn my attention to completing this year's "10 Classics" list, including SUNRISE!

I recently got the big Ford at Fox set for an amazingly low price so I also look forward to George O'Brien in 3 BAD MEN. My dad recommended that and Garbo's FLESH AND THE DEVIL as good silents as I branch out into trying a little more. I'd welcome your suggestions as well!

Best wishes,

2:21 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

My best suggestion for silents, since you have liked Harold Lloyd so well, is to go to the other great silent comedians--meaning the ones who are even greater than Lloyd. I'm referring to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, both great and both creative geniuses who wrote and directed as well as being consummate actors and comedians. They are very different--and most prefer one or the other but I don't think one really has to choose Most people agree that the best Keaton is Civil War comedy THE GENERAL, though a number of others he did compare well to it (you might check out the relatively brief, highly imaginative SHERLOCK JR.) while in his silents (he made sound films belatedly but they are best appreciated when you've seen his silent classics) Chaplin is especially prized for his wonderful THE GOLD RUSH, but I like THE CIRCUS even more, while CITY LIGHTS, as funny as his others mostly, has as heartbreaking an ending as you will ever see.

I guess I really want to recommend D.W. Griffith, not THE BIRTH OF A NATION or INTOLERANCE but one of his smaller, more intimate movies like BROKEN BLOSSOMS or TRUE HEART SUSIE. IF you start liking silents I'll remind you about these.

Your dad is right about 3 BAD MEN, Ford's best silent--a wonderful movie. Glad to hear you have Ford at Fox because it's a treasure trove and if you haven't seen them, I'll recommend the Will Rogers movies (three of these) and PILGRIMAGE, long unheralded but now a favorite Ford of many, including me.

And now that we're back in the 30s, I predict you will have a wonderful evening in store when you get to ALEXANDER'S RAGTIME BAND.

3:42 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much for the feedback, Blake, I'm making notes! Had never heard of TRUE HEART SUSIE. Glad to also have your recommendation of 3 BAD MEN.

I think the Will Rogers films are my dad's favorite part of the Ford at Fox set, he recommends them very highly. Combined with your recommendation I hope to start watching them before too long!

Since he's my favorite actor it's nice that I've still got a handful of Tyrone Power films to see for the first time, including ALEXANDER'S RAGTIME BAND!

Thanks and best wishes,

11:18 PM  

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