#307) The Bargain (1914)

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#307) The Bargain (1914)

OR “Change of Hart”

Directed by Reginald Barker

Written by William H. Clifford and Thomas H. Ince

Class of 2010

The Plot: Bandit Jim Stokes, the two-gun man (William S. Hart) is wounded while robbing a stagecoach in 1889 Arizona. He is taken in by prospector Phil Brent (J. Barney Sherry) and his daughter Nell (Clara Williams). When Jim and Nell fall in love, Jim decides to give up his bandit ways. An attempt to return the money he stole leads to his capture by Sheriff Bud Walsh (J. Frank Burke). All is lost, unless Jim and the Sheriff can strike…the bargain!

Why It Matters: I’m just going to crib directly from the NFR’s write-up: “[“The Bargain”] was selected [for the NFR] because of Hart’s charisma, the film’s authenticity and realistic portrayal of the Western genre and the star’s good/bad man role as an outlaw attempting to go straight.” There’s also an essay by Library of Congress film archivist Brian Taves.

But Does It Really?: I’ll give “The Bargain” a pass for its historical impact. William S. Hart is mostly forgotten today, but without him we wouldn’t have the morally conflicted cowboys of every western for the next 50 years. “Hell’s Hinges” is still the definitive Hart western, but “The Bargain” is where it all began. The film is worthy of preservation, but this one may just be for the movie buffs.

Everybody Gets One: William S. Hart didn’t become a film star until he was 49 years old! After years of struggling as a stage actor, Hart convinced producer/longtime friend Thomas Ince to give him a shot at the movies. Hart started out in a few shorts before making the jump to leading man with “The Bargain”. Thomas Ince was a prolific film producer who earned the moniker “Father of the Western”. We’ll see more of his work in “Hell’s Hinges”, “The Italian”, and “Civilization”.

Other notes

  • The version of this film available on the Library of Congress’ YouTube page does not come with an accompanying soundtrack. I am not watching an 80-minute movie in complete silence. Take me away, Ennio Morricone!
  • “The Bargain” starts off with an interesting prelude. Each cast member is introduced taking a bow in formal wear, followed by a dissolve of him or her completing the bow in full costume. A unique opening to be sure, but it does eat up a lot of screentime, and I’m not quite sure what it has to do with anything.
  • This may be one of the first movies to do location shooting. The establishing shots of the expanse are from the Grand Canyon!
  • 1889 seems far away, but it was only 25 years prior to this film’s production. “The Bargain” was the “San Junipero” of its day!
  • William S. Hart kinda looks like a Baldwin brother. Somewhere between young Alec and current William.
  • I’m tickled that Jim is always addressed as “Jim Stokes, the two-gun man”. Was the concept of having two guns that revolutionary? And isn’t the title an obvious giveaway for a wanted criminal?
  • They’re near Bald Mountain? Don’t stick around at night.
  • Speaking of, I love that the filmmakers hadn’t figured out “day-for-night” shooting yet. Afternoon turns into dawn real quick around these parts.
  • I want to believe that Jim is in love with Nell, but there is zero character development between these two.
  • For a split second I thought I had spotted a boom mike dip into one shot. And then I had to remind myself that this is a silent movie and boom mikes were still about 15 years away.
  • The farewell letter Jim writes to Nell begins “Dear little woman”. Unless he’s writing to Jo March that’s a definite foul.
  • Just once I want someone in a silent western to say “Them’s fightin’ intertitles!”
  • It takes forever to get to it, but Jim’s capture at the saloon is fun to watch. The editing and cinematography suddenly stop being slavish to the rudimentary style of silent films.
  • All of the intertitles have the Paramount Pictures logo on the bottom, but Paramount wasn’t founded until 1916, two years after “The Bargain”. Is this print from a re-release?
  • And then we watch a painfully long shot of a horse tumbling down a steep hill. Can PETA retroactively fine this movie?
  • I gotta say playing random Ennio Morricone western music really did spice things up. There were even a few “Dark Side of Oz” moments of impressive synchronization.

Legacy

  • William S. Hart became a bona-fide movie star thanks to “The Bargain”. His reign continued into the mid-20s, before younger, flashier Tom Mix came along and made Hart’s slower, meditative brand of western obsolete. Hart’s last starring vehicle was 1925’s “Tumbleweeds”, though his final film appearance was a brief cameo in fellow NFR entry “Show People” in 1928.
  • Hart passed away in 1946, and left his home to Los Angeles County to be converted into a museum. The William S. Hart Ranch and Museum is still around and open to the public. Road trip, anyone?

Further Viewing: William S. Hart only made one sound film, a new prologue shot especially for a 1939 re-release of “Tumbleweeds”. He looks back on the American west and his love of making movies, knowing full well that this will be his farewell to the movie-going public that made him a star.

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