13 August 2009 | GManfred
Didn't think I would like this one as much as I did. I don't really care for circus/carnival movies, although I thoroughly enjoyed "Nightmare Alley" and didn't think it could be topped. So I was pleasantly surprised by "The Barker", an earthy, sweaty character study of a troupe of traveling 'carnys'.
An even bigger surprise was the towering performance of Milton Sills, a name I had only heard in movie reference books. His portrayal of Nifty Miller, a world-weary, morally unstable carnival barker nearly knocked me to the ground, to coin a phrase. His libidinous, self-indulgent world comes to a screeching halt with the arrival of his son,Chris, played by Douglas Fairbanks,Jr. who promptly falls in love with Bimbo-With-a-Heart Dorothy Mackaill. Naturally,complications arise but the whole movie comes to life when Sills, who as a reader above mentioned, looks like a slim Walter Matthau, is on the screen.
This is a very unusual film in that it is part sound and part silent. I found it jarring to go from 'talkie'to dialogue cards without warning but I have since learned that the UCLA film Dept. has restored this 'part-talkie', and that most others of this kind have been lost entirely. In fact, The last few feet of the film were lost and a still shot has been put in its place while the sound continues. Also, unless I miss my guess, that is Herman Mankiewicz himself, who has a writer credit on this film, playing a ukelele in the trio accompanying Betty Compson in her Hawaiian dance numbers. Could be a Hollywood 'inside joke'.
This one may be tough to come by but if you get the opportunity, don't miss it.