Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Gypsy Moths

Go To

The Gypsy Moths is a 1969 American drama film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Gene Hackman, Scott Wilson, William Windom, and Bonnie Bedelia. The music score was composed by Elmer Bernstein.

The titular Gypsy Moths are a trio of skydivers who barnstorm from town to town performing stunts while jumping out of a plane. Their latest trip brings them to a small Kansas town over a Fourth of July weekend, where the youngest diver has relatives whom he hasn't seen in years.

Despite the film's lack of success at the box office, Frankenheimer would later call it his favorite of the pictures he directed.


  • Affectionate Nickname: "The Kid" for Malcolm.
  • All Part of the Show: Inverted. Browdy falls out of the plane during the show, scaring the audience, but it is part of the show.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Elizabeth and John have a loveless marriage, and she freely has a one-night stand with Rettig.
  • Brainy Brunette: Annie, who is a brunette and studying at the local college.
  • Brick Joke: The guy who owns the beer stand by the roadside also owns the land on each side of the road, and tells Browdy that he's going to charge $1 to allow people to park on the shoulder and watch the show. Near the end, when everyone has returned to the airport to watch Malcolm do the same difficult stunt that killed Rettig, the beer stand guy is charging $2.
  • Color-Coded Characters: During the skydiving Rettig wears red, Browdy wears white, and Malcolm wears yellow.
  • Comedic Underwear Exposure: During the show, Browdy loses his suit as a moment of comedy, leaving him in his underwear.
  • Cool Aunt: Elizabeth for Malcolm. She wanted to adopt him after his parents died, but John refused.
  • Cry into Chest: Malcolm cries into Annie's after Rettig dies.
  • Culture Clash: The adrenaline junkies that are the skydivers are contrasted with the quiet small-town folk.
  • Death Seeker: Malcolm calls Rettig out for taking too long to pull his cord while performing the cape jump - suggesting he's got a death wish. He's ultimately proved right.
  • Drama Bomb: The Slice of Life suddenly turns sour when Rettig dies during the show.
  • Elephant in the Room: No one wants to discuss the very real possibility that Rettig actually committed suicide by failing to pull his ripcord. Malcolm yanks Rettig's ripcord, which functions properly and deploys the parachute—and neither he nor Browdy says a word about it again.
  • Empathic Environment: It immediately starts to rain when Rettig is killed, though at least rain had been forecast.
  • Everytown, America: Bridgeville, where the movie takes place. It's in Kansas and fits the trope to a T. It looks doubly American since it's a 4th of July weekend.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The movie takes place over one weekend.
  • Fanservice Extra: The bar scene has a very gratuitous sequence of topless dancers (well, pasties) gyrating on the stage.
  • The Fellowship Has Ended: By the end of the movie, Rettig is dead and the other two choose to end their routine — Browdy claiming he'll head west and Malcolm waiting for a train that we don't know where it'll go.
  • The Film of the Book: Based on the 1955 novel of the same name by James Drought.
  • First-Name Basis: Rettig is called by his last name, except to Browdy, who calls him Mike.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • It's mentioned repeatedly that Rettig keeps waiting too long to pull his cord while performing the cape stunt. He dies when he doesn't pull the cord.
    • Browdy gives a little speech to Mary about how he'd love to head West. In the end when he and Malcolm part ways, he says he'll probably head West.
  • Freudian Excuse: The men each have one for why they're daredevils.
    • Malcolm's parents died in a car accident.
    • Rettig served in the war.
    • Browdy dropped out of college.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: Elizabeth's tryst with Rettig is justified by the fact that her marriage with John is loveless.
  • Hidden Depths: Browdy the fast-talking Deadpan Snarker is deeply religious, and goes to church every Sunday.
  • Hollywood Skydiving: Averted. The movie contains a fairly realistic depiction of Formation Skydiving, which popped up in the 1960s. Rettig also fails to deploy his parachute when performing the cape stunt and dies.
  • Last-Name Basis: Browdy is only ever called by his last name. His first name Joe is only revealed in the end credits.
  • Male Gaze: Naturally when the divers visit a topless bar.
  • Maybe Ever After: This final conversation between John and Elizabeth does give some hope for their marriage.
    Elizabeth: He asked me to go with him.
    Elizabeth: The thought terrified me.
    John: And me.
  • Never Heard That One Before: Mary, the waitress at the Paradise Club, warns Browdy not to make any "Mary Mary, quite contrary" references to her.
  • No Romantic Resolution:
    • Rettig asks Elizabeth to run away with him. He dies the next day and an answer is never given.
    • Malcolm and Annie share one kiss and he then leaves.
  • Noble Male, Roguish Male: Rettig is the suave noble male, Browdy is the boisterous roguish male.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Deborah Kerr keeps her English accent, never once explaining how an English family ended up in Bridgeville in the first place.
  • Pet the Dog: John does have a tender moment with Malcolm when they look at a photo of his parents.
  • Rewatch Bonus: The way John says that Malcolm resembles his father near the beginning takes on a different light once it's revealed that Elizabeth wanted to marry him.
  • Romantic Runner-Up: John was this for Elizabeth when her sister married Malcolm's father. The waitress that hooks up with Browdy jokes that she would have preferred Rettig.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Rettig was a paratrooper in the Army. If he's the same age as Burt Lancaster, that makes him young enough to have served in World War II.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Browdy drops flyers for the show out of a low-flying plane to scatter them all over the main street. Cut to the local judge fining them $50 for the stunt.
  • The Three Faces of Adam: Malcolm is the Hunter, Browdy is the Lord, and Rettig is the Prophet.
  • The Three Faces of Eve: The three female love interests. Annie the young student is the Child, Elizabeth the bored housewife is the Wife, and Mary the waitress who sleeps with Browdy is the Seductress. This is even reflected in their love scenes with their respective men; Annie and Malcolm just share a kiss (although the scene cuts away so there may have been more), Mary and Browdy a forgettable one-night stand, and Elizabeth and Rettig a passionate love scene.
  • "What Now?" Ending: Malcolm opts to leave town before Rettig's burial and the last we see, he's waiting for a train to come in. It's unknown if he'll get on it.
  • Why Did You Make Me Hit You?: Browdy and Malcolm get into a fist fight when Malcolm accuses Browdy of losing his nerve.