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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Did We Like Silly With Shrieks?

Faces --- Frightened Faces --- Adorn a Typical Universal Combo Chiller Ad

When Fun Ranked Even With Fright

I'd like knowing just what sort of expectation young people brought to so-called "horror" combos during the early 40's. I say young people for guessing that this was overwhelmingly the age group attending such programs. What appeal could they have had for older patronage? Horror Island in particular seems juvenile to a fault, with comedy far outdistancing what might pass for "thrills." My using quotes around the word isn't as much shorthand for disapproval as recognition that a show like Horror Island gave value and very likely pleased in 1941, as did co-feature Man-Made Monster. Some claim viewership wanted scares and were denied them. I'm not so sure. Maybe it was laughs with light chills they preferred, otherwise why hire, let alone bill prominently, Leo Carrillo, Walter Catlett, Fuzzy Knight? These names certainly weren't used because folks didn't enjoy them. Then-censorship held the line in any event --- we can see most of punches pulled in Man-Made Monster. How many would opt for bad dreams a result of too intense movies? Maybe steady nerves were valued more in 1941, so ticket buyers liked preserving theirs. "It's fun to be scared" was a pitch in hundreds of spook show ads. Why spoil fun by truly frightening your crowd?

... and What a Shock Staple This Was Through a Syndicated Era

A Naval Honor Guard for Man-Made Monster? Seeing Is Believing!

I'd propose The Lodger and a few of the Sherlock Holmes as most unsettling of early-to-mid-40's thrillers, and most don't think of these as genre staples. Were it not for the title, Horror Island would be less than obscure. Many a late show sitter found to dismay that this was in fact porridge of "Fortune Hunters" (never a promising premise for shocks), a "Phantom Madman" (not around enough, let alone seen, to be perceived as mad or even a threat), and comics tag-teaming through sixty minutes run-time. The length was pertinent to 1941 bookers, both features done and out in less than two hours. Horror Island and Man-Made Monster amounted to a double feature minus onus of less shows per day, thus lost admissions. Customers wouldn't know they were rooked until wrap, then exit, back to sidewalks ("This way to the Grand Egress," said Barnumesque showmen). Ads spoke Beware the loudest for ones naive enough to pay heed. Collectors value posters for watered-down horror above most of what came out in that era. Lon Chaney in weird make-up and carrying partially unclad Anne Nagel was vaguely like what went on in Man-Made Monster, but only vaguely. Horror Island at least had atmosphere to back up shadowy faces of its cast in ads. Again it was settings and how they were photographed that made these films effective. Yes, a dark castle could be scary in itself, however dissipated it was by a Fuzzy Knight in frenzied retreat from terrors that don't materialize. In the end, perhaps we'd rather look at print lure like ads here than the features themselves (the one at right took up one-third-of-a-page in Memphis Tennessee's Press-Scimeter dated April 25, 1941). Horror Island and Man-Made Monster are available in splendid transfers with a DVD "Classic Horror" group from Universal.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Brit Trainload Of Hitchcock

The Lady Vanishes (1938) Still Plays Strong

We had an old radio station that became an art gallery, then was given over to model railroaders who built a scale town through which trains ran, their tabletop consuming near-whole of the building. It's a remarkable display, and evidence of what hobbyists can do where given plentiful space to cut loose. How often do personal obsessions have a practical application? The man who cured polio could have answered that, while ones of us gone on old movies and mini-choo-choos must forever wonder if what we do could matter a hoot to posterity. One instance where play toys did serve practical use was Alfred Hitchcock's opening sweep for The Lady Vanishes, his camera travel over mini-rooftops an endearing sleight-of-hand. Someone, or some team, had to build all this time-and-place setting for opening seconds that get The Lady Vanishes underway. There are toy cars that move and even toy people whose arms go up/down. It's clearly fake to us, especially with aid of Blu-Ray, but what marvelous ingenuity! Think of Hitchcock down on the floor making adjustments --- he'd not have delegated this job and missed all the fun. I'll bet AH designed every intricate detail of this built-to-scale set. Imagine having to tear it all down after shooting and discard the lot. Surely he kept a few souvenirs.

Criterion's booklet with The Lady Vanishes has fine essays by Geoffrey O' Brien and Charles Barr. O' Brien mentions that the project was originally set for American director Roy William Neill. How close might his Lady Vanishes have come to the Master's? A possible tip is eight years' later Terror By Night, a Sherlock Holmes thriller set aboard a train and directed by Neill. I watched that one last night for an umpteenth time and realized how foolproof trains are toward detection of murder and mayhem. They are also a best ally to budget filmmaking. Hitchcock was evidently as constrained for The Lady Vanishes as Neill would be with Terror By Night. British Hitchcocks are admired for what he achieved on tight money. O 'Brien quotes Hitchcock recall that his train set was ninety feet long. That's like a really good deck built on back of a ranch-style house. Everything else in The Lady Vanishes was camera trickery, said Hitchcock. Cramped action can work on trains because the setting itself stays in motion, with always a threat that someone can be thrown off or the locomotive will crash. Better filmmakers will suggest movement via passing landscape seen out windows or, as used by Hitchcock, wine glasses that threaten to slide off a table due to oncoming curves.

Hitchcock like any director could not get beyond writing that was misjudged. Weak pictures were made so by weakness in his stories, Hitchcock "touches" but a mask for moments not supported by the whole. There is no Hitchcock that does not have dynamic scenes, plenty more than one in fact. I wonder how much guidance Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat got or needed from Hitchcock. These writers came to him already brilliant. What they'd do later for other directors (Night Train To Munich, Green For Danger) could be compared with the best of Hitchcock. The Lady Vanishes was a spy yarn like most of what Hitchcock had done since breakout of The Man Who Knew Too Much. He was clearly too major a talent for US companies not to steal, each of AH thrillers an audition toward domestic employment. Clipped-Brit-chat was all that kept them at distance from stateside provincials. Otherwise it was clear that Hitchcock could be refined for Yank consumption, his instinct for crowd-pleasing right up our alley.

One-Sheet For United Artists' 1952 Reissue
A stricter-enforced Code had, among other things, replaced our rat-tat gangsters with more civilized villainy. To this fresh policy came ideal timing of Hitchcock, whose thrillers thrilled without overt violence that got US censors in a lather. His heavies could even be good sports when ultimately beaten, as with Paul Lukas in The Lady Vanishes. Humor too could leaven stress of otherwise grim situations AH devised, further delight for domestic viewers who had already taken The Thin Man and other froth mysteries to bosom. The Lady Vanishes and others from Hitchcock were fresh then, different even for being both British and entertaining (anomaly in itself), but they weren't a radical departure from softened crime pursued on American screens. Hitchcock properties could easily have been adapted and remade by US companies with homegrown casts. Stories and smart dialogue were certainly there to warrant effort, and some journeyman could at least try duplicating AH effects. I wonder if this was considered as films like The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes made their splash in the states, for liked as they were, it was mostly by art house dwellers. Imagine what a photo finish of The Lady Vanishes might have done with Yank polish and say, Carole Lombard and William Powell in the leads rather than remote Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave. We can be thankful this didn't happen, and that Hitchcock was instead brought over to re-mold us to his notions of thrill-making.

A Janus Standby For Art Houses From The 60's Forward
Hitchcock talked a lot about "McGuffins" and so forth, but what that reflected, I think, was his profound indifference to politics, or at least politics as we are currently bludgeoned by it in movies. His fascination by film was something that matters of state just didn't enter into. Was any director who did this many spy yarns so opaque as to his own convictions? A big reason Hitchcock doesn't date is the fact we never knew, still don't, where the man's sympathies lie. It could be said, and has, that The Lady Vanishes emerged "in the shadow of fascism," but wouldn't AH have given us pretty much the same twists, fascism or no? He would embrace WWII themes, do propaganda for the Allies, but this was beyond politics and a matter of defending his workplace and shores back home. If Hollywood fell, where could Hitchcock go on being the Master Of Suspense? The Lady Vanishes doesn't require context to enjoy. That isn't true of most preparedness thrillers, being why current audiences reject them. All of Hitchcock happens in his place of make believe, current events seldom if ever playing into that. Foreign Correspondent, made closer to war's reality, is still spying in the abstract, and I suspect whatever emphasis it put on current events was more the notion of producer Walter Wanger than Hitchcock.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Ladd's Last For Warner Release

Guns Of The Timberland (1960) Is Action Against Piney Backdrop

Here's how Aaaron Spelling got his first feature producing credit, according to memoirs. He had buddied up with Alan Ladd, then-wife Carolyn Jones introducing them after her pic with AL, Man In The Net. The fading lead man handed Spelling the script for a "damn thing" being prepped at Warners,' Guns Of The Timberland. Spelling spent a weekend making it better, for which appreciative Ladd called Jack L. and told the Warners chief that Aaron Spelling would produce his movie. Here, said Spelling, was where his career took off, with Alan Ladd to thank for it. Such was Hollywood at rare moment where dreams came true. As to Timberland outcome, if it matters, there is debate. One Ladd book called it his worst ever, tough choice among flock of clucks the star had done around this time. Guns Of The Timberland was out of circulation thanks to ownership migrating after general release. Now Guns are firing with a nice 1.85 transfer at TCM and on DVD from Warner Archive.

Ladd's was a great star persona and people should have told him that more often where ebbing confidence needed a boost. By 1960, his lean look was gone, the face fleshed to jowly despair and knowledge there wouldn't be another Shane for the playbook. Some said his weight was up, that demonstrably untrue based on the pic; what made it seem so was loss of panther pace from the 40's when Ladd in motion was a graceful blur. Alcohol had slowed reaction and he lost interest in swimming, golf ... sport that kept athleticism AL used so well. Timberland's first close-up shocks for being outdoor-lit and unforgiving of looks that had dissipated. This may have been the moment when a widest audience realized Ladd's era was done.

Veteran Stars' Insurance Policy Taken Out Often During the 60's: A Teen Idol In Support To Assure Kid Patrons

There's nothing specifically wrong with the movie. It had nice exteriors on fresh Nevada/Arizona/Northern California location, trees felled to most arresting effect since Warners' 1937 God's Country and The Woman. Ladd's sidekick is ageless Gilbert Roland. They slug out differences as expected of Ladd, even if by now his double took most of punishment. There is nod to youth with Frankie Avalon and a handful of songs, Ladd's daughter Alana the teen's love interest. AL liked his "Jaguar" productions done old-fashioned ways, each admirable at giving fans what they'd want and expect. There was no complaint with Guns Of The Timberland so far as viewership in back seats and balconies went. This was a comfort western in 1960 and it still relaxes. For $1.2 million spent on the negative (very reasonable and proof of Jaguar/WB efficiency), there was $1.9 in worldwide rentals, most from foreign receipts. Trouble was diminishing domestic returns; Timberland took but $836K in the US, so no surprise that Warner closed books with Jaguar that year. Ladd would go the plummet from here, but worth noting is even after his death in 1964, there still was booking of AL oldies at NC drive-ins and grindhousing, showman/bookers ever-aware that for action satisfaction, there was no one quite like Ladd.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Lost World Gradually Found

Blu-Ray Digs Up More Dinosaur Bones

Today's post is decorated with ads for the Noble Theatre's March 1926 engagement of The Lost World. The Noble sat 1,100 and was located in Anniston, Alabama. There were six theatres along Noble Street, for which the house was named. The Lost World stayed in Anniston for three days, and a fresh ad was prepared for each, proof again that showmanship thrived beyond urban sites (Anniston's population in 1926 approximately 20,000). I'd be stating the obvious to say that silent movie retrieval has become like archaeology, but where it comes to bones of The Lost World, the point just won't be overstated. Seems no sooner do they put it out again that someone turns up yet more footage to bring The Lost World closer to what crowds got in 1925. Fifty-four years is gone since I first got glimpse of those dinosaurs on 8mm, versions to follow on 16mm, video cassettes, laserdisc, DVD, and now Blu-Ray. Should they bury me with all this stuff, it'll take a bigger hole, all of which raises question, how much is enough? No complaint, of course, over what's dug up lately by Flicker Alley and round-world archives, their Lost World longer and sharper than anything so far found. How much more? Four nitrate reels to start, these surfaced since a last DVD (2004), plus snips to flesh out dinosaur doings we can't get enough of. Add topping of High-Def and it's wake-up for anyone who thought the book was closed on The Lost World, among most essential silent era releases of a past several years.

A job like this shows nothing is impossible along lost, then found, lines. For archivists devoted enough, there could be no Lost World as a truly done project, so long as parts of its jigsaw still dot the globe. We'd no more dismiss those than back off interior of an Egypt tomb after finding its entrance. The Lost World is endorsement for co-op among archives. Booklet essay by Serge Bromberg tells how disparate parts came together, a purchase's worth by itself. Flicker Alley whetted flame of anticipation with preview of its dinosaur gnawing a stark red torch thrown by Lost World intruders, this application of the "Handschiegl" hand-tint process. Not just more narrative, but plenty more monsters, are here, Flicker Alley's the Cambrian Explosion of fossil footage (highlight is a post-volcanic screenful of dinos in panicked retreat, something we had but glimpse of before). There is no better boost for silents excavation than this Blu-Ray. Flicker Alley has made fresh sensation of elements long buried and forgot, proving finds from far back can seem new again. If a next generation of silent era enthusiasm is to be birthed, here may be its conception point.

More of The Lost World at Greenbriar Archive: Two Lost Worlds --- Part One, A Lost Cleveland Theatre Presents The Lost World in 1925, Bronto-Socko Selling Of The Lost World in Oklahoma City.

Monday, August 20, 2018

From Metro's Postwar Songbook

Holiday In Mexico (1946) Seals The Latin Deal

Viva the Latin takeover of popular music during the early 40's! We think rock and roll in the 50's was the big noise, but for me the samba, conga, a whole piñata-full, was bigger. Not that I was there --- just seems that way for exuberance of south-of-border sound as resonated in collecting discoveries like The Gang's All Here (Carmen Miranda and company perform "Brazil" for the film's opener), The Three Caballeros (Disney having much to do with popularization of Latin sounds), plus Conga lines formed by Deanna Durbin and Charles Laughton in It Started With Eve, the cast of Since You Went Away at a soldier's hop, cartoon caricatures in Hollywood Steps Out --- it was a full-out cultural phenomenon dancing through a World War and for some time after. Holiday In Mexico was late to the sensation, but a near-definitive summary of it, at least in Technicolor-full and maxed-out lavish terms. The pot labeled  Something For Everyone was never more vigorously stirred --- I'm dizzified over elements here, be they Xavier Cugat, classics-leaning Jose Iturbi, trilling Jane Powell, mature songstress Illona Massey, cutesy-kids, and pratfalling awkward-aged Roddy McDowall in extended routine I'm satisfied was staged by Buster Keaton. All this plus overlength and Metro spending at ruinous level ($2.3 million in the negative). No wonder something had to give, or better put, crash.

Holiday In Mexico still got large profits, 1946 a year where wickets wealth flew on wings of returned servicemen and their wives/dates. A year or two later and Holiday In Mexico might have sunk, as did other musicals where Leo broke piggy banks and paid a piper for it. Who saw slumps coming? It's easy to look back and wonder why Hollywood didn't tighten up to accommodate postwar changes, but as we still can't divine the stock market or winning horses, what gives us leeway to tsk-tsk studio profligacy? A lot thought peak prosperity would last right along, being picture-makers after all, not social scientists with view toward wider horizon and down-trends to come. Old approaches were still figured a best, especially at MGM. If the 30's could give birth to singing miracle that was Deanna Durbin, why not incubate a successor in Jane Powell? Latter was brought along as carefully, signed by Metro, loaned for two B/W musicals that let others test a market, then back to home and Holiday In Mexico, the Lion's vote of confidence that Powell would be at least an equal to Durbin or whatever others of singing capacity. Maybe she was, or could have been, but musicals at MGM, even smaller ones, cost far more than Durbins' at Universal ever did, and so were harder pressed to return profit.

Metro led at trying to make personalities, even actors, of musicians. Jose Iturbi glided the keys admirably, his mirrored piano giving impression of multiple sets of hands at work. He also had fish out of water likeability, as if one from the audience were plucked from seating and told they must act alongside pros. Trouble was when Iturbi got too heavy a load, like playing Jeanette MacDonald's husband in Three Daring Daughters, a part figured for Nelson Eddy which he unfortunately did not take (and why not? I've long wondered, as it would have been a nice reunion). Iturbi stood up for the classics, Metro a bulwark for popularizing them, their audience still of an open mind where musical tastes went. Fresh and vibrant to the mix was Xavier Cugat, who had come aboard at Culver for wartime musicals and put Latin accent on swing that without him sounded prosaic what with the peak now passed. South-of-border sound had US-begun as an outlier, kept at margins while powerful ASCAP licensed most radio play, but then ASCAP fell out with broadcasters, upstart BMI getting a whack at music previously sidelined and making oceans of it available to home listeners. That's when Latin really exploded onto the scene. Metro took a lead in translating excitement to screens, Holiday In Mexico plenty more than mere vehicle for Jane Powell. It thrives still as barometer of a biggest tent that was popular music in 1946. Warner Archive offers Holiday In Mexico in a lovely transfer.

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Martin and Lewis History Is Now Complete

Side By Side by Michael Hayde Is The Last Word On Dean and Jerry

Suppose you had to come back in a next life and be half of a comedy team with Jerry Lewis. For ten years. I said Jerry Lewis. We've read about him and know all the more how heroic Dean Martin was to bear it. I don't dislike Lewis, never a fan it's true, was more so for Martin, and still am. My guess is that most anyone could have gotten along with Dean, provided they didn't try getting too close to him. Not so with Jerry. Imagine him ceding any part of the stage to anyone but Martin, whom he loved like a big brother who would never love him back. Theirs was the supreme tragic bromance of 20th century comedy. Martin and Lewis play more serious than funny for me. Maybe I should never have read previous books about their rancor, then split, then further rancor that dogged both to an end. Or maybe I should have waited until Michael Hayde came out with his new book, Side By Side, which tells the saga better than anyone before. Hayde zeroes in on the split, the aftermath, reunions beyond the headline-maker one in 1976, more lore on M&L than has ever been gathered. His coverage of Colgate comedy days and early TV, plus radio, put you square amidst (live) action, where anything could happen, rules were routinely broken, and Dean/Jerry made their legend. It wasn't film that would define these two, features but pink tea beside radical work they did in clubs, on tubes, and before microphones. Pity I wasn't around, or old enough, to see the two at highest gear, but Hayde put me near to them as I could get short of being there. 

Had Eugene O' Neill done a play about a comedy team, Martin and Lewis would have been ready-made subjects. I don't laugh at their late features for speculating how icy both were when directors (or take-over Jerry) yelled cut. Post-split years were a yo-yo of Jerry up, Dean down, then the reverse. Dean won the 60's race after Jerry dominated the late 50's, then Jerry lived twenty years longer and worked all the way to a checkered flag, but whose legacy will sustain best? Martin is the more appealing screen presence for many, music he performed the equal of anyone's. Also I would have liked to meet Dean, while loathe (or would have been afraid) to know Jerry. Is it fair to put personal bias above humor they left behind as a team? And yet, we can't help it. Drama of the whole is stronger than sum of the comedy parts. I saw a video of Dean where he's talking to young guys preparing an interview, and asks, "Have you ever seen any Martin and Lewis movies? They're terrible!" Dean was  ambivalent, it seems, about the whole M&L thing, and that must have driven Jerry nuts. One was intensely serious, the other didn't appear to care a hang. Jerry revered Dean, while Dean regarded Jerry as mere means to a paycheck, and said so to his partner's face. Whatever cruelties Lewis did (many), you'd not wish this on him. Off screen Martin and Lewis were the epic clash of inward and outward, never the twain to peacefully meet. I'm frankly surprised they lasted ten years together. Side By Side explains how, and compels, and how, from first page to last. It is a showbiz reading must.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Just Don't Tell How It Ends ...

And Then There Were None (1945) Is Murder As Parlor Frolic

Light soufflé of a murder mystery directed by Rene Clair, recognized early on as a devilishly clever conceit to baffle readers (Agatha Christie wrote it), playgoers (adapted for Broadway), and finally movies, desire to film the yarn being immediate. There had been mysteries, plenty if not an excess of routine ones, but Christie's was a puzzle sure to fascinate viewers who'd not be as patient with Charlie Chan or Boston Blackie's latest case. It was this specialness that lured top names to casting: Walter Huston, Barry Fitzgerald, Judith Anderson ... each to be offed until a last one standing would be revealed as the killer, that the expected pattern but for Christie having thrown her curve to separate And Then There Were None from whodunits that went before. Producing was Harry Popkin, one-time theatre man, who took over the project from Samuel Bronston --- this was a project many hands dipped in, possibly in recognition that a half-competent result would galvanize patronage as the property had in/on print/stage. Then as now, it all came down to story, and hopefully, a stinger that folks would remember and talk about ... a Please Don't Tell Your Friends The Ending sort of buzz.

Code strictures meant that grimmer elements, particularly as regards the final act, would have to be changed, and maybe that disappointed more in 1945, but today the piece plays well, our having forgot, or caring less, about Christie's original intent. Same gymnastics affected Billy Wilder's later go at Christie, Witness For The Prosecution; in that case, the director's own brilliant rewrite of the stage property made Witness a far better screen bet than if Christie had been adapted to the letter. And Then There Were None has a body count higher than norm, there being ten little Indians after all, so director Clair underplays the carnage and sidesteps gore. Enough comedy is sprinkled to offset menace, but not so much as to dilute danger afoot. The Blu-Ray from VCI gets by, elements a mite rough, the pic having been got from Popkin's estate, and who knows what was left to work with? 20th Fox distributed in '45, realizing $1.2 million in domestic rentals and $903K foreign, certainly better money than boilerplate mysteries could be expected to earn, but they had not the pedigree of And Then There Were None.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Hawks and Cast Camp Out

Universal Wants More Pillow Talk From Man's Favorite Sport (1963)

Downtown Winston-Salem Hardtop Gets Hawks' Newest
Man’s Favorite Sport? was guilty at most of seeming not so fresh and funny as comedies Rock Hudson had previously done with Doris Day. It’s been said that Howard Hawks copied his earlier work for highlights of Man’s Favorite Sport?, and that’s true to large extent, but he also drew from a successful blueprint that was the Day/Hudson pair, Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back, both recognized as a new direction for farce as the 50’s gave way to the 60’s. As John Ford was influenced by Anthony Mann westerns for The Searchers, so would Hawks by these. For viewers at the time and most critics, Man’s Favorite Sport? lacked a cutting edge of even Come September, a Rock Hudson vehicle with Gina Lollobrigida that had the advantage of writers from Pillow Talk plus co-starring pop pair that was Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee. Hawks at least kept up with times by again using Henry Mancini for music, their pairing an almost best thing about Hatari! the year before. Man’s Favorite Sport? would not fall short except by higher standards implied by Howard Hawks as director-producer.

Many expected him to demonstrate how a Pillow Talk could be done one better by application of a master’s touch, and truth to tell, Man’s Favorite Sport? did not fail but for being short of that expectation. Like A Countess From Hong Kong submitted by Charles Chaplin three years later, it was an old man’s comedy thrown to a marketplace wanting young ideas, and how was that environment any different from one that Hawks brought his young ideas to three decades before? Screen comedy was evermore in quest of novelty, and it seemed Man’s Favorite Sport? had none to give. Rock Hudson said in a later interview that Hawks did little but reprise humor that worked (or didn’t) long before, the actor realizing straightway that Man’s Favorite Sport? would be no enhance to either of their credits. This was 1963, however, when awning that was Pillow Talk hung over a comedic Hudson, and he knew gags flashing back, let alone to the 30’s, was kiss of irrelevance to audiences wanting ripe fruit. Outside of fun aimed at kids, a commission filled by Jerry Lewis or Disney, this meant challenge to what was left of censorship, “adult” comedy to get round a Code on crutches. Man’s Favorite Sport? seemed too much like screwball from yore where slapstick took place of sex, the sort of stuff that old people might still laugh at on the Late, Late Show, repository of much Howard Hawks backlog.

I had seen Man’s Favorite Sport? before and liked it. This time I really embraced it among final six Hawks features revisit, from Rio Bravo to Rio Lobo. They are, for me, all terrific. Am I a cultist sheep then? Sport’s outstanding gift is Paula Prentiss. Had she been around in the 30’s, there would have been none to top her at comedy. If I could recast older Howard Hawks films, we'd have Paula Prentiss rather than Jean Arthur, Rosalind Russell, maybe even Carole Lombard. Prentiss was the ideal screwball heroine in a culture that no longer wanted screwball heroines. She is also dishy in ways J. Arthur and R. Russell were not and could never be. Paula Prentiss was pushy and assertive and made men like it, or at least tolerate it in hopes of reward to come. Beyond comedy, this was what made Vivien Leigh work so well as Scarlett O’Hara. Selznick realized this and that is why he would never have cast Katharine Hepburn in Gone With The Wind. Indeed, Hepburn for me is a poison pill to Bringing Up Baby, being in no way desirable enough to mitigate the guff of dealing with her. When she rips her dress but won’t let Cary Grant get a word in to tell her about it, I just wonder why he doesn’t walk away and forget the whole thing. No tumble with Hepburn could be worth all this, but Paula Prentiss? Yes.

Hawks was lauded, more so later than at a peak, for his modern appreciation toward women, their being strong, “feisty” (that irritating word), independent, under his guidance. HH liked a look that would continue looking good. Attractiveness of a Hawks woman does not date, this as much so among smaller parts as the leads. He sometimes was obliged to use stars that did little for him, but excited the boxoffice and those underwriting the film. Talent Hawks discovered come off  better for me than a Jean Arthur or Ginger Rogers that were more imposed upon him. I’m thinking along line of Prentiss, Charlene Holt, Michele Carey, even one or two of Redline 7000’s cast. He could work magic off Dorothy Malone in The Big Sleep (who else did as much for her in so brief a scene?), or even the taxi driver and hat checkers in the same show. I’ll assume that Hawks selected all of opening credit photos with women in athletic action that open Man’s Favorite Sport?, a seeming nod to similar exhibit that led us into Girls! Girls! Girls! the previous year. What makes it all benign is that Rock Hudson’s “Roger Willoughby” does not prey on women. In fact, they prey on him. Hawks always realized that comedy came best from females giving chase after hapless men. It was a device that Peter Bogdanovich would co-opt to enormous success with his Hawks homage, What’s Up Doc!, in 1972.

Some have said, and Hawks admitted, that Man’s Favorite Sport? would have been better with Cary Grant, but I’m not so sure. Grant was getting on by 1963, and I’d guess his starring would have disqualified Paula Prentiss as a romantic partner. Grant too would have made Man’s Favorite Sport? seem an even older movie. Did CG look back on a last with Hawks, Monkey Business, and beg off? If the director’s funny days were behind him by 1952, what promise laid in reviving them for 1963? Man’s Favorite Sport? was shot largely on Universal’s backlot, where Hawks was daily aggravated by tour trams, a means toward profit more reliable than movies the company put out. He’d submit a three-hour cut of Man’s Favorite Sport?, claiming preview audiences preferred it to the two-hour release version. I’d not lay Man’s Favorite Sport? on a modern crowd except those who’d use it for meditation on Howard Hawks. Toward that purpose, Man’s Favorite Sport? plays splendidly. A fan can blend it with others of his final six and really get into the head of a great helmsman delivering twilight goods. There’s a very nice DVD of Man’s Favorite Sport? from Universal, and Amazon streams it in HD.
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