Sunday, December 18, 2011

Netflix'd :: Clearing Out the Instant Que :: Gone Fishing with Howard :: Man's Favorite Sport? (1964).

It's a familiar story: Boy meets girl. He's oil. She's water. He's ... Nah. Hold up. He's the water, and she's the oil. Anyways ... He works at a sporting goods store. She works at a hunting and fishing lodge. He's an expert fish angler. She needs to wrangle an expert fishermen. He's written a best-selling book on the art of catching a fish, earning him much publicity in such circles. Thus, she, through his fudd of a boss, has entered him in her lodge's annual fishing contest, hoping for more of the same. He thinks that's a terrible idea. She thinks it's a no-brainer. He adamantly refuses. She can't understand why. He puts his foot down. She proceeds to stomp on it until he relents. And so, our hero is in the contest. But, our heroine still has to overcome one major obstacle:

Her fishing expert has never, ever fished in his life. In fact, four out of his five senses can't outright stand the cold, slimy buggers; with only hearing getting a pass. Nope. Can't stand 'em. Revolted, even. Apparently, seems our boy became an expert behind the sales counter, milking his clientele for all their secrets; a bizarre ponzi scheme of advice on lures, rods and reels. Stuck and thus, taking pity on the poor fraud (-- after using it as leverage to hammer on him until he agrees to take part, 'natch), she has one week to turn this armchair angler into an ersatz Virgil Ward.

But he's kind of a hopeless dope. And she has the mutant ability to trigger a chaos effect on those within her reach. His world is falling apart. She is the root cause of it. He's infuriated by her. She's infatuated with him. He's engaged to someone else. She couldn't care less. Now just stuff all of that into a test tube, and then sit back and watch how these elements react. Will they explode? Or will they gel into some cohesive compound of co-existence?

And so, some ten years after Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the stage is set for Howard Hawks' triumphant comedic comeback, Man's Favorite Sport?. And the stage is set-up beautifully, right out of the gate, with some spiffy animated collage and stencil credits, courtesy of Wayne Fitzgerald:

Originally intended as a remake of the director's screwball classic, Bringing Up Baby, Hawks wanted to reunite stars Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn for this whopper of a fish tale. Obviously, that didn't pan out. Grant was game, but felt he was far too old for co-star Paula Prentiss and gracefully bowed out. Luckily, Hawks found a suitable replacement with Rock Hudson.

Hudson had already flexed his funny-bone in several light romantic comedies, but here proved he was also a very gifted physical comedian that could- and probably should have been explored and exploited more in future projects. And that, with Prentiss' help, makes all the pants-on-fire wackiness to come go down smooth.
And speaking of the adorable Prentiss ... as a friend of mine commented upon first seeing Olivia Wilde in TRON: Legacy dudded-up in her digital spandex glory, and how it made her aware of a fetish she didn't even know she had, here, when Prentiss (and co-star Perschy) show up in those skin-tight rubber diving suits, well, lets just say my personal Comics Code rumbled and shifted. Noticeably. Very noticeably...

Now, normally, I'm not a big fan of this kind of third-wheel romantic plot: a seemingly happily engaged man meeting up and falling in love with another woman. And what I object to is how the films usually make the fiance, male or female, an irredeemable ass of the highest order. To me, that's just lazy scriptwriting and makes the decision to dump one for the other so easy one can hardly believe the hero got engaged to them in the first place.

Here, it's kind of reversed. Tex Connors (Charlene Holt), the fiance, seems nice enough but barely shows up long enough to say hello and goodbye. She's so incidental, and with the coming twist that sets up the third act, her character really wasn't even necessary. So one has to ask, Why bother? On the other hand, I freely admit I felt the urge to strangle Abigale Paige (Prentiss) on several occasions as she spastically blusters her way into bowling over Roger Willoughby (Hudson). In short order, in a flurry of stuck zippers, torn dresses, and one disastrous dose of sleeping pills, Paige falls in love, breaks up Willoughby's marriage, attacks him with a circular saw when another one of her hair-brained plans goes awry (-- okay, okay: I thought I was gonna die laughing at that scene), exposes him as a fraud, gets him fired, and then has the temerity to tell him it will never work and runs away once he expresses mutual feelings for her.

Will t'woo wuv win in the end? Usually, I wouldn't give a feh or rat's ass either way, but thanks to the leads I was hooked, and I laughed, a lot, all the way to the not-so-bitter end -- though most of the throwaway bits prove funnier than the overtly staged comedy. (Loved that running gag with the boss's errant hair piece.) Hawks helps, too. And all of his usual staples are there: strong female characters, sharp and overlapping dialogue, an obsession with gadgetry, characters always moving, and using the sets to dictate his scenes instead of the other way around. Add it all up and this one's a definite keeper.

Man's Favorite Sport? (1964) Gibraltar Productions :: Laurel Productions :: Universal Pictures / P: Howard Hawks / AP: Paul Helmick / D: Howard Hawks / W: John Fenton Murray, Steve McNeil, Pat Frank (story) / C: Russell Harlan / E: Stuart Gilmore / S: Rock Hudson, Paula Prentiss, Maria Perschy, John McGiver, Charlene Holt, Norman Alden

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