Parkour video from the 1930s

In this video from the 1930s, a man hops away from the dinner table and goes on an amazing adventure up building walls, out of windows, and inside a car tire. The part where he's clambering up the wall with a kid on his back made me a bit nervous!

I know there's some debate as to what should be called parkour v. freerunning — I'm not exactly sure which this qualifies as, but nonetheless it's totally cool and enjoyable to watch.


  1. This is from the 1970s movie about crazy inventors called Gizmo. It’s really a great flick with an excellent indie soundtrack.

  2. Many clips from this film were used in the Church of the SubGenius video Arise! to illustrate free-thinking non-conformity.

  3. This is even impressive by today’s standards. I was particularly impressed by the speed he climes a tree as I haven’t scene that in other parkour video’s I’ve scene.

    1. The film quality and the clothing (knickers on the boys, etc) definitely date this film to the early to mid thirties.

  4. wow, it goes to show that there’s nothing new under the sun, and also that he was ahead of his time, in a way. i wonder what they called it back then? just acrobatic skill? no buzzword?

    the scariest part for me was that damn tire roll. that shizzit’s kuh-RAZY dangerous.

    1. Heh, heh when I was a lad working in the tire warehouse, anybody who was shirking (including the boss’s son, one memorable day) got stuffed into a tractor tire and heaved down the ramp to the basement, where they’d roll a couple dozen yards down the main aisle and hit a brick support column. Most people did not shirk…

      Good times!

      Of course, that was before 9/11, when people still had guts.

  5. Just goes to show how careful you really should be about leaving windows open where you think they can’t be reached…

  6. Wow! That was amazing. Jumping off the moving train into the water was pretty cool. That leap from the crane was insanity.

    Whenever I see stuff like this I always wonder why it isn’t more well known. Why isn’t the guy in this video (Arnim Dahl) a household name? Those stunts are still impressive, even after getting used to seeing digital stunt-doubles and 100 million dollar film budgets.

    I guess nothing is truly new after all. I don’t know why it never occured to me that some of the techniques of Parkour (or free running) could have roots in early movie stunts. It seems so obvious now.

    1. This kind of stuff is impressive but why admire him like that? Some of those stunts were very stupid – he broke his spine jumping off the crane (obviously), and carrying the kid on his back would be outright criminal today.

      I was astonished that he would let himself be pushed down that cliff in a tire. Big tires are rock hard.. he might as well be rolled down a cliff in a concrete hamster ball. And then (genius) he lands in water so that when his neck and spine are broken and he’s paralyzed he can proceed to drown.

      1. This kind of stuff is impressive but why admire him like that?

        Because some people see taking risks in order to accomplish extraordinary, impressive things as admirable.

        Not everyone wants to make the world into a padded playground where the only praiseworthy achievements are the ones that involve no risk.

      2. Can’t we admire his skill without also wanting to emulate his dangerous decisions?

        @ Trotsky · #22
        Extreme sports are interesting and all, but I have a network of friends that I’m part of, and a family I need to support.
        My life is important to them. The fact that it’s unimportant to the cosmos, or even to the planet, or heck, just my city, really isn’t material.
        Not that I’d want to impinge on anyone’s right to follow their bliss. I just hope that their motivations aren’t so quasi-suicidal.
        I mean, I do a lot of things that increase my chance of an early demise. I do multi-day hikes in the middle of the wilderness, and occasionally climb mountains (small ones).

        I also drive a car and ride a bike. The other ones are still a little riskier, if you actually consider them in the more useful metric of “amount of injury from activity vs number of people participating in said activity.”

        But you do have a point that most people are ignorant of just how much their chance of dying by accident spikes as soon as they get behind the wheel.

        Support more efficient, more attractive, and safer mass transportation options people!

      3. >> This kind of stuff is impressive but why admire him like that?

        As Arnim Dahl himself said, “Better 10 minutes of terror than a month of work.”

  7. A lot of this reminds me of early Jackie Chan (who, of course, was inspired by Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton). Check out his Project A films to see what I mean.

  8. The odd thing is that if that sequence appeared in a modern-day action film, most everyone would immediately assume it was all CGI and special effects.

    Some of the Hollywood stunt performers I know are starting to get really depressed about the fact that any time they do something really, truly impressive, it’s automatically dismissed as computer-generated effects.

    Most modern action films have a good deal more real live stunt work than most people realize.

  9. So was this taken by one of Farnsworth’s Image Dissector video cameras or one of Zworykin’s Iconoscopes? A Sony Porta-Pac VTR time-warped in from 1967?

    I guess the point is we’re looking a film that’s only incidentally and recently been turned into a web video. Words matter, at least to some of us!

  10. Note that the film is framed that, so that, when the guy has the kid on his back, you can’t see what’s below them. My guess is that, at that point, if the camera panned down, you’d see something to catch them a few feet below. The rest of the time, there’s a wider frame–or did I miss something?

  11. >> This kind of stuff is impressive but why admire him like that?

    We’re all not that important. Really, not much more valuable than any spider who gets swept up into a kleenex and then deposited in the toilet. Humans as with all organisms exist purely at the whim of natural forces which could dismiss all of us and our accumulated art and wisdom, with a flatulent burst of solar radiation, random meteor impact, or any number of other perfectly normal processes that swirl around us, completely indifferent to our body of literature, smartphones, or Manifest Destiny ambition to conquer the cosmos.

    People who free climb, scramble up buildings, perform daredevil stunts like Evil Knievel or Phillipe Petit knowingly and willingly place their health and lives in that gap. We’re all in that gap anyway. But those people confront it. It’s an acceptance, an understanding. And yes, of course, they can die. In fact all of them do. Just as we do.

    Having said that the number one killer of Americans is the automobile. By far. But most of us absolutely think nothing of getting on the road to grab a hamburger or ice cold drink from our favorite coffee shop, so really how are we also not participating in this daredevil process as well? The difference between them and us is that they fully know the risks while we remain blissfully unaware until our ticket is punched and then we say: “Gosh. Who knew?”

    1. @Trotsky re #22: Just to avoid perpetuating a myth, the leading cause of death in america is heart disease, followed by cancer. Automobile deaths are a fair bit back in the list:

      (About half of the “accidents” in that list are automotive, so in total, cars directly cause about 10% as many deaths as heart disease.)

      Eat more veggies, Parkour more. ;-)

  12. Gizmo used to run on HBO as a filler movie in the mid-80’s. My brother and I always loved catching it. We attempted the rolling-inside-the-tire thing a few times with big inner tubes at the beach. Not super fun. Now there’s zorbing.

  13. If that’s a “car tire” he’s riding in, he’s either a *very* little person or that’s one dang-impressive car.

    1. >> Apparently, he drops the kid in the unrated version.

      Actually, it took thirteen takes to get that shot. Don’t ask about the other twelve kids.

  14. Heh, I did the car-tire thing when I was a kid. Was loads of fun but the after-effect notsomuch, never have I puked so hard.

  15. The first part, shot in New York, runs until :55, ending with the human fly and the kid waving from the roof. At :24, as he’s climbing a wall, there’s a sign in the foreground that reads “163RD ST JAM…” The type, and the triangle under the superscripted “RD” are in the style of New York street signs up to the 1960s. My guess is that it’s at 163rd Street in Jamaica, Queens (maybe at Jamaica Avenue).

    The crappy sound quality of the short dialogue bit at the dinner table could be from the 30s, though the link at #27 quotes somebody who says he’s the stuntman’s son, claiming that it’s from a 1942 newsreel.

    After :55, it’s all the German stunt guy. starting with the dash to the train, running on the roof, the insane water jumps, and the rest. At the beginning of the tire roll sequence, there’s another sign: “SCHARBEUTZ OSTSEESTRAND.” Scharbeutz is on the north coast of Germany, north of Hamburg. Its beach is the Ostsee Strand — for those who might be motivated to go there and reenact the gag.

    Thank you, Google.

  16. Impressive, sure, but it’s nothing compared to Keaton’s body of work, both in scope or artistry.

  17. The first part of the Armin Dahl stunts were filmed in Hamburg after WWII. There are some landmarks missing, but the underground still goes that way. The boat and harbour stunts are in Hamburg as well.

    And of course, Dahl was a household name. In Germany, right into the 70ies or I would not remember it, although I think he’d stopped doing stunts by then.

  18. Disclaimer added to the end of that film: “No animals were harmed in the making of this motion picture. A hell of a lot of kids did get messed up pretty bad though. Boy, howdy! Makes me sick just to think about it. Won’t be going back to that town anytime soon.”

  19. Now would be as good a time as any to mention the relatively obscure “Man on Wire 2: Between the Towers With Ms. Janowski’s PS 46 Half-Day Kindergarten” which was never released due to a series of ongoing legal disputes.

  20. John Ciampa was 26 in 1947, according to an AP article dated June 5, 1947, published on page 8 of the Milwaukee Journal (,2343688&dq=john+ciampa&hl=en ) which has a photo of him being arrested for doing his Human Fly routine on the Astor Hotel in NYC – this would make the 1942 date of the newsreel seem accurate, and he is still identified as living in Brooklyn. He also appeared in “Pardon My French” on Broadway in 1950. In the 1950 article about the show, Ciampa said he had been climbing buildings for 20 years.

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