May 23, 2004
The Skydivers (1963) (part 2 of 7)
The next scene begins with yet another character driving up to the airfield. I just realized, we’ll also meet every single subsequent main character as they drive up in a vehicle. So, evidently, Coleman couldn’t think of just one other way to introduce a character. Well, actually, there is one exception coming up later, which we’ll see is even dumber.
The new arrival is Pete, a skydiving student. He’s driving a beat-up old car that Griffin, Landis and Cook wouldn’t have been caught dead in. In fact, as he stops, the front passenger door flies open on its own. You just know that to be in this movie, this car must be someone’s actual car—in fact, it’s one of the better cars out of the various jalopies in this film. “Which car should we have Pete drive up in?” “Let’s use Bob’s. His passenger door stays closed. Well, most of the time.”
Pete gets out and is given a quick close-up. Pete is played by Paul Francis, who I’d like to think is Coleman’s cool younger brother or nephew. He’s the coolest Francis appearing in this movie, anyway. Which I think is up there somewhere with “the hippest Osmond” or “the baddest Brady”. Or “the funniest Wayans” or “the most sane Jackson“. Stop me when this gets old.
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Beth walks up while Pete is getting his gear out from the easy access passenger door. He asks Beth to take him up for a skydive, or as everyone in this movie says, “drive” him up [?], so he can freefall. She refuses, and he protests. In another dimension, far, far away, Harry nods his head. These are the weird trademark head shots that Coleman Francis inserts, shot from below so that all you see is the sky and the head of a person not in the scene. They’re very disconcerting, and have no sense of connection to the rest of the action.
Sensing Harry’s nod, Beth relents and goes along with Pete’s request. Apropos of nothing, Pete says, “You know something? You’re prettier everyday.” Beth just guffaws, but Harry hears it way over in his alternate world, and it ticks him off, as we can see by his bland anti-reaction. So we learn super-obviously that Harry is the jealous sort, even though (as we’ll learn later) he’s got a honey on the side too, and pays zero attention to his wife otherwise. My, wherever do you think this storyline will go?
Pete picks up his gear and says, “Bob, you ready?” Bob? Who’s Bob? Some guy in a hangar, nowhere near Pete, says, “Coming, Harry.” Harry? What is going on here? Coleman is just randomly splicing together disconnected scenes and voices now! And we’re only five minutes into the movie! Suddenly, the plane is already out of the hangar and Harry, Pete, and I’ll just assume, “Bob,” get on.
Even weirder, as the plane begins to taxi away, I can faintly hear talking off-camera as someone says, “So long boys. See you later.” But it’s not in a voiceover. You know when stupid people stand out in the rain, and videotape a fast approaching tornado, and you hear their family members off camera urging them to come inside where it’s safe? “It’s about a half-mile from our house now. Ow! A chunk of corrugated roofing just sliced my arm off!” “Jim, you get back in here!” “Dangit, Arlene, I told you! I’ll come inside if it gets dangerous!” It’s like that. It wasn’t meant to be heard by anyone, yet it’s played on the evening news ad infinitum and then everyone laughs at them the next day. So to hear this in a real movie is just so surreal. It’s a total “Watch out for snakes!” moment. Care, Coleman! Care just one iota!
So here we are. Less than seven minutes into the film and we’re already seeing the skydiving footage. No build-up. No fanfare. Nothing. Just slab after slab of skydiving. Every excruciating second of it set to a Golden Books Wonders of Life filmstrip soundtrack. Every skydiving scene in this movie has this music accompanying it, by the way. You know, if I ever go skydiving, I’m bringing an iPod with this music loaded on it. Of course, to get the full experience, the music will need to run out before I reach the ground. And I’ll need to have no hopes or dreams.
Beth smokes while she watches Pete float down, then drives out to pick him up in his beater car. Pete stuffs his chute in and holds the door closed as they drive back to the hangars. I’d love to see Beth take a fast, sharp left turn and send poor Pete tumbling out across the desert scrub. Ah well, not my movie.
The next scene takes us to a really ugly lake. You know those cesspools near interstate rest stops? Sorta looks like that. Harry and Suzy are together on Suzy’s motorboat, so apparently it’s Illicit Affair Time! (We know it’s hers because it conveniently says “Suzy” on the side. I think it’s entirely possible that they named the character “Suzy” because they already had the boat.)
And oh, horror of horrors! Tony Cardoza is only wearing swim trunks, people! While I’m still reeling from that image, Coleman violently jump cuts to a drunk guy stumbling around on the beach. Because what’s a trip to the beach without some random drunk guy being there? Actually, do you get the feeling that wherever Coleman went in his life, there was a random drunk guy there? Or that perhaps Coleman was that random drunk guy?
Harry carries Suzy (ugh! the cottage cheese!) out of the boat, through the water, up the “beach” (read “desert”) and to her car. I love how Tony limps barefoot across the sand, struggling to carry her. It looks like either he stepped on a cactus, the sand is really hot, or she’s just a major load. I’m voting for the third thing.
Over by her car, Harry and Suzy kiss. I choke back the vomit, then Suzy asks if she’ll see Harry tomorrow. In more brilliant dialogue, Harry monotones, “No, Suzy. Not tomorrow.” Because fire bad.
Saddened, Suzy gets in her car, gives Harry a last look, and drives off. The camera follows her down a short hill, where she has to stop because the road ends. So I don’t know where she thought she was going. It appears their Lake of Despair has vanished, too. Harry watches her “leave”, then limps over to his own car. I have to wonder how a guy who runs a sport parachuting business that’s only open on weekends can afford a Cadillac. It’s not a real nice one, but still.
From that bland and tawdry affair, we cut to a short, riveting scene of a mailman in a ridiculously tiny little car, driving with his dog on his lap. And he’s smoking a big cigar. And it’s a big, long-haired dog on his lap. A no doubt soon to be flaming, yelping dog on his lap. He puts a letter, which we see is from a Mr. Joe Moss, into Harry’s mailbox. Turns out, the mailman has one of those rarely-sighted postal vehicles with the steering wheel on the left side. The ideal vehicle for the mailman who wants to drive into oncoming traffic! (Why am I expecting any better from this movie? Get with it, Manda!)
You really have to appreciate how Coleman gives you all the buildup and exposition you could ever want. I mean, if we just saw Harry with a letter in his hand, we might not understand how he got it. Much better to show the mailman putting the letter in his mailbox, am I right? Actually, I’m kind of unclear on how the mailman got the letter in the first place, but no quick, disconnected scenes of a postal sorting center are granted to us, unfortunately.
That night, some bad piano jazz plays, reminding me of Tormented, while Beth prepares a nice candlelit dinner for her and Harry. And nothing says candlelight romance like casserole hot dish! Mmm! What wine goes good with Tuna Surprise? Wait. What am I saying? This is a Coleman Francis movie. Forget wine—bring on the coffee!
Also, I love how their dining room is just a box. No windows, no hint of another room, no decorations, just a box with a table in it that two people crawled into. Apparently, they live in one of those shipping containers that illegal immigrants are always suffocating inside of. Geez, even the prison shed in Red Zone Cuba had a window. And a magical cure for gangrene. But that’s another story.
Before they can begin eating, though, there’s the business of the letter to get out of the way. I’ll bet this is exciting news. “You may already have won—a part in a Coleman Francis movie?” Dangit, I already got one!
Harry is detectably excited to see the letter from his old GI friend Joe Moss. You can tell by the excited blank look in his eyes.
Harry monotones Joe’s letter to us. The gist is, Joe needs a job. Beth says that with Frankie gone, they could use a good mechanic, and she suggests they hire Joe. To which Harry agrees, but in a way that sounds like he couldn’t care less. The timing of all this—the letter arriving from an old friend who happens to be a mechanic just after Frankie is fired—is what we call Clunky Plot Mechanics 101. Either that, or Joe secretly sabotaged Frankie’s career in order to get his awesome job down at the parachutin’ field. Ooo, that sounds interesting. Let’s watch that movie!