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.|
|The most fun McHugh had on screen? Maybe.|
|Ms. Dodd's appearance in the film is all too brief.|