The Bargain (1914) Poster


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Introducing an icon of the silent screen
wmorrow593 January 2007
The Bargain was the first feature film William S. Hart starred in, but after watching him a while you would swear he was an old hand at this sort of thing. He was certainly no novice at acting: Hart had been a traveling stage player for more than twenty years before this screen debut, barnstorming the country in everything from Shakespeare to "Ben-Hur." And unlike some of the pseudo-cowboys, the ones who who dressed up for the movies but knew little or nothing about life west of the Hudson River, Bill Hart was intimately familiar with the American frontier. When he was growing up in the mid-19th century his father worked as an itinerant mill hand in remote sections of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, in unsettled areas with few white settlers. Little Bill grew up playing with Sioux children. He learned some of their words and also became adept at Indian sign language. (Amusingly, in later years the actor Iron Eyes Cody asserted that Hart's signing was over-embellished and that, in short, he "signed like a woman." If Hart was aware of this opinion, his response was not recorded.) By the time he made his movie debut, well into middle age, Hart had established himself as one of the top interpreters of Western roles on stage, and he was eager to conquer the new medium. He appeared in a couple of short films before making The Bargain, but seemed to regard this feature as his true movie debut. The opening credit sequence certainly underscores the sense of a new career for the leading man: all the major players, starting with Hart, are first seen in formal contemporary attire, standing before a stage curtain. As each actor bows low, a cross-fade occurs, and he or she rises in the character makeup and costume they will wear in the film. It's a charming device, and one that serves as a perfect metaphor for this important juncture in Hart's career.

The story concerns an outlaw named Jim Stokes, commonly known as the "Two-Gun Man," who has been robbing stage coaches single-handed. The opening sequence quickly establishes a few points about Stokes: 1) when it comes to hold-ups, he relies on clever strategy as much as sheer nerve and fire-power to achieve his aims; 2) he fires his gun at an opponent only once, and wounds him rather than killing him; and 3) he's damn good at this. Stokes is the first of Hart's "good-bad men," and when he makes a run for it we find ourselves rooting for him to escape the law. He is wounded in his flight, and takes shelter at a shack with a prospector who -- wouldn't you know -- has a beautiful daughter, Nell (Clara Williams). Stokes' protectors are unaware of his identity, and as Nell nurses him back to health he reconsiders his way of life and decides to reform. He and Nell marry, and he goes into town to return his stolen money to the express company. In many of Hart's later films his bad guys (who were never truly villainous) would go straight under the influence of a good woman, and somehow he always makes this scenario feel plausible.

In town Stokes is recognized and captured by Sheriff Bud Walsh, who handcuffs him to a bed in an upstairs room over a saloon/gambling joint. The scenes in this saloon are rich in atmosphere, highlighted by an impressive camera shot, an extended pan across the expanse of the place that reveals the shabby decor, a couple of well-dressed dandies, some gamblers, a couple of hookers, a few Mexicans segregated in their own section, and other well-observed elements that give this milieu a taste of realism which later Hollywood Westerns could only aspire to. Bill Hart was there, and in his films you get the sense you're looking at frontier life as it was actually lived.

The scenes between Stokes and the sheriff point up another motif that would become familiar in Hart's work: just as Stokes isn't so bad as he seems at first, Sheriff Walsh isn't such a model of civic rectitude himself. While his prisoner is held captive in the room upstairs, the sheriff visits the gaming wheel and we come to realize the man has an addiction to gambling. When he loses all his own cash, Walsh dips into the express company money which was in his keeping, and when that is all gone the man is in serious trouble. Eventually, he and Stokes make a startling pact that benefits them both and leads to an ending that is both satisfying and uplifting, though not without its ethically dubious aspects.

I was fortunate enough to see this film at a recent screening at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, and am pleased to note that it has been beautifully restored, and looks as good as any film of its age I've ever seen. William S. Hart's Westerns are among the real treasures of the silent screen, generally intense and often quite moving, and it's a pleasant surprise to find that his very first starring feature is among his best.
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Comments on"The Bargain"
rmounty23 June 2008
The 1914 New York Motion Picture version of "The Bargain" was not William S Hart's first film. The hardened theater actor starred in 2 other "flickers" that year. The first was "His Hour of Manhood" followed by "Jim Cameron's Wife". Both only 2 reels in length and starred who would be one of his favorite leading actresses Clara Williams. Shooting for "The Bargain" started on June.11, 1914 continuing until August 5th in the base of the Grand Canyon, by a small crew under direction of Reginald Barker. Apparently the heat was so fierce actor make-up melted inside their containers. After shooting, the crew went back to Inceville, completing the film using the nearby Topanga Canyon to match the canyon location footage. This movie convince producer and later long-time colleague Thomas Ince to put Hart under a short-term contract as an actor and director at $125.00 per week (good starting wage back then).
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Rescued from a paper print.
F Gwynplaine MacIntyre31 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
'The Bargain', a William S. Hart western, is one of the many thousands of silent films which survive only because of the U.S. government's 'paper prints' law, which seemed rather bizarre at the time, but in hindsight may indicate that the U.S. government know what they're doing after all. I'll describe the situation, and you can judge for yourself.

In the late 19th century, when movie production companies first tried to copyright their films in the U.S., the Library of Congress stated that only artistic works published on PAPER could be registered for copyright. Movies, being photographed on celluloid, were ineligible. This seems rather a capricious ruling, but perhaps the LoC simply didn't want to accumulate cans of film stock ... which, in those days, were usually highly flammable nitrate-emulsion celluloid. (Although the LoC acquired plenty of nitrate films eventually.) This decision prompted many production companies to make special 'paper print' versions of their films, to be used solely for registering U.S. copyright and for storage in the Library of Congress. Essentially, a paper print reproduces the movie frame-by-frame on long paper streamers rather than celluloid filmstrips. Such prints cannot be projected, but can be bound into books and 'read'.

The LoC's decision was borne out when those nitrate prints started to decompose. Many early movies -- including 'The Bargain' -- have no known surviving original film prints, and exist today only because the paper prints registered in the Library of Congress were eventually re-photographed onto acetate-emulsion (safety) film stock. Thank you, Uncle Sam.

Unfortunately, some film producers weren't completely honest when registering their movies for copyright. I saw 'The Bargain' in October 2006 at the Cinema Muto festival in Sacile, Italy, where it was screened from an acetate print struck from the paper original. As much as I enjoyed this film, I was more interested in seeing another one which the festival programmers scheduled along with 'The Bargain', a film so rare that it isn't listed in IMDb yet: 'Marceline, the World-Renowned Clown of the N.Y. Hippodrome'. This purported to be the stage act of a famous European clown who was (among other things) Chaplin's mentor. To my great annoyance, the producers of that movie had only bothered to convert the first few frames of their nitrate filmstrip into a paper print for the copyright office ... so the programmers at Cinema Muto could only show us those opening frames, looped several times.

SPOILERS AHEAD. 'The Bargain' was made early in William S. Hart's career, but shows his screen character firmly in place. Rather than playing a standard white-hat hero or black-hat varmint, Hart typically played corrupt characters who are reformed in the last reel, usually by the love of a good woman. Here, Jim Stokes (Hart) is a stagecoach robber who's wounded while stealing the express-company's money, but is saved by miner Phil Brent and his pretty daughter Nell. After Jim marries Nell, his past catches up with him ... in the form of sheriff Bud Walsh, determined to bring Jim to justice. Jim has conveniently saved the stolen money all this time, and now he claims that he intends to make restitution ... which I found unlikely, since he was last seen scarpering for the Mexican border when the sheriff caught up with him. Walsh confiscates the money, but manages to lose it while gambling on a crooked roulette wheel. He then offers Jim a bargain: if Jim steals the money back for the sheriff, he'll allow Jim and Nell to escape into Mexico, presumably to live happily ever after.

I'm not much of a fan of westerns, but I found this one enjoyable. For once, Hart isn't the only morally ambiguous character: the sheriff who comes after him is just as crooked ... and stupid with it, since he manages to get snookered by a crooked wheel. Having blown the money at the roulette wheel, why didn't the sheriff simply claim that Jim had spent it before the sheriff captured him? The ending is rather contrived: since Walsh sets Jim free to rob the gambling house (with the understanding that Jim is to surrender the winnings to Walsh), there's nothing to prevent Jim from welshing on Walsh by keeping the money AND going free with Nell; because Jim honours the bargain, we accept that his reformation is genuine. I'll rate this intriguing early oater 7 out of 10.
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Dodgiest Looking Sheriff Ever...
kidboots10 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
.... with such heavy make up, J. Frank Burke looks like a snake oil salesman from a wild west show. Also, like "On the Night Stage", players are initially introduced from the stage and sporting evening clothes which then change to wild west attire. I have a feeling it was to give players credibility - even at this stage movies weren't the most respectable form of entertainment and westerns were an even bigger step down. More a case of "yes, I know this is a western but I'm really from the stage - I'm respectable, don't you know"!!! And the performers had every reason to think that way. "The Bargain" is a terrific movie and really moves quickly - but in 1914 critics weren't having it!! "Moving Picture World" thought it "weird and a reckless attempt to revive a genre we hoped was a thing of the past"!! Little did they know the genre was only beginning. Hart was credited with being the founder of the "real West Western" and together he and Thomas Ince soon revived their popularity.

"The West - Where Man stands face to face with his soul". A typical Hart title - here he plays "Two Gun" Stokes who after a botched stage coach robbery finds himself wounded and on the run in Badlands territory. He finds shelter at the Brents and during his convalescence falls in love with Nell but when they marry a couple of cowboys who are roped in as witnesses recognize him from the wanted pictures. Once he decides to go into town to return the money so he can start married life with a clean slate the action really picks up. He is captured and handed over to the sheriff who takes the money for safe keeping and then decides to pay a visit to the gambling tables!! Within an hour the Sheriff has lost the money but Jim, who is still tied up, proposes a bargain - his freedom, in return for the recovery of the missing money.

There are some ruggedly realistic scenes - the flight to evade the posse and double back to the sheriff's room takes Stokes to the edge of a precipice where he and his horse roll down the cliff. It is very harrowing to see the horse fall down the sandy dune but fortunately the horse recovers quickly and trots off. There is also some beautiful location photography of Arizona's Grand Canyon. Clara Williams was often paired as Hart's love interest in these early years, she had a very home spun, westerny look about her but after marrying director Reginald Barker she soon retired and was never tempted to return.
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A Western That Incidentally Made a Star of William S. Hart
briantaves15 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
William S. Hart had already had success in adapting his own memories into a stage persona that convinced audiences, and he was now determined to bring it to the screen. He believed that his old stage friend Thomas Ince, now a producer, had promised to personally direct him and provide him the best stories. As I outline in my Ince biography, and from the outset their relationship was rocky. In May 1914, Hart began to appear in two-reel shorts directed by leading man Thomas Chatterton, a novice director. His Hour of Manood was the first, taking 12 days to film on a budget of $8,000, and the filmmaking process left Hart uncomfortable. He felt equally discouraged when, the day after finishing His Hour of Manhood, he began his next movie, Jim Cameron's Wife.

Both pictures were released in July, and Ince was ready to assign Hart to a similar role of the same kind. Hart threatened to return to the stage instead, and Ince was persuaded to allow him to try a more "authentic" story. Ince recalled a two-reeler, Getting His Man (1911), and suggested it might be expanded. Five days later Hart returned with a treatment that included a synopsis of the first fifty scenes, and it was turned over to C. Gardner Sullivan.

Hart's personal note of authenticity in the resulting movie, The Bargain, is apparent from the opening credits, when the major players are all introduced, bowing between curtains as they fade to be seen in their costume. Unlike the other male leads, Burke, Sherry, and James Dowling, only Hart's visage is not obscured behind heavy makeup. The viewer is left to conclude that only Hart is what he seems—he needs no false whiskers or wig to be a man of the West.

The movie opens with dime novel prose that would seem to be at odds with its ostensible realism. A\"The West! The Land of Vast Golden Silences Where God Sits Enthroned on the Purple Peaks and Man Stands Face to Face With His Soul." A pan of Grand Canyon vistas follows; the June 11 to August 5 shooting schedule for The Bargain included a location trip. Telegraph intertitles reveal the setting is in the year 1889.

The Bargain establishes the pattern of the character types, trajectory, and conflicts which would become the Hart persona. He is the daring outlaw Jim Stokes, a self-sufficient two-gun man first seen rolling a cigarette. His devil-may-care confidence allows him to rob even a well-guarded stagecoach alerted to his presence in the area: he sets up hats and rifles behind boulders and convinces the escort that his confederates are watching them. But once he leaves with the money chest, the guards realize the ruse, pursuing Stokes into the badlands and wounding him.

Found by prospector Phil Brent (Sherry), Stokes is nursed back to health, winning the love of the prospector's daughter Nell (Clara Williams). They are unaware of Stokes's criminal past. While not losing his courage and resourcefulness, love has brought about a moral reformation, and Stokes determines to return the money to the stage company. Meanwhile, reward posters cause him to be recognized, and he must flee to the border town of El Tempo, Arizona. He sends his horse back with a note for Nell, which is intercepted by her father, who keeps the truth from her.

In El Tempo, the opening pan of the Grand Canyon is echoed with a long circular shot, giving a similar sense of verisimilitude. This time, however, instead of the clean vistas of nature, the audience is drawn into the corrupt din of the saloon. Sheriff Walsh (Burke) corners Stokes in the hotel and ties him up, then telegraphs to claim the reward. Waiting for the stage, the lawman proves just as susceptible to temptation as the outlaw. Drawn to the roulette wheel, and unaware that it is Afixed,@ he soon loses his money—and in a desperate bid to win it back, gambles the stage funds with the same result.

When Walsh confesses to Stokes, he can only laugh at the irony. However, he makes a bargain to save both of them. He steals the money, giving it back to the sheriff, who lets Stokes go. He returns to Nell to confess his past. Momentarily hesitant, she decides to follow him to Mexico. Stokes signals to Walsh, waving his hat, signaling that he is safely away.

The Bargain, released in five reels in December by Famous Players-Lasky, became Hart's first hit, although he was billed after Williams and Sherry. It would be reissued under the Paramount banner, this time with Hart starred first. Another feature of similar length for Ince, On the Night Stage, was begun by Hart the day after completing The Bargain, in which Hart was fourth-billed after Robert Edeson, Rhea Mitchell, and Herschell Mayall. Despite the billing, Hart was already advertised as "the most talked of Motion Picture Actor to-day (His wonderful work in The Bargain will go down in the history of Motion Pictures) ...."
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Shot in the Grand Canyon with William S. Hart
wes-connors7 May 2009
After being wounded in a shoot-out, steely-eyed outlaw William S. Hart (as Jim Stokes) is found by prospector J. Barney Sherry (as Phil Brent). Mr. Hart lies to his rescuer, "I was chased by Indians and one of them got me," and is brought back to Mr. Sherry's Arizona cabin. There, Hart recovers from his wound, and falls in love with Sherry's pretty dark-haired daughter Clara Williams (as Nell Brent), who nurses him back to health. Reformed by love and marriage, Hart decides to return the money stolen before he was injured, but he is arrested by Sheriff J. Frank Burke (as Bud Walsh)...

"The Bargain" is struck between Hart and Sheriff Burke, who loses the recovered money gambling - if Hart will help him get the money back, the Sheriff will let Hart go free. Variations of this intriguing moral/amoral storyline would be repeated in subsequent Hart features - a few were better, and more than a few were worse; "The Bargain" got there first. The Thomas H. Ince production benefits from the Arizona location photography (shot in the Grand Canyon) by Joseph August. The unusual opening "credits" were not original, but they seem like a perfect introduction to the picture.

****** The Bargain (12/3/14) Thomas H. Ince, Reginald Barker ~ William S. Hart, J. Frank Burke, Clara Williams
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Inside - Outside
Cineanalyst2 August 2004
William S. Hart had already honed his acting and Western credentials on the stage. "The Bargain" was his first feature-length film, and the basics of his usual formula are already present. Hart is the "good bad-man", who is reformed once in the presence of a pure woman. The prototype for the "good bad-man" had already been introduced to the screen by "Broncho Billy" Anderson, but from what I've seen from these two, Hart far surpassed his predecessor. It's easy to see why Hart was so successful; his acting is more restrained than that of the other players. (Clara Williams is okay, too, though, and starred in other Hart films.) His worn face allows him not to stare into nothing in an attempt to convey emotion, as others do here.

There's crosscutting action, too, with outdoor shooting. At that time, filming outside is preferable for everyone: it's cheap for the studios, especially so with Westerns, and the camera is, theoretically, freed from the missing wall and cramped space of studio sets. The beautiful landscape is more prominent and overwhelming here than in later Hart pictures. Yet, oddly, the most virtuosic shot happens inside: a one-minute panorama within a saloon.
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Nice Hart Western
Michael_Elliott16 March 2011
Bargain, The (1914)

** 1/2 (out of 4)

After robbing a stagecoach, bandit Jim Stokes (William S. Hart) is shot but manages to make it to a ranch where a woman (Clara Williams) nurses him back to health. Stokes decides to marry the woman and go straight so he returns the stolen money to the Sheriff (J. Frank Burke) but he ends up losing it gambling so he makes a bargain with the bandit to clear both of them. THE BARGAIN probably has more history than entertainment to it but if you're a fan of silent Westerns or Hart then it's still worth viewing. The movie is best remembered today for being an early Paramount picture from producer Thomas H. Ince. It's also remembered for being Hart's first feature-length film but that there is some of the problem with the film. It's funny to see that even at this early part of his career Hart has no problem playing the bad guy willing to turn good for love. I thought Hart was very believable in the part and he managed to work both the good and bad in the character. I've always enjoyed seeing Hart play the bad guy even if the "performance" doesn't have to be that strong. That terrific face of Hart's perfectly gets across the coldness of his characters and he also manages to tell quite a bit with his eyes. The sympathy comes out of his eyes and this is especially true during the sequences where he's trying to make the woman understand that he does want to go straight. Williams is also very good in her role. The character isn't written all that great but the actress manages to be charming and it's easy to see why Hart would fall for her. There's a few action pieces sprinkled throughout but the majority comes towards the end when Hart must go into action over the double-cross. At 70-minutes I think there's no enough story to fully carry the picture as it really doesn't seem more like a three-reeler that has been stretched to the max just to be sold as a "feature", which is something that was common around this period.
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