Sunday, April 15, 2012

Clyde’s Movie Palace: Man’s Favorite Sport? (1964)

 

Directed
by
Howard Hawks
Written
by
John Fenton Murray & Steve McNeil
based on a story by
Pat Frank


I am not a fisherman.  That is not to say I’ve never been fishing.  I have on numerous occasions taken my rod and reel  in hand and headed to a nearby lake or stream to enjoy the wondrous pleasures that nature has to bestow upon us  as I’d sit  idly under some shady oak tree  for three or four hours hoping my wiggly slimy  night crawler would  offer up his life for that evening’s dinner, so the catch of the day could  be  fried to a deep tasty golden brown over an open fire. Sounds great doesn’t it?  Too bad it’s all bullshit.  I never really cared for the sport.  I was just never any good at it.  I couldn’t so much as snag an old tennis shoe, rusty 1925 license plate,  or some castoff chunk of Goodyear out of the river.

I did scoot off to some local pond a few times with a couple of neighbor kids way back in the times of the ancients, but only because they just wanted someone along.  I had no fishing equipment of my own, and they would usually give me some crappy old cane pole of theirs to dip in the water.  Needless to say, I never caught anything.  My only consolation?  Neither did they except for a blue gill or two weighing about an ounce, two at the most. 

My dad?  Forget it.  I’m not sure if he knew anything about fishing, but if he did he never told me about it.  I certainly never saw him tickling a rod and reel the way he could tickle the ivories on a keyboard.  I have a feeling that he probably had a  low opinion of the sport.  I do know his brother fished because my cousin posted a picture of the two of them together at a fishing trip on Facebook.

Things were different after I was married to wife Numero UnoShe loved to fish, as did my ex-old best friend Fred.  So I actually did learn to at least look like I knew what I was doing. And I think I even managed to catch  a few.  The problem was that they had to be cleaned before they could be eaten.  And guess who got stuck with that chore?   And I couldn’t do it in the sink in the house because ex-wife number one didn’t care for the mess or the smell.  She was a neatness freak.  The ashtrays in our house were cleaned after every single cigarette.  Both of us were smokers, but we had the cleanest butt depositories in the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, the last batch of fish that we caught together, I took outside and was gutting them when I was attacked by the biggest swarm of blood sucking mosquitoes you’d ever want to see.  In fact, I expected Irwin Allen to come popping out around the corner with his camera crew at any second.  Seriously.  I somehow managed to finish the task, but it was also the last time that I ever went fishing.  That would have been about forty years ago.  I don’t miss it and have no desire to revisit that chapter in my life which is why I now live out in the desert.

Another point I want to make here is that  with all the information now available on the internet, one could easily  gather up enough information and write their own treatise on just about anything and make people believe they are an expert on any variety of subjects.  A few years back when I wrote this fictional  story about a gay teen growing up and coming to terms with her sexual identity, I wanted to be sure that particular  part of the story was factually based.
 

So I spent hours and hours researching and finding out what I could.  I know it was just a Sims story, but my whole motivation for getting it right was because of all the misinformation being plastered in one story after another that was being uploaded to The Sims 2 web pages.   I wasn’t trying to pass myself off as an expert on gay life styles, but I needed my fictional story to have a basis in reality.

Let’s suppose that  I wanted to write a non-fictional book about how you could  become  the best damn  fisherman that ever lived.   Would it be that difficult in this day and age of speedy research  to pull it off? There’s hardly any information one can’t obtain on the internet, and as long as I re-phrased and re-worded everything, I just might get away with it.  If I got stumped, I could always give my cousin in Ohio a call to help me out.   I could even take some of my cousin’s Facebook pictures and photo shop myself in for effect.  I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.  And then maybe I could sell it as a Kindle download for about $3.00 a pop. 

So let’s pretend there were no Google, no Wikipedia, and no Bing.  It would be a lot tougher to pull off such a stunt.  But it could still be done, if one read enough books on the subject, or knew enough fishermen who were themselves rather knowledgeable and willing to let you pick their brain.  In that case you just  might be able to get by.  You could then take everything you learned and put it into a best selling guide on how to become a champion fisherman.  

Submitted for your approval,  the case of one Roger Willoughby (Rock Hudson).  Willoughby  works in an Abercrombie and Fitch outlet located in California.  No, he doesn’t sell overpriced overhyped sexually provocative  clothing to teenagers  carousing in and out of the  mall.  Up until 1976, A&F sold overpriced sporting goods equipment, mostly for hunting and fishing excursions to old farts like me who carouse just about anywhere.  Willoughby is the head honcho in charge of the fishing department.  He is so knowledgeable about angling and anglers, that he’s even written a best selling guide called Fishing Made Simple. If he were to write the same book today, it would be called Fishing For Dummies.

Fishermen one and all come into the store to ask Willoughby’s advice on everything from the right equipment, the right lures, the correct bait, the best casting method, and the best places to fish and what fish to try and catch on any given day. Some, like Major Phipps (Roscoe Karns), swear by Willoughby’s book, and when given the chance to enter a fishing tournament at nearby Lake Wakapoogee he goes directly to Roger  for help.

 
Willoughby is more than willing to help the major, right after he gets the correct information from another customer who  coincidentally happens to be fishing at the same lake where the fishing tournament is to be held.  Nothing wrong with that I suppose, especially since any sportsman worth their salt would want the latest updated information:  The fish of the day is trout, caught between ten and eleven in the morning with a water temperature of 68 degrees just below the surface starting with a Colorado Spinner and ending with a Super Duper.  See, I’m an expert already.

 
Willoughby’s sales pitch is interrupted when he is called to the office of the store’s owner and fussbudget, William Cadwalader (John McGiver).  Waiting for him along with his boss are two attractive women, Abigail Page (Paula Prentiss) and  Isolde 'Easy' Mueller (Maria Perschy).  Isolde is the daughter of the owner of the lodge at Lake Wakapoogee and Abigail is the Director of Public Relations. Having met the pair earlier in the day when they stole his parking place causing him to get a ticket and be late for work, Willoughby is none too happy to be reacquainted with them.  Roger is even less happy when he finds out that Abigail has sweet talked Cadwalader into ordering  him to fish in the upcoming tournament at Lake Wakapoogee.



Unable to convince the two ladies that he has a very good reason for not participating, it becomes necessary for Willoughby to let the cat out of the bag.  Roger  can’t enter the tournament because he has never fished.  And since he can’t fish, there is no way that Abigail and Easy should want him as their celebrity fisherman.    But it doesn’t matter. 

Abigail sees no problem as being completely insurmountable.  After accusing Willoughby of being a phony and a fraud, she then blackmails him into going to Lake Wakapoogee to participate in the tournament despite his shortcomings by threatening to  reveal his secret which would cause him to be fired.   My question is, if Abigail can get on her moral high horse and accuse Willoughby of being a fake, what does that make Abigail who uses blackmail ?  It bugs me every time I’ve seen this movie.  And besides, it’s a stretch to say Willoughby is a phony when he has never ever actually claimed that he had gone fishing.  Oh what the hell.  Maybe I’ve just set my moral standards too low.  Or would that be too high? 

Take Gregory House for instance.  House knows as much about medicine and diseases as anybody but you almost never see him with a scalpel in his hand inside an operating room.  But I guarantee you he could write one hell of a book on the subject if he so desired and provided he could stay off vicatin long enough to find the keys on his PC.  

But I guess it doesn’t matter.  You have to get the dude up to the lake to do some fishing somehow or other or we’ll have  no wacky slapstick comedy scenes of Willoughby attempting to become one with nature.  And blackmail works as well as any plot device, although it doesn’t particularly endear us to Abigail.

Once he arrives in the stomping grounds of Yogi and Boo Boo Bear, instead of checking into a  lodge the well over equipped well over camping equipped Willoughby does his  best to to pitch a tent but instead only succeeds in pitching a fit especially after his main adversaries  arrives on the scene.  That would be Abigail and Easy.

Willoughby:  Where did you come from?
Easy: Down at the lake
Abigail:  What are you doing?
Willoughby:  I am setting up a tent
Abigail: Oh?
Easy: Are you?
Roger: After which I shall try making a bed.
Abigail: Can we help?
Willoughby: Yes. Go away.
Easy (in regards to Roger’s over abundance of equipment): I’m curious, what is all this about.
Willoughby:  This is Mr. Cadwalader’s idea of what a well equipped camper should have.
Abigail:  Well why are you camping?
Roger:  Again, Mr. Cadwalader’s idea.  He seemed to be inspired since he met you.
Abigail: Oh well now, don’t be angry Roger, it wasn’t my idea. 
Roger:  Miss Page
Abigail: Um…hm.
Roger: I had time to think while driving up here.  I don’t think you can ever get me angry again.
Speaking of Easy, I’ve scanned through the DVD several times now and not once is it mentioned as to how Isolde obtained that moniker.  I guess it is supposed to be left to our imagination.  So you have my permission to come up with any wild scenario you can dream up, just as I have.



Abigail and Easy do their best to  convince Roger that it would be in his best interest to stay at the lodge. 

Easy:  You don’t have time to learn camping.  You’ll have enough trouble learning how to fish.
Abigail:  After the tournament you can learn how to make your bed.
Roger: Mr. Cadwalader told….
Abigail:  Phooey on Mr. Cadwalader.

Or as Abigail later tells him, “if  anybody sees him camping, they’ll know he’s never  been “out of a hothouse before.”

   


As if to lend credence to their words, lurking nearby is John Screaming Eagle who has overheard much of their conversation.  John does a lot of lurking in this movie.  I don’t know if he’s supposed to be a peeping tom or what he is exactly except that when there’s anything worthwhile going on you’ll find him nearby standing with his arms crossed because that’s Hollywood’s idea of what Indians do.  Especially pretend ones. Nowadays Mr. Screaming Eagle would have the last laugh by running his own casino.

I think the real reason Mr. Eagle is here is because  the story needed  a character of convenience.  It’s always good to have one around when you need to tweak the plot a little bit.   Here, he shows up to prove Abigail’s point and to nab $5.00 from Willoughby to buy his silence and help pack up Roger’s camping equipment.  If this film were a drama, Mr. Screaming Eagle would be the comic relief.  But since Man’s Favorite Sport is already  a comedy, it hardly needs any  relief form itself.  Maybe he’s just an extra added attraction.  Sort of like going to McDonalds and running into Ronald in the parking lot.


More complications ensue.   Roger’s fiancé Tex ( Charlene Holt) has made reservations to join him at Lake Wakapoogee, and Roger has yet to tell her about his lack of fishing  and camping expertise

It is Abigail’s duty to teach Roger how to fish.  There’s a trail bike stealing bear on the prowl, and Roger also has fun testing new untried sporting equipment such as inflatable waders which may or may not come in handy because among his many other camping deficiencies, Roger has never been boating and he can’t swim.

 


There’s an old slapstick comedy rule of thumb:  When a man can’t fish, can’t swim, and can’t boat while wearing inflatable waders, you know with one hundred per cent certainty that this mix will come into play sooner rather than later, leading to off the wall hijinks, mirth, merriment, and knee slapping hilarity.  Or perhaps a chuckle or two.


Roger eventually hooks his first fish, but as any fisherman knows, hooking a fish and getting him reeled in are two different animals.  The other fishing lesson we learn from Man’s Favorite Sport is that sometimes you don’t even need a rod, a reel, a hook, or bait.  All you need is a good pair of waders, a bear, and a tree.   You’ll find out.


For all the outdoor fishing and camping scenes, Man’s Favorite Sport? is another take on the old romantic comedy premise where a man and women meet and seem to be completely incompatible.  In this case, Abigail finds herself falling for the guy she has done nothing but antagonize through the first half of the movie.  So much so that Roger Willoughby would like nothing more than to be as far away from her as possible, with the hope that he would never have to see Abigail again. 

And it’s easy to see why.  Abigail will get on your nerves at times.  She talks fast, changes subject in mid sentence, and rattles on endlessly, sometimes almost incoherently.  So pay attention, because eventually she’ll grow on you and work her way into your heart despite her propensity for being obnoxious.  You can attribute that to Paula Prentiss, who  never lets her character become so over the top irritating that she alienates you.  In fact, once you get used to the rapid fire overlapping dialogue that runs rampant in this film, it’s a real hoot.  You’ll probably want to go back and watch it a second time just to hear what you’ve missed.

Hudson is good here as well.  The role was meant to go to Cary Grant at one time, and while they are birds of a different feather, it’s a bit of a switch for Hudson to be the nice guy right from the start instead of starting out as the loathsome creatures he played in films such as Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back.  And given the chance to do a lot of comedic slapstick as the inept fisherman, he handles it like a pro.


The supporting cast is just what the term implies.  They are here to prop up our two leads for the most part, but they fit in nicely.  Character actor John McGiver who made a career out of playing the nit picking worry wart, does it well here.  How can you not like a guy with a name like Cadwalader?  Just saying it elicits a chuckle.  For that matter I love all the names of the characters in this movie.  With names like “Cadwalader, Willoughby, Abigail, Easy,  Screaming Eagle, Tex, Skaggs, and Major Phipps it’s better than a novel by Dickens.

Maria Perschy is charmingly beautiful as Abigail’s friend and confidante Easy.  And she has a simmering, sultry, sexy quality to her, not to mention the sexiest back one might find in an early sixties movie (Read on for an explanation).  Although Perschy was never a huge star, she was an international one having starred in numerous foreign films, U.S. films such as 633 Squadron, and guest starred on a long list of television shows including Hawaii Five-O.  


Charlene Holt, a former Miss Maryland who plays Roger’s fiancé Tex, comes on long enough to play the part of the aggrieved girlfriend.  And to wear a very revealing negligee which helps make the visit worth while.  Holt would also do most of her acting in TV series but would work with Hawks again in Red Line 7000 and another film.  Read on to find out more about that gig as well.  Her last listed appearance was in the 1980 film Melvin and Howard,  and according to the IMDB she passed away in Tennessee in 1996 at age 67.



Roscoe Karns as Major Phipps and Forrest Lewis as Skaggs are Willoughby’s main competition in the tournament but their own personal rivalries and friendly bickering with each other adds a nice touch to the film.  Both of them were old pros at this sort of thing.  Karns began his career in 1915 and has a list of film credits as long as both of your arms.  Lewis began his career in 1943 at the ripe old age of 44 and was a consistent character actor on television, even having appeared on the Andy Griffith Show six different times as six different characters.  Man’s Favorite Sport is Karn’s last listed film role on the IMDB, and he would pass away six years later.  On a trivia note, Karns appeared in both the first talkie, The Jazz Singer, and the first Academy Award Winning Best Picture, Wings.

All is not peaches and cream however.  There are times when this film screams, “filmed on the studio lot.”  During some of the fishing scenes at the lake I fully expected Gilligan, The Skipper, and the rest of the gang to come floating up on the S.S. Minnow.  The film has a low budget cheap studio look to it which puts a damper on the feeling that you are really part of the great outdoors.

And there are some bits that don’t work.  I’m thinking of one incident in particular that involves a fake broken arm and a little bird that fell out of a tree.  It’s not particularly funny, and for all the time spent on it, the whole thing leads nowhere.  If it were excised from the film you would never miss it. 

The worst part of the movie for me had to be the opening credits which featured an abundant bounty of  scantily clad women in bikinis accompanied by one of the worst theme songs in the history of motion pictures, neither of which actually has anything to do with the content of the film.  The theme song was written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer and I can only surmise these two great composers were on a drunken binge when they wrote it.  It’s that bad.  Although it may be no big deal to most movie goers, I found it beyond irritating and believe me, I absolutely have nothing against eyeballing scantily clad beauties.

The film was directed by Howard Hawks, who was revisiting the kind of rapid fire dialogue driven slapstick comedy screwball films such as his own 1938 movie, Bringing Up Baby.   Baby is listed as number 14 on the AFI top 100 comedy films of all time, and I sought the film out on Amazon Prime based on that fact and to compare it with this film.  Although it’s a good film, I’m not sure I hold Baby in the same high esteem that others do, but then I’m an outlier who shakes his head negatively wondering how The Godfather is often placed in the top ten films of all time.  But Hawks thought so highly of his film, he even even lifted a whole scene from it.


But Hawks gets a pass because Man’s Favorite Sport was originally supposed to be either a remake or a homage.  In fact, Hawks wanted Cary Grant to star in the film but he turned it down because at 59, he thought he was to old to play opposite the much younger 24 year old Prentiss.  

I guess he was practicing for the day when he would completely remake another of his films.  In 1959, he would make Rio Bravo starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Angie Dickinson, and Ricky Nelson.  Just seven years later in 1966 he would take rehash the whole shebang as El Dorado, again starring Wayne, but co-starring Robert Mitchum, the above mentioned Charlene Holt, and James Caan.  Hawks denied it was a remake, but anyone who has seen both films knows better, and I’ve seen them both.

Man’s Favorite Sport will never be held in the lofty esteem that many other Hawks directed films such as Red River, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (probably my favorite), Sgt. York, The Big Sleep, His Girl Friday, and The Thing From Another World are.  But it gets by thanks mostly to the snappy dialogue, a very engaging Paula Prentiss and Rock Hudson,  and a plot that may seem a bit absurd but still highly plausible.  It’s hard to figure out exactly why the film sat on the shelf for almost two years before being released because it is pretty good lighthearted entertainment.  And if you’re as light at heart as I am then you leave me no choice but to give you my grade of a B.

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