"The Winning of Barbara Worth" (1926) is a silent western that stars Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper, and Vilma Banky. Directed by Henry King and based on the novel by Harold Bell Wright, this film is one of the great epic westerns of the silent era. The story begins with a wife burying her husband in the desert as her little girl looks on. Another wagon arrives soon after and the girl, Barbara, is saved from the terrible dust storm. However, it is too late for the mother. A man named Jefferson Worth rescues the little orphan and she becomes his adopted daughter. Fifteen years later, Barbara Worth, played by Vilma Banky, is now a young beautiful woman living with her father in the small desert town of Rubio City. Mr. Worth's dream is to bring water to the desert through irrigation. Rich land developer, James Greenfield, plans to fulfill everyone's dream by making the barren land into a paradise.
Engineer Willard Holmes, played by Ronald Colman, is hired by Greenfield to help bring water to the desert. Unfortunately, trouble lies ahead. Barbara is loved by her childhood sweetheart, Abe Lee, played by Gary Cooper. Willard falls for Barbara and a bitter rivalry develops between him and Abe. Since both men are exceedingly handsome, who will win the heart of Barbara Worth? In the meantime, Greenfield fires all the workers before the dam is properly reinforced, and in protest Worth has his men establish a new town on a mesa. However, he finds he cannot meet his payroll because of Greenfield's blockade. When the people realize they cannot be paid, they want to burn down the town. They are ready to lynch Worth and his daughter, Barbara. From that point on it is a race against time as Willard and Abe try to get the payroll to the townspeople. The climax of the film involves the breaking of the dam and the flooding of the entire area. The ending is very surprising. Although it was a landmark film in its own right, "The Winning of Barbara Worth" is best known for launching Gary Cooper's career. This film gave western stuntman and bit player Cooper his first featured role. Cooper's good looks and natural style of acting were immediately noticed by audiences and critics alike. An outstanding performance was given by Gary Cooper as well as Ronald Colman and Vilma Banky. The cinematography is breathtaking with beautiful use of light and shadow. The images of wagons and people and horses moving against a background of yellow-tinted desert looks stunning. The special effects were impressive for its time especially the flooding of the Colorado River. "The Winning of Barbara Worth" is not only a high quality production by Samuel Goldwyn, but it also blends romance and drama into an engrossing western epic.
* It is interesting to note that "The Winning of Barbara Worth" was filmed in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada.