Monday, December 16, 2013

Parachute Jumper (1933, Alfred E. Green)

Warner Bros. pre-Code stalwart Alfred E. Green directed four films released by the studio in 1933 (six, if you include a short film and uncredited work on Central Airport).  1933 was not only the year of Green's Baby Face, perhaps the quintessential pre-Code, but also this brisk programmer starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Leo Carrillo, Frank McHugh, and a pre-stardom Bette Davis.  "Parachute jumping" only accounts for a few minutes of the film's 72 minute running time, but I guess that title was deemed most box office-friendly by the powers that be.  So, I went in expecting a Hawksian drama about the perils of a professional parachute jumper, however, in it's hour plus running time, Fairbanks plays not only the titular daredevil, but also a Marine pilot, chauffeur to a horny and rich Claire Dodd, gunsel for smuggler Carrillo, and, finally, pilot (carrying narcotics) for Carrillo.  Such were the days of the Depression when I guy would do just about anything and everything to squeak by...and all in what seems to be only a matter of days.

Davis, as an out-of-work, Southern-accented stenographer whom Fairbanks dubs "Alabama," is still a ways off from her scenery-chewing screen dominance; at this point in her career, she was playing second banana to the men: Fairbanks, Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Tracy, Charles Farrell, etc.  So, it's unsurprising that she held Parachute Jumper in rather low esteem (apparently her least favorite of all her roles), but it is a kick to see her and the always reliable McHugh starving and waiting impatiently for chauffeur / handyman Fairbanks to come down from Dodd's tony apartment.  As is typical of the majority of Warner Bros. films of this era, the players move through a good many situations and scenarios--most directly inspired by the Depression and the day's related headlines--on un-flashy, minimalist sets.  The narcotics that Carrillo hires Fairbanks to fly in from Canada would, of course, be verboten in Code-enforced Hollywood, as would Fairbanks' essentially unveiled assumption that Davis is a prostitute in their first meeting, as would the lingering extreme close-up on the derriere of a drunken Nicaraguan prostitute doing a dance for a soused Fairbanks and McHugh at the start of the film.

Toodles (Frank McHugh) appears to be flipping off a truck that passes him by, but upon closer inspection, it appears to be his index finger sticking straight up.
In addition to house all-star McHugh, Nat Pendleton makes one of his almost mandatory uncredited appearances as a cop, uncredited Walter Brennan is a diner counterman, and in the most expansive of the uncredited roles, we have Leon Ames as a pilot amused by Davis' concern for aerial stuntman / parachuter Fairbanks.

The most fun McHugh had on screen?  Maybe.
The Warner Archive DVD is clean, with no major, distracting damage that I could detect.  There's a trailer as a bonus.  The disc menu artwork (seen at the top of this page in the form of the film's title lobby card), incidentally, is much more striking than the poster WA used for the cover.  I'm guessing the title card artwork may not have been used for the cover because of its horizontal orientation.
Ms. Dodd's appearance in the film is all too brief.

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