Melton Barker was a strange filmmaker: He made the same movie again and again for 40 years.
Between the 1930s and 1970s, Barker would visit small towns throughout the United States and film local children in a film short he called The Kidnapper’s Foil. The fact that he re-filmed the two reel movie with each stop means hundreds of versions were likely to exist.
Melton Barker was not necessarily making The Kidnapper’s Foil for artistic reasons. There was allegedly a financial gain to the strange project.
According to Boing Boing, Barker would advertise the need for a large cast of children from each town. He would raise money from local parents who wanted to give their kids a shot at stardom. Once he collected the town’s donations Barker would film the movie and leave it in the town’s hands.
Questions have been raised about Barker’s legitimacy and the possibility he was merely a scam artist milking parents for cash.
The biography on MeltonBarker.org, where you can watch several digitized versions of The Kidnapper’s Foil, only offers speculation regarding filmmaker’s cinema background:
“Barker claimed to have begun his professional life by working with a number of major Hollywood studios in Los Angeles during the 1920s, although no data has emerged thus far either to prove or disprove Barker’s claim of Hollywood affiliations.”
The New York Times writes that Caroline Frick, executive director for the Texas Archive of the Moving Image, has been researching Barker and the series for nearly a decade. Although fewer than 20 have been recovered so far, Frick estimates that hundreds of versions of the film were made before the filmmaker’s death in 1977:
“The more I kept looking, the more I kept finding, to the point where I got out a US map at my apartment, and I started to put out thumbtacks across all the different cities he visited.”
The Kidnapper’s Foil is now part of the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress. Although Melton Barker filmed the same movie hundreds of times, each version is a glimpse of American life through several decades.