28 August 2013 | jimjo1216
Lightweight Pre-Code Fun
PARACHUTE JUMPER (1933), famously singled out by Bette Davis as one of the awful films she was required to make in the early years of her Warner Bros. contract, certainly isn't anything substantial. But it's a surprisingly fun Pre-Code flick.
The movie is carried by its three stars: Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Bette Davis, and Frank McHugh. Fairbanks in particular gives a winning, charismatic performance. Fairbanks and McHugh play a couple of ex-airmen who are desperate for work during the Great Depression. They're so broke that they take turns wearing one suit of clothes.
Fairbanks hops around from job to job, from aerial stuntman one day to chauffeur the next, ultimately getting mixed up with rum-running gangsters. (This is a Warner Bros. film, after all.) McHugh has less luck finding employment. Davis, playing an out-of-work stenographer called "Alabama", uses a Southern accent throughout. (Why not?) Fairbanks invites Davis to share the apartment he's got with McHugh, and the three become one little happy family, cheering each other on and scraping around to put food in their stomachs.
Fairbanks and McHugh play off each other well as the two buddies. Miss Davis is young and blonde and sweet and pretty, and fits in nicely with the boys. Her great acting triumphs were still to come, but she's always a pleasure to watch (even in films she despised).
There are a few Pre-Code touches that stand out to the trained observer. Firstly, the sound of a toilet flushing (before Hollywood was forced to ignore the very existence of toilets). There are also a couple of rather amusing (if homophobic) scenes where Fairbanks and McHugh joke around in "sissy" voices. And when a car passes by when Frank McHugh is thumbing for a ride, he gives the driver an entirely different hand gesture.
As far as 70-minute Pre-Code films go, PARACHUTE JUMPER is rather enjoyable. The story isn't very deep, but it's not exactly something you've seen before. Fairbanks, McHugh, and Davis seem to have a good time. There's biplanes and booze, gangsters and guns, good girls and shady dames, romance and wisecracks, and even some parachute jumping. The movie's got just about everything, and it's all rather fast-paced and light-hearted. A good time.