May 23, 2004
The Skydivers (1963) (part 4 of 7)
A new day dawns with a really annoying “Manos” driving sequence, where we get nothing for several minutes besides the POV of the driver of a white Ranchero. I bet that car came in handy, hauling around the cameras. But the worst part of this sequence? A really annoying swing number replete with so much clarinet and xylophone that Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton would be like, “Hey, can you tone it down a bit?” And it plays incessantly, making this trip feel 400 times as long as it really is. The site by-laws strike again. More great continuity ensues as a car slowly passes the Ranchero going the other way, but in a reverse shot a second later, the car is nowhere in sight.
The guy pulls into the airfield (after years of driving!) and takes a suitcase out of the back. He walks up to one of the hangars and goes inside. This is the same Parachute Room again, sans parachute packing table. Or else they just put parachutes on the walls of every hangar. Too bad they didn’t have one in their dining box; it would have spruced that place up a little.
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Beth is inside this hangar, and she stops what she’s doing to watch Suitcase Guy approach. She looks slightly afraid for some reason. You know, you do run a business, Beth. Having strangers walk in shouldn’t scare you. Unless maybe Suitcase Guy runs an evil corporation, and that suitcase is full of cash, and he’s come to buy your time machine airplane so he can pervert the future.
Here we get some truly terrible stage business as Suitcase Guy walks up, stops, looks at Beth, obtrusively puts down his suitcase, stands back up, stares at Beth a while longer, then speaks. (I promise you, it’s even more stilted than how I described it.) He says, “I know you. Beth, you’re prettier than your picture.” Beth continues to look at the guy in shock and horror, until it finally dawns on her this is Harry’s war buddy, Joe Moss. Remember, Beth? The guy you said they should send for, and who therefore you should have been expecting? You really don’t get a lot of customers, do you, Beth?
She grabs his hand and tells him it’s great to finally meet him. As she gushes, she realizes she’s held his hand a little too long, so she offers him coffee. Coleman Francis Rule #1: When in doubt, coffee out. This leads to Joe’s immortal line, “Coffee? I like coffee!” For a Coleman Francis movie, that’s the equivalent of a guy in a Western saying, “I like six-shooters!” Beth makes this elaborate and dorky right this way gesture, like she’s revealing a speedboat in the Showcase Showdown. They leave the now suffocating confines of the Parachute Room for the bright, clean outdoors.
The two walk around. They look the place over by walking about a yard or two and tilting their heads like birds listening for worms. Joe then passes judgment: “I like this place.” But do you like it as much as you like coffee?
Beth agrees, but says she’d like it better if it were paid for. Joe smiles and says, “Well?” Which sounds like he means, “Well, why isn’t it paid for?” Frankly, I don’t think that’s any of your business, Joe. Beth’s stymied for a reply, so she asks Joe to rephrase that in the form of an actual question.
Joe asks, “Where’s the general?” This also stumps Beth. Geez. What is this, Obtuse Day? Finally, she realizes he’s asking about Harry (who’s a corporal, if there ever was one). This leads to her making the incredibly lame reply, “Oh! He had to go into the village and check the troops!” Hmm. Is that what he calls Suzy’s butt? She says this very seriously at first, but then smiles. I’m guessing this is what passes for “deadpan humor” when you’re Coleman Francis.
Joe totally blows off her stupid reply and asks, “Uhhh, weren’t you saying something about some coffee?” Geez, no kidding. What a lousy hostess. Don’t dangle the prospect of coffee before us and then just leave us hanging, woman! You know what? I’ll bet the coffee’s not paid for, either.
As they walk along, General Harry arrives in his land boat Cadillac and—rarest of rare sights! Tony Cardoza just smiled! I don’t believe it. And the whole time he’s greeting Joe he maintains this smile. Amazing stuff here!
They all decide nothing would cap this moment off better than a cup of that mythical coffee, so they head inside. Joe immediately makes trouble by joking about a native girl who tried to get Harry to marry her during the war. How is this guy a chick magnet? This movie makes no sense.
Wacky music heralds the return of good old Pete and his derelict car. This time, when he drags his gear out, he doesn’t even bother trying to shut the passenger door.
He walks up to Harry, Beth, and Joe and tells Harry he wants to freefall from 5,500 feet down to 1,000. Harry says they can’t let him do that, or the FAA will be on them. Joe thinks the kid has a death wish, so Pete asks him if he’s ever done any freefalling. Joe hasn’t, of course, so Pete says, way too menacingly, “Well you oughta! It’s fun!” Then he gives this ponderous speech:
Pete: I don’t know, I feel real free up there in that high, blue sky. Nobody to… tell you what to do… You just have to please yourself up there! It’s free!
I don’t think it’s just the sky that’s high. Isn’t there like a psych test or something you need to pass before you’re cleared to skydive? And did he really just say that he likes to please himself for free up in the sky? This guy seems a little too disturbed to be jumping out of a plane today. Harry insists Pete follow the rules. Pete, in spoiled brat mode, unwillingly agrees and asks who’s flying the plane, i.e. “driving”.
Harry, like it’s a big imposition having a customer, says with a deep sigh, “I’ll drive.” (In much the same manner I imagine Tony would say to Coleman, “I’ll pay.”)
Cut to Joe and Beth watching from the ground. There’s lots of shaky camera work from the plane, showing the cars on the highway down below. This is your jump zone? Over a highway? Finally, Pete makes up his mind to jump, and tumbles away into the sky. Below, Joe and Beth watch in increasing horror as he reaches 2000 feet and still hasn’t opened his chute. Beth helpfully yells, “Panic!” I wonder if she said the same thing when she realized her film career was dead after this.
Pete continues to plummet, though he’s now much higher up than the previous shot. Suddenly, he hits the ground. Well, one assumes. There’s a quick zoom-in on Pete’s face, implying he’s falling and about to hit, and then they just show him on the ground. How weak was that? They couldn’t get somebody to jump off the roof of the Ranchero, at least?
Joe and Beth run to Pete. Beth examines Pete, sort of, then Joe picks her up and leads her away in his arms. Harry lands the plane, then slips into his alternate universe close-up shot and emotes absolutely nothing about the fact that Pete just died. Or that his wife is being comforted in the arms of another man. The guy is a block of ice.
The FAA man arrives to shut them down for killing a customer. And who should it be but Harold Saunders, who played the dangerous drifter Cook in Red Zone Cuba! Nice to see he got more work. He tells them he’s sorry, but they’ll have to stay closed until he hears from the main office. Then he wishes them a good day. That’s not too likely now, is it?
And in scarcely a minute of screen time, Harold Saunders delivers a performance every bit as slimy as his entire appearance in Red Zone Cuba. Dude is creepy! He drives away in a hardtop T-Bird which will reappear later. I’ll only say this: The FAA, in this universe, owns just this one car. And apparently issues firearms to its agents. Who knew?
After he leaves, Harry and Beth stand together, trying not to actually look at each other, like two junior high kids at their first dance. Harry chews on his lips and looks in Beth’s general vicinity as she says, “Harry, I’m scared.” But she insists it’s not the FAA man that scares her. Harry looks at her and angrily asks, “Well, what does scare you?” Coleman Francis nude scenes? She looks him in the eye, then shakes her head and walks out of the scene, making it look like it would have been just as natural for her to turn straight to the camera and go, “Line?”
This suffocating relationship talk is too much for Harry, who heads into town for a drink at The Sky Diver bar. I think this town really needs to diversify. Maybe manufacturing. Tungsten mining, or something. It’s a little too skydiving-oriented. Harry gets a beer and the brunette next to him gives him a long lusty look. (What is it about this guy?) Remember her for later. Not to give too much away, but I think she probably works at the local A&W Drive-In.
Harry takes a sip of his beer as the terrible song on the jukebox ends. He gets up to change it and hey, presto! His beer’s all gone! Maybe it’s not really beer—it’s water from that vanishing lake!
Harry stands at the jukebox, and a disembodied female voice tells him which number to pick. I presume it’s the brunette, but when we cut back to her, her lips aren’t moving. So Harry selects the song, which starts playing before he pushes the button. And guess what? It’s the same exact dumb song we just heard! Seriously! (The credits tell us this song is called “Tobacco Worm” and, sadly, this is not the last time we’ll hear it.)
Harry goes back to his barstool… and now his beer is half full again! It’s really unbelievable how much incompetence Coleman Francis can cram into just a couple of minutes of screen time.
Outside, Suzy drives up, so apparently she’s stalking him now. Harry finishes his beer (again) and walks out past Suzy’s car. And of course, this is yet another scene staged completely wrong. Harry very clearly parked in front of the bar and Suzy very clearly parked by the side of it. Yet he chooses to walk across the street that Suzy’s car is parked on. Whatever. I’m just going to pretend he has an errand to run across the street, and move on.
Suzy gets out of her car and asks Harry why she hasn’t seen him lately. Harry tells her, “Suzy, you’re a broad. Get lost.” Funnily enough, that’s about the same line she hears in Impulse. And just like in Impulse, being called a “broad” sends her into a rage, and she goes all slap happy on him, smacking him around the face and neck with her purse.
This goes on until finally, he shoves her hard against her car. And I’m very okay with that. He then teleports back to his car and drives away, while Suzy gives him an evil glare of doom. And then we get to watch her pack her rear end back into her car. Hey, Suzy: fashion tip. Flowy skirts, not skin tight. Those aren’t sardines you’re trying to smuggle around in there.