Something must have happened to put pro wrestling in the public eye, because some cities had Sport Parade and John Ford's Flesh, the legendary Wallace Beery wrestling picture, playing at the same time. Both films share a shocked horror at the thought that wrestling bouts are fixed and a hero who rebels out of pride against having to do the job in the big match. Here the assumption is that pro wrestling is fixed because people are dumb enough to bet on it. As far as Gargan is concerned McCrea has humiliated Dartmouth by becoming a wrestler with a collegiate gimmick, and a group of alumni confront McCrea and warn him not to wear the sacred D on his ring robe. But Gargan's attitude is based on his assumption that McCrea will do the job; when it becomes clear that McCrea's fighting to win all is forgiven, and when he sees Marsh's faith in McCrea he realizes that she's rightfully McCrea's girl. McCrea officially gives up 15 pounds to his antagonist but in the flesh it looks like more. He clearly yields to a stuntman for the more elaborate work but clearly takes some bumps himself. And here's something you probably didn't know, courtesy of the Spokane Spokesman-Review.
Chaney was under contract to RKO at this time and had appeared with McCrea in Bird of Paradise earlier in 1932. Whether this entitles him to "uncredited technical advisor" billing, let history judge.
Dudley Murphy is best known for the avant-garde silent short Ballet Mecanique and the Paul Robeson showcase The Emperor Jones. If that partial filmography promises an eccentric feature, Murphy fulfills the promise. He proves fond of gimmicky transitions, most notably a bit where the camera dollies in to a picture of Catlett on a barroom wall, and the picture comes to life to start the next scene. Murphy really gets ambitious in the big wrestling scene, filmed either in a big arena or a convincing studio facsimile. He shoots from all angles, moves the camera freely, and really shows off with a topsy-turvy POV shot as McCrea tumbles across the mat to escape from a submission hold. He also stops the show briefly for a trip to a Cotton Club-type joint with a "savage" dance number seen from a drunkard's multiple-perspectives, almost a cross between Busby Berkeley and Marcel Duchamp. Murphy's showiness is in sync with RKO's Pre-Code tendency to cartoonishness, as is Benchley's irrelevant patter, but he also keeps the film moving at a brisker pace than many Radio Pictures from the period. It almost has the snap of a Warner Bros. picture. Among Pre-Codes in general, it seems unusual for emphasizing beefcake over cheesecake, from a football-team shower scene with naked buttocks in the background to McCrea grappling in some tight and tidy whiteys. You get your racism when a black man's head is rubbed for luck. You get your homophobia when two flaming fairies leave the wrestling arena in disgust at the antics of the brutes. And you get lots and lots of drinking, including from McCrea, a year before Repeal. It has its moments, and on the other hand it's probably less than the sum of its parts, but good or bad Sport Parade looks like an indispensable part of the Pre-Code filmography.