The documentary reconstruction of The Winning of Barbara Worth is of such a high standard that it places the film on a level with the other silent western epics, The Covered Wagon (1923) and The Iron Horse (1924). But whereas those films were set in the 19th century, this is an epic of 20th-century pioneering. How startling to see buckboards and prairie schooners sweeping through the desert, leaving in their wake an immobilised Model T Ford!
The film is frank about such modern miracles as the irrigation of Imperial Valley; financiers were promised such a staggering return on their investment that gangsters were used to keep the workforce under control. The picture climaxes with a catastrophic flood – when the Colorado River burst its banks, flooded the valley and created the Salton Sea. Ned Mann’s special effects (mostly miniatures) are exceptional and the sequence has a terrifying reality. Henry King and location manager Ray Moore found the ideal locations in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Art director Carl Oscar Borg drew up plans for the three towns that had to be built in the desert, and the Western Pacific Railroad built a spur line to the new city of Barbara Worth, Nevada (Barba in the film) – based on El Centro, California. A vast tent city housed the extras, and a mess hall, bakery and recreation centre were built. Once the well had been drilled, hot water rose from 185ft beneath the desert and fed the showerbath system. Yet Henry King felt that the company underwent greater hardship than the people who had settled Imperial Valley. The fierce temperature changes – from 120 degrees during the day to freezing at night – were accompanied by baby tornadoes. One of these destroyed most of the motion-picture town of Kingston, doing $10,000 worth of damage. Whether you like westerns or not, The Winning of Barbara Worth is essential viewing.
Cast and Credits
Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo (1911) di Harold Bell Wright. Scen.: Frances Marion, Rupert Hughes. F.: George Barnes, Gregg Toland (assistente). M.: Viola Lawrence. Scgf.: Carl Oscar Borg. Int.: Ronald Colman (William Holmes), Vilma Bánky (Barbara Worth), Gary Cooper (Abe Lee), Charles Lane (Jefferson Worth), Paul McAllister (l’indovino), E.J. Ratcliffe (James Greenfield), Clyde Cook (Tex), Jack Montgomery (il padre di Baby Peggy). Prod.: Samuel Goldwyn, Inc.. 35mm. D.: 95’. Bn.
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