Can You Smell What the Rock Is Cooking?
Man’s Favorite Sport? would have to be my favourite neo-screwball comedy (does such a term already exist or can I claim to have invented it?), and perhaps the last screwball directed by one of the original masters of the genre, Howard Hawks.
The factor which by far most surprised me in Man’s Favorite Sport? was Rock Hudson. My previous encounters with the actor left me unimpressed, leaving me to classify him as one of classic Hollywood’s duller leading men. However, the fact that I not only enjoyed his performance in this film but found him hysterically funny was such a shock that I was demanding answers. Did Hudson acting abilities improve by 1964? Is he better than comedy than drama or had he just grown on me? It just goes to show that there are very few classic Hollywood stars who can’t impress me in at least some small way or another, even if my previous impression of them were not very good. Paula Prentiss is also entering my books as a one-hit wonder actress; I’ve yet to see her in another film in which she is as joyous and energetic as this with that comically imposing voice of hers. Being a semi-remake of Hawk’s Bringing Up Baby, the two leads could have just done impressions of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn but the avoid doing so and make the roles their own but like Grant and Hepburn their chemistry is on fire.
This movie exemplifies in the early to mid-1960’s aesthetic with its fashion, the cars and overall appearance showcasing the final days of old Hollywood glamour. I want to know who the set designer in this film was; the revolving bar alone has to be one of the most unabashedly 60’s sets ever. Even the less “out there” sets such an office, or a fishing shop, have a certain beauty to them. The film’s colorful visuals help give it the appearance of a live action cartoon, partly due to the fact that many of the outdoor scenes take place on obviously fake sets but then again isn’t a live-action cartoon one of the definitions of screwball comedy. I also don’t normally go for those cheesy opening credit songs from the 50’s and 60’s often sang by the likes of Doris Day but this one is dam catchy.
Unlike the manic intensity of its sister film Bringing Up Baby, Man’s Favorite Sport? is surprising a very relaxing film to watch, aided by lakeside resort setting and Henry Mancini’s music score, which is so mellow. I just love the juvenile innocence of the gags present in this film, such as a bear riding on a motorcycle to many variations of William Powell’s fishing scene from Libeled Lady. Likewise, the common screwball comedy theme of crises of masculinity permeates the film. Hudson’s Rodger Willoughby (a name which feels straight from a 1930’s comedy) is an icon of masculinity from writing books about fishing, yet he is secretly a phony who has never fished in his life and completely fails at his attempts at his attempts at outdoor living while being made the foil of two hyperactive women. Man’s Favorite Sport? shows by the 60’s it was still possible to make these kinds of movies with the same velocity they had back in the 30’s.