The life of the great American showman is entertainingly chronicled in this dramatized biography starring Beau Bridges. While this made-for-TV movie isn't terribly ambitious, it does provide a credible look at how Barnum came to find that his calling in life was to dazzle people with things they could scarcely believe, all the time making sure that they paid handsomely to be "humbugged." As an ambitious youth at a time when America was enjoying explosive growth, Barnum's burgeoning career took off when he bought what was essentially a museum of freaks and frauds. As charmingly portrayed by Bridges, Barnum was a bundle of energy who instinctively knew what people wanted, and he unfailingly turned his acts, such as the famed midget Tom Thumb or the great soprano Jenny Lind, into national obsessions. This film captures the varied facets of Barnum's personality, from a natural playfulness that inspired his fantastic publicity stunts to a shrewd sense of business that could made him one of the wealthiest Americans of his time. And as Barnum was something of an emblematic American, this story of his life not only portrays a unique personality, but evokes the exuberant and growing American nation. --Robert J. McNamara
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