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Preservation funded by The Museum of Modern Art Department of Film

The Barker (1928)

Directed by George Fitzmaurice

Popular silent star Milton Sills made his talking picture debut as Nihy Miller, a carnival barker who tries to break up a burgeoning romance between his adored son, Chris (Douglas Fairbanks. Jr.), a law student, and Lou (Dorothy MacKaill), a sideshow performer.

Kenyon Nicholson's play opened on Broadway in 1927, with Walter Huston as Nihy and Claudette Colbert in her first important role as Lou. (Huston and Colbert repeated their roles in a Lux Radio Theater adaptation of the play in 1936.) As the fast-talking barker, Sills suggests Huston in his ability to convey tenderness without sacrificing virility, while MacKaill, who looks remarkably like Colbert in some scenes, gives a moving performance as a woman redeemed by love. It was Betty Compson, however, who received the film's only Academy Award nomination for her performance as Nifty's jealous mistress, Carrie, who pays Lou to make Chris fall in love with her.

Completed as a silent in the summer of 1928, The Barker was put back into production in November so that Vitaphone talking sequences could be added one month before the film's New York premiere. Given the short deadline, the interplay of visuals and soundtrack in the part-talking version was unusually sophisticated for 1928: multiple camera angles were used, and close-ups and medium shots of the actors talking were intercut with silent long shots filmed the previous summer, while the dialogue continued without a break.

Louis Silvers' music score was recorded on November 20. When the actors were talking, the musicians either played more softly or the engineers turned down the volume on the music so that it wouldn't overwhelm the dialogue on the final track. The Barker was remade twice: as Hoop-la, with Clara Bow in 1933, and as Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe, a sanitized Betty Grable musical in 1945.

–Charles Hopkins and Robert Gitt

First National Pictures Producer: AI Rockett Screenwriter: Benjamin Glazer Based on the play "The Barker; a Play of Carnival Life in Three Acts" by Kenyon Nicholson Cinematographer: Lee Garmes Editor: Stuart Heisler Cast: Milton Sills, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., George Cooper, Dorothy Mackaill, Betty Compson

35mm, silent with music and sound sequences, 87 min.

Preserved by The Museum of Modern Art Department of Film and UCLA Film & Television Archive from a 35mm nitrate print and Vitaphone sound discs. Laboratory services by Cinetech, Audio Mechanics. OJ Audio. Special thanks to: Jim Bedoian. Jim Cooprider, Haden Guest. Steven Higgins. Harry Snodgrass. Peter Williamson.