Strange, scammy director made the same movie over and over for 40 years


62 Responses to “Strange, scammy director made the same movie over and over for 40 years”

  1. AlasdairGF says:

    …aaaaand… it’s down…!

  2. Isaac Marx says:

    But he doesn’t know the territory!

    • ldobe says:

      Just what I was thinking.

      Except since this was real life, I wonder if any of the parents’ saw any red flags when a stranger blew into town asking for access to everyone’s children in order to make a movie with the word “kidnapper” in the title.

      • James Penrose says:

         People weren’t nearly as hysterical about such things back then.  For all the faults of the era, there was a lot more common sense.

  3. Boundegar says:

    I think it’s time this movie got a remake.

  4. Daniel Krause says:

    Disney’s looking into is as a vehicle for Nic Cage.

  5. Mat Bergman says:

    Calling him a scammy huckster might be going to far. He did, after all, deliver what he promised: A chance to see your kid on the silver screen. It’s not like he took the money and left town.

    Obviously he was no auteur, but his product was probably a real thrill on opening night.

    • oasisob1 says:

      True. It’s similar, but not the same, I suppose.

    • Hegelian says:

       Yeah, I was surprised to read that he finished each of the films. Heck, I know “real” producers who don’t even do that.

    • blearghhh says:

      Digging through the site, there’s an old clipping about an investigation based on him promising parts in real “our gang” type movies at the real Warner Brothers and presenting himself as someone who worked on their behalf.

      So, I guess it really depends on how he presented it – if it was always as something that was just for local consumption, then fine. It does appear though that he was selling it as something far more than just that though. The term “preying on hopeful parents” was used.

      • michaelgillman says:

        It doesn’t looks scammy at all. I found what I assume to be a flyer promoting the production. It looks like he’s being very forthright in saying he would “produce a two reel talking movie, similar to the Gang Comedies, as formerly produced in Hollywood”… and that “your local theatre will make the dream … come true”

        More here:

  6. aliktren says:

    Monorail… Monorail…. Monorail!!!!

  7. Jamie Vicary says:

    Cory, why do you call this guy a “strange, scammy dictator”? Sounds like the local kids had a lot of fun. Is there any evidence he ripped people off, or made outrageous promises?

    • Stooge says:

      According to the article a girl’s family handed over $9 for her to take part in 1936. Adjusted for inflation that makes around $148 now.
      By comparison, I’m paying rather more for dance lessons, costumes, and tickets which will enable me to see my daughters take part in a dance recital next month.

      • avis says:

        Inflation doesn’t work as neatly as that. Going by the average wage in 1936, $9 could have easily been two weeks’ pay.

        • Stooge says:

          You protest too much: $9 in two weeks works out at just under 20% of the median wage in 1936.

          However, I’m happy to concede that if you determine the present day dollar equivalent by accounting for the change in median income, you get a bigger figure ($381).
          I still don’t think that’s an outrageous figure.

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            I don’t know about you, but sometimes I doubt his commitment to Sparkle Motion.

          • Itsonreserve says:

             During the height of the Depression in a small town?  That’s a ridiculous amount of money.  The NYT article states that the girl’s parents couldn’t have afforded it, but her sister saved it up.

    • “”strange, scammy dictator“”?
      (What’s the appropriate formatting for quoting a quote?)

      • Gilbert Wham says:

         Fucking autocorrect. About half the messages I receive now, through just about any channel, have been stripped of meaning because goddamn smartphones keep insisting they can spell better than their owners…

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Cory, why do you call this guy a “strange, scammy dictator”?

      You know who else was a strange, scammy dictator?

  8. Steven B says:

    I agree that calling the directory scammy is a bit much cause he did deliver the movie as promised. The NYT article compares him to the production company that produced Rebecca Black’s video, which, for what it was, looked good. 

  9. Ramone says:

    Any word if the film got any better after 40 years?

  10. legsmalone says:

    Count me in with the “not seeing how this is a scam” bunch.

    • chaopoiesis says:

      Agreed.  I really don’t see how this differs from all of us being offered the opportunity to leave our very own writing on the same page as a famous…


  11. mojohojo says:

    I do find strange scammy a rather strange header for this. If the strange is put there because he used local chilren as a catalist to sell his product then by that token the jc penny/ sears portrait center is strange as well. while he prolly made the movies for considerably less then the money put into it he did deliver a movie and from the page he even went back to remake movies in the same towns indicating he wasnt worried about being run out of own as a huckster on his return. while i love your site and always find it interesting i do find the hipsteresk mentality of applying todays ethics codes morals and societal conscisousness to the past rather annoying.

  12. Stefan Jones says:

    A movie ABOUT this phenomena would be interesting. It could patch in footage from the various versions of Kidnapper’s Foil.

  13. Peter Jackson does the same movie again and again. Nobody calls him scammy.

  14. Professor59 says:

    Uh, isn’t this the plot of “The Music Man”?  And nearly, The Producers?
    This guy was not doing these films to benefit anyone but himself.  It was his career.  The fact that he finished the movies and left them in town doesn’t change that.

    • legsmalone says:

      So his career is a scam? He supplied a product that people wanted and then moved on to do it again. How is this different than a traveling peddler visiting many towns while selling the same wares?

    • Gilbert Wham says:

       If you wanted to do this today, simply billing it as a ‘movie production & acting workshop’ for young people would garner you plenty of positive interest. And, now just like then, you’d be doing no-one any harm and hopefully everyone would have fun.

      • Scratcheee says:

        They do this today, in the form of “Who’s Who” volumes, and poetry collections for students.

        Sorry if I just disappointed anyone.

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          There’s a company in Palm Springs that periodically puts out a Who’s Who of pets for local rich people.

    • GlyphGryph says:

      It’s the Music Man if the music man actually successfully pulled together a functioning band in each town he visited that performed a popular show in town. It’s the Music Man… if the Music Man wasn’t a con-man, and did exactly what he said.

      So not really like that at all. :P

      Most people work to benefit themselves – he apparently provided enough of a service that even for those prices he could come back again and do it in the same town for the next batch of kids who wanted the opportunity.

  15. Michael Holloway says:

    Reminds of “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz” (1974) – Duddy’s first venture was making short Bar Mitzvah films for Families. 

  16. JJ says:

    In unrelated news, hundreds of adults recount tales of being molested as children at the hands of a strange movie maker, between 1930 and 1975.

    You have to admit, this would be a pedophiles dream gig.

  17. V. says:

    I don’t think the filming was as nefarious a scam as the title to this post implies, but there are still people alive that were children in these films and they could give valuable insight about it. Seeing the films are very entertaining if you were from one of the small towns. For instance, my mother grew up in Childress, TX. where one of the films was shot and they have shown the film at class reunions so that people can identify themselves, their siblings etc. Sadly my mother was too young to be in it at the time but people she knew were, like one of her teachers. It was even cool for me to see the old stores and park, where I played as a child. I get the impression from people in Childress that they knew the film was redone in other towns and they didn’t expect anything more from it than just a chance to let their kids be part of something fun and unique. Some of the kids and parents in the films might have gone overboard with their expectations of how “talented” their little darling child was and what the film could do to advance their personal opportunities as actors etc., but I don’t think Barker was promising anything more than what he delivered and a polite compliment of how talented they were and what a great job they were all doing!

  18. Barker was unique only in how long he stuck to the same film (and there were gaps in his Kidnappers Foil filmography in which he was doing local film work and managing movie theaters, etc.). Itinerant filmmaking began early in the 20th century and was a flourishing (though always marginal) business model in the 1930s. The nonfiction “See Yourself in the Movies” films were more common than narratives–one of these, “Kannapolis, NC” by H. Lee Waters, was named to the National Film Registry in 2004.

  19. thecardcheat says:

    Sort of like George Lucas and the Star Wars movies.

  20. Mike Robinson says:

    That sounds like trouble with a capital T that rhymes P and that stands for pool!

  21. EeyoreX says:

    So am I the only one who now desperately needs to see ALL versions of “The Kidnappers Foil” screened simultaneously next to one another, Video Wall style? I’d put down serious money to see that happen.

  22. dethbird says:

    This town needs a monorail

  23. kmoser says:

    Michael Apted has been pulling the same “scam” for decades. Where is the outrage?

  24. Squazz Muntbacker says:
    The last flier on that page makes the claim that Barker discovered Spanky from Our Gang. Starting to smell scammy.

  25. Itsonreserve says:

     I’m kind of flummoxed by how many people are passing their own “scam test” on this, so I have a bridge to sell you if you’ve got access to a money order.

    Yes, these days you might pay a significant amount of money to send your child to dance or sporting lessons but these are skills the kid is learning from someone who knows how to teach them and provides an opportunity for personal growth; the NYT article makes no mention of this man having any skills as an acting teacher, nor bringing one along with him.  He provided no learned skill to the children for his rather large fee, only the opportunity to act as unskilled labor, see the product once and then he’d skip town.

    Not providing the promised product (the film in this case) is not the sole definition of a scam. 

    • Squazz Muntbacker says:

       I’m totally on the side that Barker was probably working a scam, but the story is so novel and interesting that I’m kind of rooting for an Ed Wood-style biopic, if only to raise awareness and lead to more prints being discovered. Film history might do well to cast him as kind of a gentleman bandit who at least handed in the finished films.

  26. Kari Lucin says:

     Er… if he wasn’t producing it as a Hollywood Opportunity, and people knew it was just a local movie, it actually sounds a lot like the Missoula Children’s Theatre, which does great work creating plays featuring local children.

    If he was presenting it as an opportunity to catch the notice of Hollywood agents, then it was a scam. (Which the MCT is obviously not.)

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