Sun 6 May 2012
THE BARGAIN. New York Motion Picture Corp., 1914. William S. Hart, J. Frank Burke, Barney Sherry, James Dawley, Clara Williams, Charles Swickard, Roy Laidlaw, Herschel Mayall. Scenario by Thomas H. Ince and William H. Clifford; cinematography by Joseph H. August and/or Robert Newhard. Director: Reginald Barker. Shown at Cinevent 39, Columbus OH, May 2003.
Hart’s first feature-length film, The Bargain, as the program notes aptly pointed out, established the basic elements that would be a hallmark of the Hart Western (notably the concept of the good-bad man who is regenerated through his love for a good woman).
The film was shot in and near the Grand Canyon (with some sources claiming the cinematography was by Joseph August) and while the print was not always the sharpest, varying in quality from reel to reel, the Arizona landscape was captured in its startling beauty and awesome grandeur.
I was immediately struck by the opening sequence in which each of the cast members is first shown in evening attire, then as they bend over, hiding their face from the camera, they straighten up in makeup and costume for their on-screen-roles. (Dan Stumpf commented that he had seen this device used in at least one other Hart film.)
Hart plays outlaw Two-Gun Jim Stokes who, after he is wounded by a posse, is rescued by a farmer (J. Barney Sherry) who takes him to his shack, which he shares with his daughter Nell (Clara Williams).
Stokes and Nell fall in love, are married, and Stokes leaves to settle some unfinished business (he plans to return the money from his most recent holdup), promising to return.
He’s captured by Sheriff Bud Walsh (J. Frank Burke) but when Walsh, falling prey to temptation, gambles away the money he’s rescued from Stokes, Stokes strikes a bargain that will save Walsh’s reputation and allow Stokes to escape to a new life.
In a sense, The Bargain was Ince’s response to DeMille’s The Squaw Man. It made Hart a star and confirmed the Western as a major film genre.