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April 01, 2022

Man's Favorite Sport?


Howard Hawks - 1964
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

Although I consider myself an auteurist in my approach to writing about films, I do not tether myself to some of the orthodoxies as established by Andrew Sarris. As heretical as it may be to some, especially after revisiting some of his films, I do no hold Howard Hawks in a great esteem as others. Hawks especially seems to have run out of inspiration after Harari when he was essentially trying to capture past success. Several others have already written about how Man's Favorite Sport? was built on the bones of Bringing Up Baby. The follow-up, Red Line 7000 recalls The Crowd Roars. After two lukewarm commercial and critical films, Hawks was reduced to remaking Rio Bravo two more times. The commercial success was due to star John Wayne. Unlike the period westerns, when Hawks made films taking place in the early 1960s, the sense that he is straining to be contemporary.

Younger viewers may be surprised to know that there was a time when Abercrombie and Fitch sold sporting goods, and was the store of choice for well-heeled sportsmen including Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway. In Hawks' film, Roger Willoughby is the top salesman of the San Francisco store, specializing in fishing gear. His instructional book is revered by other sportsmen. It is after the public relations representative for a lodge, Abigail Page, signs Willoughby to a fishing tournament, that it is revealed that he has never actually fished but has based his career on listening to customers, passing on their best information. The film follows familiar Hawksian tropes with the combative relationship between Roger and Abigail, scenes of humiliation, followed by a resolution where all pretenses are finally set aside.

Hawks wanted to make Man's Favorite Sport? with Cary Grant. And the screenplay was written with Grant in mind, initially opposite Katherine Hepburn. All through my watching the blu-ray, I was trying to imagine how the lines spoken by Rock Hudson would have sounded had they been delivered by Grant. And Hudson tries really, really hard, but as the constantly exasperated Roger Willoughby, he lacks the lightness Grant conveys even in the most frustrating circumstances. Paula Prentiss follows the template of Hawksian women, modeled after Hawks ex-wife, "Slim" Keith. Prentiss matches Hudson for participating in the physical comedy.

The opening credits seems to promise a different kind of film. The title song concludes that man's favorite sport is the pursuit of women. What we see are a collection of various young, conventionally attractive women engaged in a variety of sports. The photos were by Don Ornitz, originally for Life magazine. In this film, female athletes like Althea Gibson and Wilma Rudolph do not exist, nor anyone like them. There is also the myth of the Hawksian woman as the equal to the male characters, yet fishing here is presented as an entirely male enterprise. An opportunity for more comedy seems squandered by not having Prentiss demonstrating skills with the rod and reel.

The commentary track by film historian Michael Schlesinger also includes comments by Prentiss and her husband, actor/director Richard Benjamin. Schlesinger makes no secret of his love for this film. Do I have a blind spot concerning Man's Favorite Sport?. In any event, I am not one to begrudge those who have admired this film, but only to say that I do not share their enthusiasm. Schlesinger does point out how Hawks directed Hudson to mimic certain mannerisms of Cary Grant. Also he points out the several character actors who have previously worked with Hawks. One of the uncredited cast members, briefly seen as a secretary, is Margaret Sheridan, best known as the lone girl with the Arctic team in the original The Thing. The blu-ray is sourced from a very good print that does justice to the use of color, especially noticeable in a scene in a piano museum with colored glass windows. While a revisit of the film and the commentary track may not change the critical opinion of some viewers, Hawkian completists should be pleased. And, OK, I admit it - I did laugh at the scene of the bear riding the little trail bike.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 1, 2022 07:00 AM