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P.T. Barnum (1999)

TV Movie  |   |  Biography, Drama  |  12 September 1999 (USA)
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The story of the great American showman and promoter.



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Title: P.T. Barnum (TV Movie 1999)

P.T. Barnum (TV Movie 1999) on IMDb 6.6/10

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Nominated for 2 Primetime Emmys. Another 5 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Young Charity
Francis Olmsted
(General) Tom Thumb
James Anthony Bailey
Art Kitching ...
Samuel Hurd
Nancy (Fish)
John Genin
Isabelle Cyr ...
Caroline (Barnum)
David Thompson
Helen (Barnum)


This series illustrates the life and career of P.T. Barnum, America's greatest showman and promoter. Starting as a young man who managed an old woman who was supposedly George Washington's nursemaid, we see his career as he finds success promoting curiosities and attractions with panache and a judicious mix of truth and creativity, whether it be promoting his museum or characters like the midget General Tom Thumb. Yet because the demands of his businesses, his family life is troubled and marred by tragedy. All the while, events lead to his greatest creation, the Ringling Brothers/Barnum & Bailey Circus. Written by Kenneth Chisholm <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Biography | Drama






Release Date:

12 September 1999 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Barnum Cirkusz  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Barnum never himself used the phrase "there's a sucker born every minute." See more »

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User Reviews

Cumbersome Biopic, which Doesn't Hold a Candle to "The Mighty Barnum" (1934)
31 May 2010 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Well, for as much as this causes you to want to try to enjoy the film and to hope to find its bright spots, the naysayers appear to call this one right.

This portrays Phineas Taylor Barnum and many around him as irresponsible, manipulative scoundrels with hearts of gold in a cumbersome production which dwells on the negative, lacks continuity, fails to identify many characters, leaves many unexplained details, doesn't nearly live up to its promotional hype, and defeats the purpose of Barnum entertainment value.

While it appears to strive laboriously for factual accuracy, it pales in comparison, for example, with "The Mighty Barnum" (1934), starring Wallace Beery as Phineas T. Barnum, Janet Beecher as Nancy Barnum, Rochelle Hudson as Ellen, Virginia Bruce as Jenny Lind, and Adolphe Menjou as Bailey Walsh.

While the 1934 account takes creative liberties of its own to combine fact with fiction, a familiar cast and steady script provides for entertaining character studies therein.

"P.T. Barnum" (1999), on the other hand, suffers from an awkward script, random editing and haphazard direction, which leaves more questions than answers, thus defeating the purpose of a Biopic. It's not that they don't seem to try very hard to please, but they do focus on the negatives here, much more than the positives.

This begins in Bridgeport, Connecticut, in April of 1891, as the faithful Nancy (Fish) (Stephanie Morgenstern) and Jeremiah (Philip Akin) care for an aged P.T. Barnum (Beau Bridges), who reaches for a copy of his autobiography, to reminisce upon portions of his life, as told in flashback scenes.

35 years earlier, in March of 1856, onlookers refer to the Barnum autobiography, as P.T. enters the New York City Courthouse as defendant in a civil tort trial generated by creditor plaintiffs demanding his repayment of promissory notes.

True to form, P.T. Barnum exhibits his resourcefulness through his speech to put the prosecuting attorney in his place, but we see little of Barnum's innovativeness in the aftermath.

George Hamilton, as spotlighted in the promos, has a cameo role here as Francis Olmsted, a Barnum creditor, and is seen again briefly in the next scene at a board meeting, before he suddenly disappears from this very long and meandering film.

Now, besides extensive scenes with the dysfunctional family, with the elder daughters' constantly blaming Barnum for their mother, Charity's, ill health, and his negligence in relocating her from New York City, even after he purchases another Connecticut estate, this shows very little of the Barnum Museum, Hippodrome and Circus. Once it introduces them, it breaks away for more of the same extensive family squabbles. Again, Drama, Drama in lieu of Entertainment.

And what about those fires? More than once, a fire breaks out, as in the NYC residence during the December, 1857 sequence, and at the Museum a bit later, but the action doesn't resume after the cliffhanger scenes, and nothing is explained in the way of loss. At once point, the family is summoned to a memorial service, but it's not clear who passes. Are these tragedies symbolic of Barnum's resilience to persevere?

If this were a Murder Mystery, with all of these ongoing tensions with discontented creditors and family members, one would expect bodies to be turning up right and left, but most Murder Mysteries don't even present as much fodder for motives to smack someone with the fireplace poker as this "Entertainer" Biopic does.

Once it bounces back to 1891, for more time to reflect on the past, goofs begin to show with problems with age progression makeup. P.T. Barnum is supposed to be two years younger than Charity, whom we may leave alone with her age progression makeup because of her ill health.

Nancy is supposed to be forty years younger then P.T., but instead of appearing about forty in 1891, she appears late-sixtyish.

Jeremiah appears as a young man when P.T. is about fifty, and yet when P.T. approaches eighty, Jeremiah appears about in his seventies. But when the narrative flashes back to P.T. in his fifties, Jeremiah retains his seventyish makeup to appear elder than P.T.

And yet the daughters and their husbands don't age. It's as though they waste the budget on big scenes from which they break and walk away immediately and cannot afford enough makeup to make the rounds.

So, this is one of those productions which doesn't live up to its hype, but rather makes you long for commercial breaks, hoping that they'll advertise something along the lines of a pain assuager which actually works rather quickly because this film doesn't fit together very well.

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