Man's Favorite Sport - 1964

Rock Hudson can't fish or camp, but he's got to learn to do both fast because his job as a fishing and camping supply salesman is on the line, and Paula Prentiss is going to help, whether he likes it or not.

In the post-war 40's and during the 1950's there was a surge of "outdoor" movies in which color films brought to the theatergoer a vicarious experience of a healthy land of trees, rivers, lakes and blue skies. This was in heavy contrast to the steadily growing world of shops and especially confining corporate offices that more and more people lived their lives in. The spreading cities and suburbia of the USA marked how many people were exiting from family farms and rural jobs into a kind of existence where the natural world was becoming a bit removed and distant, like a piece of artwork, and thus a perfectly suitable thing for a motion picture scenario, especially if the story is modelled as a vacation.

A late entry into this genre is this Rock Hudson and Paula Prentiss comedy which lampoons a freshwater fishing tournament and makes fun of America's penchant for camping. If you're already familiar with Bringing Up Baby (1938) and Libelled Lady (1936), a hunk of Man's Favorite Sport will be very familiar since director Howard Hawks has lifted a considerable amount of jokes and characterization from those films and it is to such a degree it might be fair to simply say Man's Favorite Sport is a hybrid remake of those two screwball classics.

The on screen humour is designed to pull on Hudson's and Prentiss's considerable comedy talents, and most of their scenes together are funny and sharp, but there's a kind of tiredness in the movie where it seems like Hawk's is either losing interest or the production company feels a little desperate and larded the movie with girls in lingerie, tight scuba-diving outfits, and rainstorms to fall on thin white blouses, and the whole package begins with a montage of still images of agile, but random, females jumping, laughing and being cute like a spread from a clothing catalog. In a way this isn't really outside of what's in the movie since Paula Prentiss, Maria Perschy and Charlene Holt are presented in such a way that this commercial packaging of the ladies is supposed to be in fun, a very early 1960's attitude that brings a synthesis of fishing and girls together as a "sport." In another light, though, it comes across as cynical camouflage to hide that the film lacks faith in the jokes they're cribbing from nearly 30 years before.

Hudson and Prentiss are fine and I enjoy them and why the movie is worth returning to, and the cinematography is colorful and well done. Still, somehow the filmmaking genius of Howard Hawks can't keep the edges of this film from having a detached and even somewhat depressive flavour despite the polished veneer. In Joseph MacBride's interviews with Howard Hawks for the book Hawks on Hawks, the director protests about Man's Favorite Sport by saying the review cards on his original cut were great, but greed from executives wanting a shorter film in order to jam in more shows during a theatre-day, and in the process of cutting it down to achieve this they screwed the movie up.

An older review of Man's Favorite Sport is here

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Original Page February 6, 2024