Reviews

Stunts, Naked Guys... and the Nicholas Brothers?? 'The Sport Parade' and 'Lucky Devils'

Woman Close-Up Portrait. Retrospective Review. 20-s XX Century. Image from Shutterstock.com.

Leonard Maltin says Lucky Devils opens with a great scene, and he's right: an incredible explosion of violence of the type you'd never actually see in a regular movie, not even Howard Hawks' Scarface


The Sport Parade

Director: Dudley Murphy
Cast: Joel McCrea, William Gargan
Distributor: Warner Archive
Rated: Not rated
Year: 1932
Release date: 2012-06-21

Lucky Devils

Director: Ralph Ince
Cast: William Boyd, William Gargan
Distributor: Warner Archive
Rated: Not rated
Year: 1933
Release date: 2012-06-21

Freshly available on demand from Warner Archive are two RKO productions from David O. Selznick, both buddy pictures in which gruff, beefy William Gargan plays the buddy who doesn't get the girl.

In The Sport Parade, Joel McCrea and Gargan play Dartmouth buddies in various sports, especially football. After graduation, Gargan buckles down as a newspaper's sports editor while McCrea falls in with an unscrupulous promoter called Shifty (Walter Catlett). Then they team up again, only to be broken apart by a pretty woman (Marian Marsh) who loves McCrea. He then becomes a phony wrestler until the big bout. Robert Benchley shows up as an incompetent radio announcer who has no idea what plays he's calling; he could do this scatterbrained delivery in his sleep, and part of the joke is that he almost is.

So much for story. The primary attraction is McCrea, who hasn't offered this much eye candy this side of Bird of Paradise. An eye-opening team shower scene offers glimpses of backal nudity among faceless extras (the guys are wearing jock straps) as Gargan whips a wet towel at McCrea. "That reminds me," says the latter about his prospective date, "maybe one of the girls is named Fanny". There are other saucy remarks. Many pre-Code movies don't offer much eyebrow-raising content, but this one has its share.

At the first wrestling match, there's a totally gratuitous appearance by two highly swishy types in the stands. They utter something about disgusting brutes and make their exits, waving their wrists and tossing their long hair. There's always a reason for gratuitous details, so why are they here? It may be an ironic comment on the fact that we're spending all this time watching nearly naked guys manhandle each other, or perhaps it's meant as contrast. Certainly director Dudley Murphy stages these bouts in weird combination of documentary and artifice that constantly throws rears and crotches at the camera, as if this is 3D.

Murphy was an odd cat in Hollywood; biographer Susan Delson has called him "Hollywood's wild card". He's famous for his avant-garde silent shorts, especiallly Ballet Mecanique, co-directed with Fernand Leger. His attention to visual gimmicks is scattered throughout this picture, especially when the camera adopts the viewpoint of drunken characters that make the image woozy or kaleidoscopic. A prominent example occurs during a Harlem "jungle" nightclub sequence so gratuitous, it can only be explained by Murphy's personal interests; he'd directed musical shorts of Bessie Smith's St. Louis Blues and Duke Ellington's Black and Tan Fantasy. The stage acts and the audience seem to be in separate universes and certainly weren't on the same set at the same time.

The much-too-brief highlight of this scene is a couple of tuxedo'd tap-dancers, one of whom is only a boy. Could this actually be the famous Nicholas Brothers? It sure looks like them, but I can't find confirmation in IMDB or other sources. However, Wikipedia says they debuted at the Cotton Club in 1932 when Harold was 11 and Fayard was 18, and this 1932 movie did film several scenes in New York.

Further, Harold had a part in Murphy's next film, The Emperor Jones (1933), so this earlier project could have been how they met. Finally, the brothers' earliest listed credit is a 1932 short, the same year as this feature. It seems to add up. If only Murphy had put down that kaleidoscope and given us a clear, uninterrupted view of the act for five minutes! Someone more knowledgeable than I will have to freeze the image and confirm it for the world.

Gargan's next turn as the celibate buddy is Lucky Devils, in which he and William Boyd (both stocky non-leading-man types) play members of a gang of Hollywood stuntmen who congregate in a bar on Mulholland Drive (looking over a cliff) and sing their own theme song ("We're the stuntmen of Hollywo-o-o-od!"). Boyd gets married to a discouraged starlet they save from suicide (Dorothy Wilson) and this seems to curse his daredeviltry until a bunch of stuff happens.

Leonard Maltin says this movie opens with a great scene, and he's right: an incredible explosion of violence of the type you'd never actually see in a regular movie, not even Howard Hawks' Scarface. A completely non-credible story is littered with stunt setpieces that are obviously done with devices never mentioned: false glass, rear projection, toy models. We're asked to believe it's all somehow real, just as we're presented with scenes that needed 50 set-ups as if it were all captured in one.

Perhaps the most incredible part is that when Boyd quits his stunt job, he walks all over Los Angeles getting doors slammed in his face without ever thinking to work elsewhere in the movie industry--and this is after he saved the woman's life because she couldn't get a job until he helped her find work as an extra!

Director Ralph Ince is good, staging even ordinary scenes gracefully. He'd been a silent pioneer during the teens (like his more famous brother Thomas), and he hadn't forgotten how to make a picture smoothly, even though the story is nothing special. He soon moved to the British industry and died a few years later.

Neither movie fits anybody's definition of an essential classic, yet both remain watchable after 80 years and both have those curious little details in the corners that are more interesting than the main event.

4

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.