The Bette Davis Project: Parachute Jumper (1933)

Parachute Jumper (1933)


Bill (Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Ghost Story) and Toodles (Frank McHugh, The Front Page) are penniless ex-Marine buddies looking for employment in the Big Apple. Bill and Toodles meet the equally destitute Alabama (Bette Davis) and they all decide to share an apartment. Eventually, Bill finds a job as a chauffeur for a rich woman (Claire Dodd, Footlight Parade), who is the mistress of gangster Kurt Weber (Leo Carrillo, Viva Villa!). This leads to all sorts of complications.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Films about relatively decent men pushed into the world of crime by unscrupulous racketeers was the bread and butter of Pre-code Hollywood.

Directed by Alfred E. Green (Dangerous), written by Rian James, Parachute Jumper has the distinction of having some entertaining aerial stunts (courtesy of stunt pilot Paul Mantz). Also, the story moves fast enough so you don’t have time to think about its implausibilities. When all is said and done, this is nothing but a cheap programmer with very few redeeming qualities.

The film’s main problem is the lack of rapport between Davis and Fairbanks. Neither one had a good time making the movie and it shows. In fact, years later, Fairbanks didn’t remember making it. He did remember Davis, which led to her being casted in Fairbanks’s 1951 Another Man’s Poison. Perhaps the best indication of the film’s poor quality is Robert Aldrich’s decision of using footage from Parachute Jumper to illustrate Jane’s  failure as an actress in the classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962).

Frank McHugh’s easy-going charm is the best thing about the movie. In one scene, he gives a pilot the middle finger (yes, that’s right), something that you won’t see in any other film from the era! Walter Brennan (The Westerner and Sergeant York) has a bit as a soda clerk.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Parachute Jumper is a forgettable B-movie, mostly remembered today for being the only pairing of Fairbanks and DavisAlso starring Leon Ames (Meet Me in St. Louis), Lyle Talbot (Jail Bait and Glen or Glenda), and Harold Huber (The Thin Man). B&W, 65 minutes, Not Rated.


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