Thursday, September 2, 2021

Dudley Murphy | The Sport Parade

a bisexual built for two

by Douglas Messerli

Corey Ford and Francis Cockrell (screenplay, based on a story by Jerry Horwin), Dudley Murphy (director) The Sport Parade  / 1932

Like most of the films with any LGBTQ references of the early 1930s, Dudley Murphy’s The Sport Parade (1932) portrays its requisite pansies, in this case two very limp-wristed boys who for some reason have decided to attend the pro wrestling matches—which consist even today mostly of theatrical demonstrations of athletic brutality—who, in the midst of watching the film’s lead Sandy Brown (Joel McCrea) being tossed about the ring by the current champion Sailor Fritz Muller (Ivan Linow) stand up together, the one saying to the other, “Oh God, this is just brutal. Let’s go!” As critic Richard Barrios has suggested, their presence and sudden absence from the story makes it all the clearer that this film has a far more traditional male physique to focus upon instead of their willowy, frail frames. For the camera, as Barrios correctly argues, is in love with McCrea’s 27-year old athletically fit torso, and it makes no bones about that the fairies are not welcome in this love-fest.

     The sweaty, muscle-toned chest of Sandy Brown has by this time in the film long been the major focus of cinematographer’s J. Roy Hunt’s brilliant framing (the cameraman one who later daringly filmed Flying Down to Rio of 1933 and the great Crossfire of 1947) but is also loved by two other figures in the audience, Murphy’s pretend heroine Irene Stewart (Marian Marsh), and, more importantly, Johnny Baker (William Gargan). And amazingly, Dudley’s movie, despite using Marsh as a decoy for the early MPPDA code head James Wingate, doesn’t even try hide the fact.

      From the very first scenes of the film while they play as passer and receiver in the famed Harvard vs. Dartmouth football game, winning the game by a late quarter touchdown, everyone knows they are a couple, Baker and Brown; even the somewhat annoying sports broadcaster  Robert Benchley vaguely outlines the “score” despite the fact that throughout the film he remains fervently drunk. Certainly their teammates know it, believing that the boys whose code word between each other is “contact” (yes, they truly shout out the word each time they attempt to athletically “link up”) will stay together for the rest of their lives. And even the sleazy agent “Shifty” Morrison (Walter Catlett) who tries to woe Sandy to the college football league knows it: “What would Damion do without Pythias? What would Romeo do without Juliet? What would Baker do without Brown? I’ve got his contract right in my pocket. You two kids are going to work together.”

      When we’ve given access to the shower room after the game, we certainly come to know these two are a loving pair. In a room where Hunt’s camera is allowed even the catch the image of a male butt, we see the two showering together, Sandy thwacking Johnny’s butt, and the two ruff housing in a manner which we’ve long come recognize is a little bit more than “bro love.” When Sandy wrestles his Juliet to a nearby massage bed, Johnny pleasurable asks: “You wouldn’t be trying to get physical with me?” Sandy answers, suggesting the real action will surely occur later,  “Listen, if I was trying to wind you up you wouldn’t run down for 8 days.” With lines like that you can only wonder why Joseph I. Breen didn’t have a heart attack. Maybe he just missed the movie.

      As we all know, however, in love stories things don’t ever work out the way they’re expected to. Sandy, a bit of a youthful womanizer and certainly less morally straight-laced than is very best friend, would prefer to try professional football fame rather than go immediately into the civil service of newspaper reporting that Johnny had planned for the two of them. Sandy is clearly a little more reckless than his companion, which is, of course, what makes the women go mad for him.

      Women and wine—the latter of which his agent so completely encourages that one suspects his first client must have been the newscaster Benchley—may be just fine for passing catches, but it doesn’t work at all for catching passes. And he’s soon a has-been in a world where a few weeks before he was a hero. Even the movie makes clear the dilemma faced by so many high school and college jocks who can’t grow up. And when Shifty asks him to throw a ballgame, he finally calls it quits, but can’t find a job even at the Bulletin where Johnny works. Everybody’s off the annual Harvard-Dartmouth bowl, but Sandy has to sell his special gold award football locket to make the trip.

      There he meets up again with his college “lover,” Johnny almost immediately coming up with the idea of playing out their relationship with a duo-sports column Baker to Brown. But before Johnny can even sketch out the idea, Sandy sweeps off his friend’s girl Irene to the dance floor. The two are a couple again, but Sandy doesn’t somehow get it that Johnny’s asked Irene several times to marry him and had hopes of making her a kind of trophy wife—obviously without breaking any “contact” with Sandy. When the dumb ox finally catches on, he disappears, supposedly into his reporting coverage of all sports from cycling, tobogganing, and speed skating to baseball, basketball, and pro wrestling of course. Which is where, when he meets up again with the despicable Morrison he escapes so that Irene might realize that her true love is Johnny.

      Certainly he seems to be a better pro wrestler than a professional footballer; but he’s not a good enough actor to ever become a champ, and when Morrison demands he throw his challenging bout with the champion with Muller he knows he has to become a wash-up in order to financially survive.

      Just like everyone knew about Baker and Brown, so too do they know about Brown and Muller, but this time what they know is that everything is fake. Even Johnny can’t keep his moral scruples in tow long enough to save his beloved friend; he himself writes a scoop predicting that Sandy will throw the match. Irene drops into the locker room just before the bout to try to convince Sandy to win the game just for his ole friend Johnny, but the camera is so busy checking out McCrea’s crotch in his tight whities that we’re not sure whether or not she’s convinced him of anything. As Cameron, the entertaining film commentator for “Blonde at the Film” summarizes:

                     Right before the match, Irene finds Sandy and proclaims that she

                     loves him, not Johnny. She says that she still believes in him and

                     knows he’s not a crook. I’m surprised she was able to form

                     sentences when Sandy is in those teeny-tiny shorts, but she has

                     excellent self-control. .....Sidenote: I thought those white

                     short-shorts were Sandy’s locker room attire, but they are

                     his uniform! 


     So here we are back at the beginning of this essay with Hunt’s lens all steamed over for showing McCrea get pummeled and pulled in every which way by Linow, the camera capturing every move of the white shorts over the actor’s butt crack and crotch in a manner we won’t see again until Michael Cacoyannis’ The Day the Fish Came Out (1967) in which Tom Courtney shows nearly every aspect of his body through his briefs, eventually wearing them atop his head. In a wonderful irony, the champion wrestler actor Linow played the man-loving/man-hating twins Loko and Boko in David Butler’s Just Imagine (1930).


      By this time even the actor who played Johnny had figured out the obvious: just after its release Gargan described the film as “high camp. Boy meets boy; boy loses boy; boy gets boy.” After pantingly watching Sandy contort his shorts in every imaginable way to reveal what he might, refusing to give up he wins the bout, and, as Johnny runs into the ring, the two grabbing one another’s hands, Irene meekly joining them, Benchley declaring he cannot to watch any more.

      Head writer Corey Ford, was evidently a closeted gay man who dared in an early draft to have Sandy sing the line “a  bisexual built for two.” Cut.

Los Angeles, September 2, 2021

Reprinted from World Cinema Review (September 2021).












     So here we are back at the beginning of this essay with Hunt’s lens all steamed over for showing McCrea get pummeled and pulled in every which way by Linow, the camera capturing every move of the white shorts over the actor’s butt crack and crotch in a manner we won’t see again until Michael Cacoyannis’ The Day the Fish Came Out (1967) in which Tom Courtney shows nearly every aspect of his body through his briefs, eventually wearing them atop his head. In a wonderful irony, the champion wrestler actor Linow played the man-loving/man-hating twins Loko and Boko in David Butler’s Just Imagine (1930).

      By this time even the actor who played Johnny had even figured out the obvious: just after its release Gargan described the film as “high camp. Boy meets boy; boy loses boy; boy gets boy.” After pantingly watching Sandy contort his shorts in every imaginable angle to reveal what he might; refusing to give up he wins the bout, and, as Johnny runs into the ring, the two grabbing one another’s hands, Irene meekly joining them, Benchley declaring he cannot to watch any more.

      Head writer Corey Ford, was evidently a closeted gay man who dared in an early draft to have Sandy sing the line “a  bisexual built for two.” Cut.

No comments:

Post a Comment