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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 had nothing other than reprise of 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 whatever comedy Hudson did, 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 could be pushy and assertive and make 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.


Blogger Kevin K. said...

Judging by that newspaper ad, Henry Mancini was a bigger draw than Howard Hawks by then.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Two nights ago, I screened THE THRILL OF IT ALL for my monthly movie group, and THEY LOVED IT!

Perhaps because the youngest person in attendance is 58.

Who knows?

10:26 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Paula Prentiss did not make enough movies, damn it! The Wolf, man.

10:48 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

One odd detail I remember: They recycle the torn dress bit from "Bringing Up Baby", but it pairs Rock with the second female lead. Nothing ever comes of it; those two characters don't have a relationship and I don'r recall it impacting the situation with Paula. Did they happen to shoot on her day off or something?

Other odd memory: Around 1970 or so, a family vacation included the Universal Studio Tour. The "Man's Favorite Sport" fishing lodge still stood, and the guide had some anecdote about Rock Hudson being unable to catch a fish even though the pond was heavily stocked.

And from Prentiss fan Mark Evanier:

5:16 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

MAN'S FAVORITE SPORT? Well, now you're talking!

As noted before, Hawks stuff, especially later Hawks stuff, often gets struck in my craw part way through. I'm glad you enjoyed that final half dozen, John, but, well, gosh! Those women's parts others see as strong and independent strike me half the time as predatory nutcases (shall we call them Hawks Stalkers?) Stanwyck, Sheridan and even Monroe come off great in some of Hawks' best comedies, but I think it's no heavy slam on the many actresses who tried and failed to make sense of the lunatic leading lady roles in his best, worst and middlin' films. Jean Arthur??? Hell, how would anyone expect Ms. Common-Sense-Everyday-Working-Girl-Who-Looks-Ten-Years-Younger-than-Her-Real-Age to make head nor tails of the silliness that is ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS (a movie that, I will tell the world, I...just...don't...get!)

Which brings us to SPORT... I agree with you totally! A trifle to be sure, and the thing positively sparkles with 60's era Universal City cheeziousity. But it kinda works, and much of the credit does go to Paula Prentiss. Sexy as hell, she had the slim style HH liked in his heroines, but she didn't look or sound like anyone else (except maybe her sister Ann.) Best of all she was able to do goofy and brainy at the same time, and still stay, as you say,'dishy.' There's no reason her character shouldn't seem a pill, but she is adorable. And in her hands, the slapstick stiff really plays! I think Hudson comes across well too, not bad playing a bit of a lox instead of a Lothario.

Which brings me to another question: how many times did Hollywood trot out this same basic premise (noted expert and/or author, is forced into the field betraying incompetence in his/her area of expertise)? CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT, CALL ME BWANA... can anyone think of more?

1:23 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Oh, if only we could trade any amount of Prentiss for all of Arthur's work! There's something about her that just sets my teeth on edge. She most tolerable in "The More the Merrier," but that may be thanks to McCrea.

4:49 AM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Stinky would have enjoyed Man's Favorite Sport? much more if James Garner had been cast instead of Rock Hudson. Rock tries hard, but who wants a farceur who tries hard?

12:10 PM  

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