May 23, 2004
The Skydivers (1963) (part 3 of 7)
During this, a leather jacketed thug rides a motorcycle up a dirt road… somewhere. He tries to slow down and stop for the camera, but ends up nearly dumping the bike instead. “Sorry, you want me to do it again, Coleman?” “No. It’s fine!” Oddly, he kills the headlight even though he’s not even close to his destination yet.
Over in the shipping box, Beth decides this is the time to play Discuss The Marriage with Harry. What makes this so strange is there is absolutely no lead up to it. One second they’re talking about Joe, and the next thing it’s “what happened to us?” If this movie were a car accident, we could all sue for whiplash.
The article continues after these advertisements...
Beth pours out her soul to Harry, telling him she thinks something’s going on, but she’ll stay by his side no matter what. Harry silently looks at the table. She then comes right out and asks, “Is it Suzy?” Harry sips his coffee, stares across the shipping box, and says nothing. Beth nods. “Alright, Harry. Alright.” Boy, who needs marriage counseling with great communication skills like this? At this mention of Suzy (or else it’s the thought of actually eating Beth’s tuna wiggle), Harry gets up and leaves. Beth, head in hands, begins to cry. Another marriage ruined by casserole.
Motorcycle Thug has finally arrived at the airfield, no doubt having dumped the bike five or six more times since we last saw him. He’s now messing with one of the planes. Harry comes out and spots him, and pushes him away from the plane, and a long and unspectacular fight commences. I’d care more if it hadn’t been filmed through a dark filter, and I could actually see what was going on, or tell these two dark-haired, dark-clothed guys apart. Or, if there was any actual fight choreography involved. But, alas, this is a Coleman Francis movie.
Finally, Harry gets the upper hand and starts pounding on the Thug. Thug stops him by threatening to tell Beth about Harry’s little affair. Harry acquiesces, even though we just saw that Beth is already clued in.
The Thug then tells him to leave Suzy alone, because he’s going to marry her. Harry agrees, mumbling, “Alright, Frankie. You stay away from here, I’ll stay away from your girl.” Yes, this is the infamous Frankie. And this, folks, is the first appearance of guest, ahem, “star“, Kool Titus Moede. And his motivation for coming down and fiddling with the plane was—what, exactly? Is that the best way to let Harry know you want to chat? Is Harry’s front doorbell connected to the plane engine?
Then Harry pulls Frankie in close and warns him not to come around here again. And I swear to you, it’s suddenly daylight in this shot, and Harry is wearing a different shirt. I’m not kidding around. It’s like some crazy French new wave cinema where shots from different times and places are spliced together. I think Coleman Francis secretly invented cutting on action.
Harry warns Frankie that he’ll break both his legs. “You hear me, Frankie? Both of ’em!” I mean, if it was just one leg, he’d probably be like, “what the hell, it’s only one leg, why not head on down to Harry and Beth’s and mess with more planes for no reason?” But I’m sure now he’s going to reconsider.
Having settled that issue, with neither man showing any bruises or cuts afterwards, it’s time for more skydiving. Sure, okay. Filmstrip music returns as we watch two unknown guys falling through the air. One of them is holding something leaking liquid or smoke or something. No explanation is ever given for that. In fact, this whole scene lacks dialogue. Or a point. I’d actually appreciate a little nonsensical, Yucca Flats-style “flag on the moon” narration at this point. How depressing is that? “A man’s parachute. A woman’s bra. Jump out of a plane. Things happen.”
Inter-cut with the skydiving footage is a shot of one of the supporting cast members. I should let you know that I’ve dubbed this movie’s entire group of bit players the Frandoza Freaks™. They are the weirdest bunch of people ever to get screen time. They make Ed Wood’s stable of artists look like highly sought-after A-listers. If Tod Browning had seen them, he might have gone back and renamed this movie to The Normal Folk.
This particular guy I’ve named Gomer, because he looks a bit like Jim Nabors. He’s voraciously eating an apple as he watches the guys skydive. And he’s wearing a pith helmet, which also gets no explanation.
That crucial shot accomplished, it’s back into the sky as the guys float down. Well, these are mostly the fake We’re Really Parachuting! shots Coleman includes in every skydiving scene. What’s great about these is that the guys “parachuting” keep looking up at their “chutes” rather than down or around them. I’m guessing they were pretty concerned about falling from whatever flimsy harness Coleman nailed together for them. Really, these shots show the biggest reason why you should not make a movie about skydivers (unless Patrick Swayze is in it). 99% of skydiving is really pretty static. It’s sort of like making a movie about elevator operators. You go up. You go down. Not a ton of action there, even when that’s what they’re trying for.
A shot on the ground shows that suddenly this place looks like a UFO convention in Roswell. There are tons of crazy people coming from all directions to see these two schmucks land. Up until this, the jump school has been portrayed as being a long distance from town, with no one but Harry and Beth and their jumping friends ever around. Now, suddenly, it’s the center of a thriving—albeit very strange—community. All I can figure is that this jump school is the only form of entertainment in the area. Well, almost the only form. “Hey Maude, wanna go down t’ the parachutin’ school?” “Cain’t now. I’m watching my pie cool on the windy silll!”
Cut to three parachutists, together in a room that I’ll be calling the Parachute Room, thanks to the billowy parachute always draped behind the characters in place of an actual wall. They’re messing with their packs, as if they’re actually doing something, when Beth walks in and approaches Bob. She says, “You think it’s worth it, Bernie?” Bernie? What? Oh, come on, movie! His name was Bob when he flew with Pete and Harry!
Bob-bernie replies, “Yeah… I think so. It feels good… makin’ like a bird… floatin’ around up there. You know, Beth, if I couldn’t jump once in awhile…… I think I’d crack up! I dunno, it seems like I get rid of all my worries every time I jump.” Wow. Mine would increase tenfold for sure, with this crew around.
Beth replies, “I guess that’s why most of us jump. Or maybe we’re scared. Maybe we jump… to prove we’re not scared.” You know, I’m scared of stuff too, Beth, but I don’t hold pissing matches in the sky to prove otherwise.
Now Coleman invites us to meet more of the Frandoza Freaks™. First up is Guitar Guy, and he seems to be talking to the one normal guy who accidentally showed up here. Guitar Guy says, “I ain’t never seen a three-man pass before!” Normal Guy replies, “I haven’t either.” Cut! Print! Brilliant! Sadly, that’s the last we’ll see of Normal Guy. They only get stranger going forward.
Our next Freak is my favorite, Shutterbug. He’s like a cross between Kramer and Jeff Daniels. Shutterbug carries a Texas-sized camera around with him everywhere. He snaps a quick shot of something, then walks up to Harry and asks if Harry thinks the jumpers will make it. Harry says, “I don’t see why not. It’s not easy, but it’s been done before.” Then why all this fanfare for an old stunt?
Two of the jumpers pose, holding a baton between them, and Shutterbug snaps another picture. Isn’t this a three-man pass? Where’s the other guy? Oh, I see. The two jumpers just called each other Bob and Bernie. So that solves the mystery of the guy with two names. But it does nothing to explain who the third man is. Orson Welles, probably.
Man! More goofballs! A guy with thick glasses walks across the screen squinting up at the sun. A true Coleman Francis motif, in case you didn’t know. Then Guitar Guy approaches a Red Zone Cuban for this stellar exchange:
Guitar Guy: I wonder how high they’re gonna jump.
Red Zone Cuban: [giving Guitar Guy a nasty once over] I don’t know.
Red Zone Cuban: [giving Guitar Guy a nasty once over] I don’t know.
Okay. Thank you for that. And why does everyone always have to walk up from off camera to talk to someone standing on camera? No one can just be naturally standing next to another person and strike up a conversation. I can see doing it once or twice, but it’s every single conversation in this movie! It’s just insane!
This is why I said the driving up in the vehicles thing is actually superior. Now I’m thinking it would have been cool if every one of these people had a car, and they all drove up to each other’s cars to carry on conversations. But then you’d have to change the name to something like The Sunday Drivers, and then where would the skydiving fit in? Actually, it wouldn’t, so really in every way it would be a superior film.
So anyway, I’m going to be really surprised if three guys jump out of this plane, because only two got on. Shutterbug runs up under the wing to get one last picture of the guys as they leave. Harry starts the engine, and the dust makes Shutterbug retreat to the tail section, where he again tries to get a picture. But immediately the tail turns toward him, and nearly hits him as he scurries to get out of the way. I mean, full on almost busts him in the ribs. He then tries to get a picture from behind as they taxi down the runway, but he gets high speed dust particles in his face. Man. How unpopular are you when you’re the butt of a Cardoza/Francis joke?
Finally! The two legends of this film, Guitar Guy and Shutterbug, have a scene together! Guitar Guy asks Shutterbug if he’s a professional photographer. Shutterbug replies, “Nope.” So Guitar Guy asks, no seriously, this is the line, “Then what do you do them pictures?” Shutterbug answers, “Just sit home and look at ’em.” Ah, Shutterbug! What a rich life you lead! He should get together with that guy from Lost Continent who also has an unhealthy fixation on airplanes.
You know what I could go for right now? Actually, at this point, I’d settle for a Michael Bay action sequence, but instead it’s more skydiving! At least I can say this is my all time favorite skydiving scene, because it features Flappy Face. Flappy Face is a skydiver who was kind enough to fly right up to the guy with the camera and let his cheeks just flap away. It’s pure joy to behold, except, oh man. I got a real bad mental image of Suzy skydiving and her butt flapping like that. Sorry about that.
So, the jumpers make this three-man baton pass which is apparently some really amazing thing, not that you can tell from any of the footage, or the bored violins playing for this scene. The real high point is when one of the skydivers, I think Flappy Face, nears his landing and nearly hits a big pole or a really tall cactus or something. Wherever he is, he’s got to be way off from where he meant to land. You can only see this for an instant before a hasty cutaway shot, but it’s so great. I can just hear Coleman say, “Okay, let’s set up the camera behind this giant saguaro.” The Frandoza Freaks™ all watch the guys land, and Coverall Beth jumps in the jeep to go pick them up.
Back in the Parachute Room, the guys repack their chutes and begin planning a night jump. Something tells me the Freaks would all show up to watch them jump at night. Even better, they should just tell everyone there’s a night jump, and not show up. The Freaks will all come anyway, and just stare at the dark sky for like, hours.