When I was given the chance to review Warner Archive’s new manufacture-on-demand release of Parachute Jumper (1933), I was so excited: it was a Bette Davis film that I had never seen. No more than ten minutes into the film, however, I realized why I had never heard of it before. The dialogue and plot is flimsy; it isn’t realistic, and it’s poorly written. Bette Davis, portraying a character from Alabama, struggles through the film with a terrible Southern accent. (I feel guilty for calling out the iconic starlet on this shortcoming, but I’m from Georgia, ya’ll, and I am quite sensitive to a fake Southern accent.) Perhaps Davis wasn’t given enough time to perfect the accent, as the entire film was reportedly shot in under a month.
The one saving grace offered by the plot is that it appears to appeal to the strife suffered by the audience during the Great Depression. Two buddies, Bill (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) and Toodles (Frank McHugh), live in a small apartment and are in search of work during economic hard times after they are discharged from the military. Bill meets Patricia, (Davis), nicknames her Alabama, and invites her to move in with him after a five-minute conversation. Perhaps it’s because Bill spends his last few nickels buying her a meal; maybe it’s his charming good looks; or maybe it’s because her character assumes that a grown man going by the name “Toodles” must be harmless, but Alabama agrees to move in with the two strange men in order to share expenses. Although this seems like an unlikely scenario for the time period, audiences could likely relate to the struggle of the characters. Each character certainly has a strong work ethic and is willing to work, but faces the obstacle of not being able to find honest work in the big city.
The screenplay is careful to make clear that there is no “funny business” going on in the apartment between the single young woman and the two men. In one painfully awkward (and creepy) scene, Bill comes in to the room where Alabama is sleeping, and she angrily declares, “I’ve been expecting you. I knew you were too good to be true!”
Bill apologizes and begs her to stay, claiming, “It’s not going to happen again; not while I’m sober.” Annnnd charm spell broken. Nevertheless, Alabama forgives Bill and continues to live in the apartment with the pair. The story focuses mainly on Bill, who eventually begins working for a gangster, unknowingly running narcotics across the Canadian border.
As declared on the back case of the DVD, this film is “fast moving, enjoyable.” Unfortunately, it’s a little too “fast moving,” which makes the plot a little hard to swallow. Still, I can’t say that I was bored. I can understand why an audience in this era would be thrilled to watch multiple plane crashes, gangster shootings, drug running, and parachute jumps.
The final shakedown for this film: It’s worth the seventy-two minutes of your life for the following reasons: (1) There are some really cool shots of 1930s New York; (2) Bette Davis fans should watch this film, even if only to see how far the actress was able to go in her career with later films; (3) It illustrates what life was like during the time period it was filmed. I found it interesting that when the characters searched the classifieds in the newspaper looking for work, there were separate listings for men and women.
As per many of the Warner Archive MOD discs, this release of Parachute Jumper has no special features other than the trailer for the film. It should be noted that there is not a scene selection feature. I also thought it was ironic that the fine for pirating this film is more than it cost to produce the film.
Parachute Jumper is available now as a Manufactured on Demand (MOD) disc through The Warner Archive Collection.
True Classics thanks Warner Archive for providing a copy of Parachute Jumper for the purposes of this review.