Man’s Favorite Sport? (1964)

21 07 2010

Call it unfair, but I’m afraid from here on out I will subconsciously compare any Howard Hawks comedy to his masterpiece, Bringing Up Baby. It’s even more difficult to avoid here seeing as how this is something of a remake (stuck up, organized man falls for messy, outgoing women) and also reuses a few gags. In a way, it’s actually better than Hawks’ much more praised original as it seems easier to believe and far less chaotic. Of course, both of those things are part of that film’s charm, but this manages to maintain that energy and channel into something similarly absurd but much less difficult to believe. I don’t think realism was ever really a priority for Hawks in these such films, but it still appeals to me. This is the gentle and more easygoing version of Bringing Up Baby, sort of warm-up, but not exactly inferior.

Rock Hudson fills in for Cary Grant and the underused Paula Prentiss (familiar to me for her role in Born to Win) fills in for Katherine Hepburn. Of course, the story arrives at the same destination as its more recognizable cousin, but it takes a very different route. Rock Hudson is Roger Willoughby, a well recognized expert on fishing yet he has never gone fishing in his life. His employer invites him to a fishing tournament and well, you get the picture. Prentiss is Abigal Page and she introduced with her friend Isolde Mueller (a new character all together – played by Maria Perschy) and she causes “nothing but trouble” to quote Willoughby.

I’m not sure if Prentiss is exactly a more pragmatic actress than Hepburn but her seduction (inadvertent and intricate) seems less like a farce. No, the lack of realism in Bringing Up Baby wasn’t a negative but the less “crazy” turns here seem to work in favor of the film’s simple and more believable tone. The fact that she’s teamed up with an equally attractive pal certainly doesn’t hurt. Another change is in the role of main male protagonist’s fiancee. In Bringing Up Baby, she is cold and heartless and participating in the marriage only for professional reasons. When she cuts her ties with Grant, we don’t particularly feel bad for her. She wasn’t in love so she’s not heart broken.

Here, the consequences are more tragic. Hudson’s fiancee is given a little screen-time but it is almost all devoted to her catching Hudson in awkward scenarios which imply infidelity but are simple accidents. Sure, she never gives her beau time to explain himself but even if she did, she wouldn’t have believed him. Though her role is short and arguably insignificant, I can’t help but feel more for her much more than I did for Grant’s strictly business wife-to-be.

It’s the small little differences that make me love this film. I’m not sure if said differences are “better” per se, but I do know that I am able to appreciate this film beyond the novelty of being an update of an old favorite. It stands on its own, albeit it with the structural support of its canonized sibling. Again, it’s easy-going and fun to watch, definitely a relaxing experience, yet still an amusing one.