Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Sport Parade (1932)

The Sport Parade (1932) was directed by Dudley Murphy and produced by David O. Selznick for RKO.  It stars Joel McCrea, Marian Marsh, William Gargan and Robert Benchley. The screenplay was adapted from a story by Jerry Corwin and depending on the source Corey Ford, Francis Cockrell and Robert Benchley are all credited in some form for the adaptation. I love films from this era that either have a collegiate theme or a sports theme and since this one had both it was natural selection for my next Warner Archive Wednesday.

Brown and Baker, the best of pals

Athletes behaving badly; that’s a hot topic these days. The machinations of Sandy Brown (Joel McCrea) and Johnny Baker (William Gargan), Dartmouth University football stars, are tame in comparison but still make for interesting drama. Brown and Baker have just finished their University careers and are considered sport legends. They are close friends but their lives and careers split as soon as they leave Dartmouth. Brown is dazzled by the prospects of fame and fortune promised to him by Shifty Morrison (Walter Catlett), a promoter whose appearance is reminiscent of Harold Lloyd and whose visions of millions are equally as laughable. Baker is more sensible. He starts a career in sports writing, a good segue from his hey-days as an athlete. Baker helps Brown when Shifty’s promises don’t pan out by offering him a job at the paper. Baker has the clever idea of tapping into their fame as a pair of top college athletes and they co-write a column entitled “Baker to Brown.” Things are going swell until Brown makes eyes at the newspaper illustrator Irene (Marian Marsh). Trouble is that Baker has his eyes set on her too and he was there first! 

This film could have been so good but in the end it just fell flat. The two main characters are only in college for the first few minutes of the film so the focus is primarily on their post-collegiate careers. This makes for an interesting look at what happens after the limelight has dimmed. However, in The Sport Parade the careers of the two college sports heroes is muddled by a romantic triangle. And the lady in the middle of the triangle isn't all that dazzling.

Joel McCrea and Marian Marsh

Joel McCrea and William Gargan. Best buds at the beginning of their troubles.

Marian Marsh, Joel McCrea and Walter Catlett
I found Joel McCrea's character Sandy Brown a bit confusing. We're led to believe that he excels at many sports. In college he and Baker are the top football stars. Brown also plays hockey and baseball, does some road racing and at the end of the film he becomes a professional wrestler. While there are some athletes who have been able to excel at two sports, it's pretty rare. To be really good at a sport you need determined practicing and lots of it. While incorporating some other sports and exercises will help an athlete succeed, the focus should always be on the one sport. Also, the window of time an athlete has to excel at the sport is limited to incorporating other sports doesn't make any sense. It's nice to think that Sandy Brown can do it all with the magic of Hollywood. I also think they just crammed as many sports as possible into the film to give credence to the title The Sport Parade.

Robert Benchley and his good ole Waltham Watch
It's not a complete wash though! There are several things I really liked about the film including Robert Benchley. He plays a befuddled radio announcer who is having a difficult time keeping track of all the plays in the game. He's also even sure where he is. Benchley appears a few times in the film and I wished he was a more substantial character. However, he's one of a trio of ne'er-do-wells along with Dizzy the drunk sports photographer (Richard 'Skeets' Gallagher) and Shifty the unreliable promoter.

The opening scenes take place in Allston, MA at Harvard Stadium (in the film Benchley says they are in Cambridge but the stadium is on the other side of the Charles River and technically in Allston). Dartmouth is playing Harvard and the film has real footage from the stadium and a college football game. By the time I was 3-1/2 minutes into the movie I froze on this shot and proceeded to freak out for about an hour.

Real life shot of Harvard Stadium and Harvard University in the background.
This was very exciting! Real shots of the Boston area don't appear in many films from this era. It wasn't until Mystery Street (1950) that the area was used as an actual filming location. I know this is just sports footage but it made me happy nonetheless. Did you know that the Harvard Stadium is one of four sports arenas to be registered as a National Historic Landmark? It was built in 1903 and is America's oldest stadium. The photo above is a shot of the steel stands. They were removed in the 1950s and now the stadium is U-shaped.

Harvard Stadium - Source

The following is NSFW-ish but my other favorite thing about this movie is seeing Pre-Code Butt. Oh yes, I went there. Pre-Code Butt. Say it with me! "Pre-Code Butt." Pre-Code Butt is elusive and rare. You can only catch a glimpse of it. A glimpse that goes by so quickly you're not quite sure you of what you saw until you play the scene over and over and over again.

You can see the Pre-Code Butt if you look closely enough.

The good folks at Warner Archive have shared a preview clip of the movie which contains some of the shots of Harvard Stadium and the Pre-Code Butt. Here it is for your viewing pleasure!

The Sports Parade (1932) is available from Warner Bros. and the TCM shop

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I rented The Sport Parade (1932) from ClassicFlix.

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