The Skydivers (1963) (part 6 of 7)
Now begins the real cavalcade of moments that shall bring lifelong shame! And who better to get the ball rolling then founding Frandoza Freaks™ member and lifetime dictator, Coleman Francis? Coleman makes his very own director’s cameo as the head of a backwards, intensely Southern family. He calls Joe over and asks when the jumping will happen. Apparently, he and his family drove a long way from somewhere to watch it. I’m guessing Dogpatch.
Really, what is the attraction here? What is the mass appeal? It’s a sport parachuting field that’s only open on weekends! It’s not Six Flags over Yucca Flats here! Yet, now they’re getting out-of-town sightseer traffic? This is California, right? Is this really all it has to offer?
Joe tells the “vacationers” they’ll be jumping soon. He points to the sky and tells them to keep looking up there. Yes, look directly at that bright flaming orb up there, and don’t look away until you see skydiving. Coleman asks, “How high do I look?” Joe answers, “Oh, about 3000 feet.” Ha! Get it? That was another joke. Whoa. Here’s a scary thought. That’s like the fifth or sixth lame joke in this movie. Was this movie actually Coleman’s attempt at a comedy?
We get more Bob and Bernie action. They’re preparing for the jump we’ve all been waiting for: the piggyback jump! No! Do not make a Deliverance reference! That’s my job! Bob and Bernie do a dry run of the jump. Don’t! Bernie asks where Bob is going to grab him, gesturing somewhere around his middle. Stop it, all of you! They decide to act it out, prompting Coleman and his wife to stare and wonder just what these two are doing. Coleman tells his wife, “Why, it looks like they’re wrasslin’!” Wifey replies, “Wrasslin’?” These have to be the most insulting fake Southern accents I’ve heard since Larry the Cable Guy.
Coleman calls over Gomer, who’s ditched his pith helmet and apple for this scene. Coleman asks him, “What in tarnation is them fellas gonna do?” Gomer starts to explain how one guy’s going to ride the other down. Yes, that’s actually what he says. And you know that part in Ed Wood at the movie premiere when Ed starts mouthing along with the girl’s lines on-screen? Coleman starts to do that here. On screen. In full view of the camera. He catches himself, but continues gesturing in time with every word in Gomer’s speech. Priceless.
Next up from the Frandoza Freaks™, we see an older farm-wife-type lady wearing overalls and no shirt (wow!), a big goofy straw hat, and sunglasses. She turns to a hippie with a Beatles haircut and big black sunglasses (who’s holding a rooster under his arm, which is no doubt slated for its own excitement later) and asks him, “Do you fly?” The hippie takes a long drag on his, oh, let’s say “cigarette”, blows the smoke out, and replies, “All the time.” Surprising, yes. Also, it appears the old lady’s totally cool with that.
One of Coleman’s unkempt movie kids appears, suffering from a severe case of bed head. She shouts, “Papa! They’re jumping!” And I call a foul! We just established it’s Bob and Bernie, wearing the dark jumpsuits, doing the piggyback jump. Bob and Bernie, jumping out of the airplane. But then, in the very next shot, it’s the guy in the white corduroy jacket jumping again! Flappy Face! Stop reusing footage! No wonder I feel like I haven’t seen anything new in an hour. Coleman keeps splicing in the same shot over and over!
Meanwhile, Cameo Coleman, who’s been having troubles with an unlit cigar all throughout this scene, now has a wet leaf stuck to his lip, and it keeps fluttering on his face as he smiles open-mouthed up into the sky. So, I guess there’s a very high wind in this scene. Do high winds usually make for good jumping conditions?
Gomer has his pith helmet back on, and is voraciously attacking his latest apple. Chunks are flying a good foot out of his mouth. I didn’t know anyone could actually do that, but it’s a good bet this particular skill is what landed Gomer in the inner circle of the Frandoza Freaks™ in the first place.
BedHeaded Stepchild tells Daddy Coleman she’d like to take up skydiving. Coleman, chewing his cigar to pieces, says, “Never, never.” Okay, just for that, she’s becoming a stripper when she turns 18.
The guys’ parachutes deploy, and meanwhile, the tobacco leaf is stuck in Coleman’s mouth again. What is it about this ridiculous look that made him think, Yes. Perfect! Exactly how I want to be portrayed!? The guys land again (including the white corduroy jacket guy, who clearly didn’t jump in the first place).
Harry walks away from his plane. Boo Radley, in a rare cameo appearance, stops him and says he’s heard Harry’s having a dance. Can you even imagine a dance put on by Tony Cardoza? Just fully absorb that idea for a minute. Harry asks if Boo’s coming. Boo says, “Yeah, maybe. I think maybe I will. Uh. Be some pretty girls around maybe you think?” What is with this dialogue? Did everybody just escape from an asylum? Or just Coleman?
Harry says, “Pretty girls?” He does a little Fonzie-esque ayyy move and says, “With Jimmy Bryant and his group? There’ll be plenty of pretty girls!” This is the first and only scene Tony plays natural, ever. I think it’s either the prospect of hot girls at a dance, or else he’s a bit liquored up in this scene. Either way, Boo says, “Hot dog! I think I will come then.” Oh boy! He might as well; I’m sure he hasn’t struck out with a pretty girl in a good long while!
He gives Harry a long Midwestern goodbye, and the camera gives Boo a tight close up shot as he smoothes down his hair and repeats, “By golly, I-I, I believe I will be there. Heh, heh, heh.” Why do I have a feeling his appearance will give either Ray Dennis Steckler or Herschell Gordon Lewis great material for another slasher/gore flick?
It’s nearing closing time as two of the jumpers leave for the day. The gang yells after them, “Bye, Bob! Bye, Mike!” Now wait a minute! Who the heck is Mike? We’ve never even seen Mike before! Skydiver Bernie asks Harry about the dance (which is now being established for the fourth time!). Beth tells him the dance is at 8, and then the jump is at 9. Wow. Quite the dance party. Stinking wild kids with their wild one-hour parties!
Bernie says, “With a band?” Well, it is easier to dance when there’s music, Bernie. Harry informs him, “Jimmy Bryant,” which is not only our second name-check of this forgotten performer, but also our segue to the big shindig itself. Yep, just like that, we cut to the big party.
Maybe these folks can pack a night’s worth of fun into an hour. This is the part of the film where Coleman apparently got the idea he was Fellini (a chilling thought if ever there was one). The entire contingent of Frandoza Freaks™ is here en masse. You see, all the little vignettes of the Freaks we’ve been getting so far have really only been a preparation for this. The scene begins with a guy jumping off the nose of a plane, which cues a thug on a motorcycle to pop a wheelie through the dance area.
This strangeness is set to one of the most far out guitar instrumental songs ever, called “Stratosphere Boogie”. This song actually required a specially built, two-necked and tuned guitar (6-string normal tuning, and 12-string pairs tuned in thirds, rather than octaves) just to play it. This song was written and recorded primarily to showcase the guitar’s unique sound, but for the general guitar-buying public they proved too hard to play, and the Stratosphere Twin guitar company soon died. This song, however, introduces us to Jimmy Bryant and His Night Jumpers.
Now I have to say, Jimmy Bryant was an awesome guitar player. I had never heard of him outside of this movie. But I did a little online researching (did you know he performed with the Roy Rogers Riders? And no, you don’t get fries with that), and I checked out his box set and wow, he’s amazing at what he did. He’s not everyone’s taste, by any means, but as a guitarist I can totally respect him. He’s purportedly the first person Leo Fender got to play a Fender Telecaster (my own axe of choice) and is billed as the fastest guitar player ever. After listening to a few of his songs, I wouldn’t doubt it. He’s the only real talent in this movie—so I have to wonder how he got roped into appearing. Maybe he was one of the producers.
That said, I’m worried about the band. You know, His Night Jumpers. Unlike Jimmy, they’re not all that talented, or even likable. Clearly (as the name suggests), they only formed this little band for the movie. And the two songs they actually recorded together for The Skydivers (leaving out “Stratosphere Boogie,” which had been previously recorded in 1954) are completely forgettable. Or at least, I wish they were, because this movie inflicts them upon us repeatedly. But we’re still enjoying the coolness of “Stratosphere Boogie” at the moment. Obviously, Coleman just dubbed in the song, because on the outdoor stage, Jimmy’s playing a hollow body Rickenbacker, not the double-necked Stratosphere Twin needed for this song.
And here Coleman must’ve said, “It would be impossible to train any of you weirdoes to perform, so just do whatever you would naturally do.” So it’s up to the heroin addict to get the party going. Crazed out of his gourd, he dances by himself for awhile, then one of the pretty girls goes out to join him. They dance, then another girl cuts in (more about her in a second) and starts dancing with him. What does it say for your town when the heroin addict is the one the girls fight over?
Everyone else stands in a huge circle watching these two dance, which is odd, because normally in movies, this only happens when the stars of the film are dancing. Considering they only have an hour to party, I’m surprised no one else has partnered up to dance yet. Maybe Heroin Addict really is the only viable mating candidate.
But if they had all paired off already, we’d have missed one of the most bizarro people to be cast in this film. That would be the girl who cuts in, who appears to be a champion lady wrestler, because she’s wearing nothing but a black, strapless swimsuit (even though they’re in the desert) and heels. And when she cuts in on the cute girl dancing with Heroin Addict, she literally shoves the girl out of the way.
Heroin Addict stops dancing to size her up, no doubt fearing the smackdown she could easily put on him. He then decides to take a go at dancing with her. Heroin Addict and Lady Wrestler dance, though it looks like they’re just feeling each other out in this round. Suddenly, she lifts him in the air [!], whereupon he then does a split like a cheerleader at a football game. Go, fight, win! In the middle of the dance, the hulking woman even dips her man. Wow, who knew Coleman had the courage to tackle the sensitive subject of gender dysphoria?