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Film / The Winning of Barbara Worth

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The Winning of Barbara Worth is a 1926 silent Western film directed by Henry King, starring Ronald Colman, Vilma Banky, and Gary Cooper.

Barbara Worth (Banky) is an orphan who was adopted as a child by hardworking pioneer Jefferson Worth, who has come to the deserts of the southwest to make a new life. After a 15-year gap Barbara's father is ready to embark on a grand project to build an irrigation canal from the Colorado River to make the desert bloom. Willard Holmes (Colman), an engineer, arrives in the desert to build the canal, but his unscrupulous boss, Greenfield, has nefarious plans for the canal and the new town of Kingston that springs up alongside it.

Meanwhile, romance blossoms between Willard and Barbara. This displeases Abe Lee (Cooper), a local cowboy who came out to the desert as a boy with Jefferson Worth's party 15 years ago and has loved Barbara ever since.


  • As You Know: The arrival of Cartwright the financier, who might save Worth's town, is explicated to Worth when one of his employees says "Cartwright, the big New York financier" is coming.
  • Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends: Abe conveniently realizes that Barbara is more like his sister than a lover.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Greenfield, who muscles his partners out of the building of the canal, charges extortionate prices to the people in Kingston, and cheaps out on the construction of the dam. The latter leads to disaster.
  • Desert Skull: In fact it's an entire desiccated cow skeleton that Worth sees, underlining the aridity of this part of the desert.
  • Distant Prologue: Opens with Jefferson Worth arriving in the desert and rescuing little Barbara, before skipping 15 years to find Barbara a grown woman and Worth a prosperous rancher.
  • Downer Beginning: The first shot finds Barbara's mother next to a pioneer wagon train, burying Barbara's father in the desert. Soon after Barbara's mother dies of dehydration. Luckily for Barbara, the Worth wagon train arrives just in time to save her.
  • Fan Disservice: The naked cowboy who rushes out of a bath when word of the impending flood hits the town. Since this was several years before The Hays Code, we get a full view of his naked backside.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: Barbara and Abe speak Spanish to each other but never to anyone else.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Cute, tow-headed little Barbara, found next to her dead mother, too small to realize what has happened.
  • Identical Grandson: Barbara's mother in the prologue and Barbara in the main story are both played by Vilma Banky.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Willard, at the bottom of a canyon, managing to take his pistol and plug a mook at the top of the canyon, when the mook with a rifle was only able to wing Willard in the arm.
  • Literal Metaphor: One of Worth's scrawnier employees manages to irritate one of Worth's big, beefy employees. The big guy promises to the little guy that he'll "tie you into a bow ribbon!" He then proceeds to actually tie the little guy into a knot.
  • Love Triangle: Barbara, Willard, and Abe. Resolved when Abe turns out to be the Unlucky Childhood Friend.
  • New Old West: There's cowboys and ranchers and wagon trains, but there are also automobiles and telephones. The setting is clearly the early 20th century.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Despite being shot in the arm, Willard manages to lift Abe (Gary Cooper! A big man!) into the saddle. Somewhat mitigated later when Willard collapses from exhaustion and blood loss after making it back to Barba.
  • Please Wake Up: Little Barbara can be seen trying to shake her dead mother awake as Worth and his party arrive.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The film, or rather the source novel, was Inspired by… the formation of the Salton Sea in 1905 when a poorly designed irrigation project failed and the Colorado River flooded the formerly dry Salton basin.
  • Straw Vulcan: Jefferson is a good guy, but his lack of social skills and desire to explain his actions makes his daughter distrust him.
  • Time Skip: 15 years from Jefferson Worth rescuing little Barbara in the desert, to grown-up Barbara with her adoptive father the rancher.
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: A Running Gag between Tex and his very large love interest.