Friday, May 24, 2013

Howard Hawk's "Man's Favorite Sport?" ( 1964 )

If you were to watch only the credits to "Man's Favorite Sport?" you would think that the sport they are referring to is chasing women, but it is quite the contrary. Fishing. That's what this is all about. That age old pleasurable pursuit of man against fish. 

Roger Willoughby ( Rock Hudson ) is an authority on the subject. He is the best-selling author of several books on fishing and a sporting goods salesman at Abercrombie & Fitch ( the L.L. Bean of the West Coast ). Hence, PR representative Abigail Page ( Paula Prentiss ) thinks he is a natural choice for a celebrity competitor when she schemes up a publicity campaign of hosting a fishing tournament at Lake Wakapoogee lodge and campground. What a draw to the will jump at the chance to compete against pro-fisherman Roger Willoughby. Why, it's like having a chance to golf against Tiger Woods! Only problem is - Woods doesn't know how to play golf. I mean, Willoughby doesn't know how to fish. In fact, he can't even stand the sight of fish; hates the taste of them too.

When he finally shares his dark secret with Abigail she decides he will just have to learn. She's not going to pass up such great publicity.... besides, she already has a yen for him. And this is where the fun begins. In the short span of 3 days prior to the tournament, Roger has to learn how to fish, how to swim, how to set up camp, as well as make sure he puts up a good front when the competitors come pouring in. He may lose his job if his boss finds out he isn't as skilled as he thought and he may lose his fiance when she discovers just what Abigail has up her sleeve!

"Man's Favorite Sport?" was based on a short story by Pat Frank titled 'The Girl That Almost Got Away'. It was filmed in 1962 and released in theaters in early 1964. The movie was an excellent vehicle for Rock Hudson and suited his awkward comedic talent perfectly, a natural sense of comedy which he had demonstrated successfully in "Pillow Talk", "Send Me No Flowers", "Lover Come Back" and "Come September". Unlike these films however, "Man's Favorite Sport?" did not score well at the box-office. Critics were harsh - lukewarm at best - and the public did not embrace it. Perhaps it was the changing times. Or perhaps they were judging it based on Howard Hawks' past successes. 

The film boasts a peppy score by Henry Mancini ( Ann-Margret released an excellent recording of the title song as a single ) and a wonderful cast of supporting players including Maria Perschy, Charlene Holt, John McGiver, Norman Alden, Roscoe Karns, and a guest appearance by pro-fisherman Joe Kilroy, sporting a cast of his very own.  
Maria Perschy was an Austrian actress who could of been the next Romy Schneider but her career never took off in Hollywood. She split her time between European and American pictures and starred in a few memorable films such as "Freud", "633 Squadron" and "Five Golden Dragons". In "Man's Favorite Sport" she plays Isolde "Easy" Mueller, the owner of the Lake Wakapoogee resort and Abigail's friend.

Charlene Holt, the stunning Texan redhead who portrays Roger's fiancee "Tex", was discovered by Howard Hawks while making a Revlon lipstick commercial. She was a top model in the industry and often appeared on television elegantly pushing products of one kind or another. Hawks was grooming her for stardom and after this small part put her in two other films,"Red Line 7000" ( 1965 ) and "El Dorado" ( 1966 ), opposite John Wayne. 

John McGiver made a career of playing dazed and drunk employers with high standards. He was a character who popped up in dozens of light-hearted comedies during the 1960s, notably in "Mr.Hobbs Takes a Vacation"( 1962 ) and "Who's Minding the Store?" ( 1963 ).  

Howard Hawks liked to do the unexpected. He enjoyed filming movies that were just a little bit different, a little out of the norm. In 1963 a very assertive tomboyish business woman was not a common role to cast. He selected Paula Prentiss for this part and the role suited her to perfection.  After "Where the Boys Are" ( 1960 ) the lovely Paula Prentiss shot to stardom as one of the most delightful screwball comediennes of the 1960s and she was quickly put in a string of romantic comedies where she was teamed with Jim Hudson. She also played a supporting role in the Bob Hope comedy "Bachelor in Paradise" ( 1961 ). Most often she played engaging, outspoken women who were a bit on the flighty side. At first, Paramount refused to have Paula Prentiss in the film but Howard Hawks knew she was the right choice and moved the production over to Universal in order to secure her. After "Man's Favorite Sport?" she made a handful more comedies and then her popularity took a nose-dive. Today, her most well-remembered role is Bobbie Markowe in "The Stepford Wives" ( 1975 ). 

The first time I saw "Man's Favorite Sport" I did not think much of the movie. It seemed routine, but my father enjoyed it thoroughly because of its camping/fishing theme and colorful location shots, so we'd watch it again every couple of months and by golly, after several years of repeat viewing it has become one of my favorites. In winter, my family watch it to stir up our anticipation for summer and the camping plans we have made and in summer we take the DVD along with us on our outings. After a long day of hiking my sister and I hop into our tent and pop "Man's Favorite Sport" in our portable DVD player. Watching it takes away the fear of knowing there may be black bears lurking right outside our tent...and not the mini-bike riding species. 

There are some critics who consider Howard Hawks an avant-garde genius of a filmmaker. They analyze and take apart his films searching to discover the hidden meaning within each of his pictures. But I don't believe he put secret meanings within his films. I don't believe he made a movie - whether it be a comedy, a war film, or a western - for the masses and then hid subtle subtexts within it for the discerning to fathom. Howard Hawks was a simple man and a simple
director. He learned early in his career a valuable lesson from Sol Wurtzel ( Fox Studios production head ) ..." Make something that's entertaining! "*. And this is what he set out to do..and has accomplished in doing. Hawks was one of the few directors in Hollywood who had complete control over his films. He could make script re-writes, scene changes, casting changes, entire production changes, and not have to report to a superior. He was the boss and as such I believe he made films that he personally would enjoy most. Hawks was a man's man. He was an outdoors man at heart and loved to ride, to hunt, to ski, and to fish. 

His simple view of filming was evident in a discussion with the audience at the 1970 Chicago Film Festival :

Q: You say you are an entertainer, but the French critics in the last few years have been treating you as something more than that. Do you think they are right? 

A : ( Hawks ) Oh, I listen to them, but I get open-mouthed and wonder where they find some of the stuff that they say about me. All I'm doing is telling a story. I'm very glad that they like it, and I'm very glad that a lot of them are copying what I do, but they find things.......I work on the fact that if I like somebody and think they're attractive, I can make them attractive. If I think a thing's funny, then people laugh at it. They give me credit for an awful lot of things that I don't pay attention to at all. *

If there is any underlying theme in "Man's Favorite Sport?" it is fakery. The sets are as artificial as the sporting goods department display at Abercrombie & Fitch. They are, like Roger himself, merely for display purposes. Roger is a sham, he is not the he-man he pretends to be. He cannot fish, he cannot build a fire, and he even cries for Abigail's help when he is floundering in the water. Chief Screaming Eagle is a sham. Even the title credits are a sham. We listen to a chorus of women singing " Just let a girl appear, he'll pursue her; And run his fingers through her curls; And that's the way it's been since the world began...the favorite sport of men is girls " stressing the point that man's favorite sport is pursuing women when all through the film it is the woman who is doing the pursuing. Roger is caught in Abigail's net and is as helpless as a fish trying to escape. 

"Man's Favorite Sport?" was intended to be a tribute to Howard Hawks' own comedy masterpiece, "Bringing Up Baby" ( 1938 ) starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn. He originally intended to have the two stars re-united for this fishing expedition. Hepburn declined.  Paula Prentiss was cast. Cary Grant believed he was too old for the role of a man being pursued by a younger woman, so he opted out as well. Although Rock Hudson did a great job of making the role of Roger Willoughby his own, many feel that he was trying to be a "Cary Grant" and failed miserably. 

"Man's Favorite Sport?" is certainly no "Bringing Up Baby" and does not rank along with the Rock Hudson/Doris Day comedies, but nevertheless it has it's entertaining moments and leaves you with a wonderful carefree feeling after watching it. This is one of those rare films where the plot actually gets better as the story progresses. The movie starts off rather slow but picks up momentem once Roger arrives at Lake Wakapoogee. "Man's Favorite Sport?" is innocent enough for the very young to watch and subtly entertaining for adults. Although it is quite long for a comedy ( over 2 hours runtime ) it is so colorful and amusing that the clock moves swiftly. 

* Excerpts from "Focus on Howard Hawks", edited by James McBride. Prentice-Hall, 1972.

This post is my contribution for Seetimaar- Diary of a Movie Lover's Howard Hawks Blogathon celebrating the films, life and career of this versatile director. For a complete list of participating bloggers and to read more about the films of Howard Hawks, visit the website here. 

image name image name image name image name


  1. Fine contribution the blogathon. Yeah, this may a lesser Hawks comedy but it's still diverting. I remain a big fan of Paula Prentiss and this is another I should revisit (her supporting roles in The Honeymoon Machine and In Harm's Way were simply splendid). Her health issues sadly kept her from gaining greater fame. Too bad because I think she had a wonderful quality.

  2. Thanks le0pard13, yes I agree Paula Prentiss was an excellent comedian and a really fine actress. She does a wonderful performance, albeit only a supporting role, in "Bachelor in Paradise" which you'll have to revisit as well. Glad this post renewed your interest in "Man's Favorite Sport"!

    1. You read my mind. I picked up 'Bachelor in Paradise' along with 'The Honeymoon Machine' (both films I saw first-run growing up) from Warner Archive, too ;-). I will be rewatching her eye-popping role in 'Catch-22' and will be reviewing 'The Stepford Wives' as part of a blog series a colleague and I regularly do. Thanks.

  3. Excellent post Constance on one of Hawks's lesser known and more under appreciated comedies. I agree what you said about Hawks, he primarily saw movies as an entertainment. The movie he loved most directing was not one of the classics, it was Hatari!!, a total popcorn entertainer, if ever there was one. But this movie was a sort of subtle message about the general fakery of self help, do it yourself authors, who rarely practice what they preach.

  4. Thanks Ratnakar! And you are quite right, you couldn't of summed up the theme of this film better.

  5. I remember watching this movie as a kid of 10 back in 1972 and it always stuck with me. I tried to remember the title in the early 90s when dvd production took off and wanted to own it. I was able to buy it when it was finally released on dvd. I pop it in the dvd player when I need a pick me up and a flashback to the family movie night. It's a cheesy colorful comedy and it definitely grows on you more and more each time it's viewed. I had a boyhood crush on Paula and as I watch the movie as a 50 year old today I can see how easy that was to do. I hope someday they will include some type of commentary and behind the scenes footage.

  6. I love Paula Prentiss since "Where the Boys Are". She is always good, as in "The Parallax View" and "What's New Pussycat?". I recommend "The Black Marble" and "Move": she is funny and kooky in both.