Cinevent Notes Past: THE BARGAIN (1914) with William S. Hart

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Richard M Roberts
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Cinevent Notes Past: THE BARGAIN (1914) with William S. Hart

Postby Richard M Roberts » Thu Apr 17, 2014 9:33 am

“This is a weird spot on the Paramount program. It is a bold, I might even say reckless attempt to revive a style of motion picture that we had hoped was a thing of the past. Old-timers well remember the days when exchanges and newspapers cataloguing films divided them into “Drama”, “Comic”, and “western”. In 1908 and 1909, and even later, “western” dominated many programs. Nor will it be denied that in the heyday of the single reel many of these “westerns” were splendid pictures, often portraying most accurately and most pathetically and most picturesquely the life of the early West. Indeed, the success of the early pictures soon produced an excess of supply over demand and the public became surfeited not to say nauseated with sheriffs, outlaws, bad indians, good indians, Mexican villains, heroic outlaws, desperate half-breeds etc.

THE BARGAIN is nothing more than an old-fashioned western. I cannot truthfully say that it is one inch above the average of such pictures. Its scenic background is superbly beautiful, but not more than that shown in many old single reels. Its plot follows the old familiar lines: the outlaw, finely enacted by William S. Hart, robs the stagecoach…..the outlaw escapes happily and something like six felonies go unpunished.

It is said that pictures of this sort are still popular in certain sections of the country and that nickelodeons in many big cities still yearn for them. This may be true, but it still does not alter the fact that pictures of this sort have been in the past the most dangerous weapon in the hands of our enemies[the censors]. There can be no doubt whatsoever that a picture of this kind has a bad influence on youthful minds.”

Stephen Bush MOVING PICTURE WORLD, December 5, 1914.

He’s right you know, looks what’s happened since. Old fashioned----- in 1914? Bad influence on youthful minds? Oh to time-transport him to 1969 and run him THE WILD BUNCH. Critics are indeed eternally clueless, they never get it right.

Little did Mr. Bush (another sign of cluelessness perhaps?) realize was he was actually present at a very important beginning, the start of movie stardom for William S. Hart, and the rise of the Western feature film. If Mr. Bush was already sick of the feature film, I hope he found another line of work. In 1914, film producer Thomas H. Ince, maker of such important early western films as CUSTERS LAST STAND (1912) among many others, hired the forty-nine year old stage actor William S. Hart, who was then touring in a west coast production of TRAIL OF THE LONESOME PINE to star in western films for the grand sum of $75 a week. Hart had been playing western roles on the stage for years, including the lead role in THE VIRGINIAN, following Dustin Farnum, an old friendly actor-rival of Harts who had created the role. Ince thought the lean and stoic actor, who also had an eye for credible western lore as well as a keen knowledge of western culture and history, would be perfect for pictures.

After playing villains in a couple of two-reelers for Ince (HIS HOUR OF MANHOOD and JIM CAMERON’S WIFE), the impatient Hart pushed the producer to put him in something he could sink his teeth into. Dustin Farnum had just scored success in a feature version of THE SQUAW MAN ( a play Hart had toured in as well), and it galled the new picture actor. Ince decided to put Hart in a five-reel feature based on an original story written by Ince and William H. Clifford. The story they came up with became THE BARGAIN, which would be directed by the underrated pioneer feature director Reginald Barker, who would also helm THE ITALIAN (1915) and CIVILIZATION (1916).

With THE BARGAIN, we immediately have the standard William S. Hart concept of the “good-bad man”. Two-Gun Jim Stokes (Hart) holds up a stagecoach and is wounded in his escape. He is rescued by Phil Brent (J. Barney Sherry) who takes him home, where he is nursed back to health by Brent’s daughter Nell (Clara Williams). Stokes falls in love with Nell, and marries her without revealing his true identity. Going for good, he decides to return the money to the express company, and while riding back to the nearest town, he discovers that there’s a price on his head. Captured by the Sheriff (J. Frank Burke), Stokes hands over the money to him. But the Sheriff has problems of his own, especially with the roulette wheel in the saloon where Stokes is captured, and manages to lose all the money. Thus Stokes and the Sheriff strike “The Bargain”, and here’s where the film gets really interesting.

THE BARGAIN is a terrific early western, more stylish than Demille and Apfel’s THE SQUAW MAN. Barker handles the whole milieu beautifully, and there’s some great shots of Stokes/Hart riding through a still tourist-unspoiled Grand Canyon. Even though so many of Hart’s well-repeated future themes are present, Hart has not cemented so many of his mannerisms yet, and his performance has a freshness it would never have again. You can easily see why Ince sold the film to Paramount to get wider distribution, especially on the tail of the successful SQUAW MAN as he held back the quickly produced second Hart feature, ON THE NIGHT STAGE, not releasing it though his own distributor, Mutual, until more than six months after it was made. Ince knew he had a new star on his hands.

THE BARGAIN could have been made several years later, it looks that good and advanced, and certainly Hart and Ince would basically remake it over and over again, with improvements. Yet THE BARGAIN did set a standard that would influence, change, and continue the already “old-fashioned and clichéd” genre for decades to come.



RICHARD M ROBERTS

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Re: Cinevent Notes Past: THE BARGAIN (1914) with William S.

Postby Gary Johnson » Thu Apr 17, 2014 5:10 pm

[Hang on to your hats, kids. I'm about to defend a Bush]

Richard, I feel you need to cut Mr. Bush some slack. While he may not be much of a pronosticater concerning the durability of one of the movies great genres - the Western - he comes to his opinions honestly by one who has experienced and endured the product of the day first hand. And it sounds like that experience had already made him jaded by 1914. If he is not citing the many familiar western plotlines as already being over-used, old-fashioned and cliched, he is busy reminiscing of that long gone time of the pre-feature length films.
You know........from the year before.

But despite his protests, he can't help but admit that the photography of this production was 'superbly beautiful' and Bill Hart's role was 'finely enacted'. Scenery and acting -- for a western that is practically a rave review.

Now on to more important matters. Anyone know of a decent DVD copy of this film which is not put out by Alpha Video?

Richard M Roberts
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Re: Cinevent Notes Past: THE BARGAIN (1914) with William S.

Postby Richard M Roberts » Thu Apr 17, 2014 8:34 pm

Gary Johnson wrote:[Hang on to your hats, kids. I'm about to defend a Bush]

Richard, I feel you need to cut Mr. Bush some slack. While he may not be much of a pronosticater concerning the durability of one of the movies great genres - the Western - he comes to his opinions honestly by one who has experienced and endured the product of the day first hand. And it sounds like that experience had already made him jaded by 1914. If he is not citing the many familiar western plotlines as already being over-used, old-fashioned and cliched, he is busy reminiscing of that long gone time of the pre-feature length films.
You know........from the year before.

But despite his protests, he can't help but admit that the photography of this production was 'superbly beautiful' and Bill Hart's role was 'finely enacted'. Scenery and acting -- for a western that is practically a rave review.

Now on to more important matters. Anyone know of a decent DVD copy of this film which is not put out by Alpha Video?



Hmmm, let me mull this over--------Naaaaaaaah, he's a Bush and a critic, screw him.

Grapevine has a very nice DVD of THE BARGAIN, of which I'm sure the Alpha Video copy is a dupe of.


RICHARD M ROBERTS

Gary Johnson
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Re: Cinevent Notes Past: THE BARGAIN (1914) with William S.

Postby Gary Johnson » Fri Apr 18, 2014 1:30 am

Ordered.
I always forget to look over there....


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