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Man's Favorite Sport?

Screening on Film
Directed by Howard Hawks.
With Rock Hudson, Paula Prentiss, Maria Perschy.
US, 1964, 35mm, color, 120 min.
Print source: HFA

Right from its spunky opening credit sequence—a Pop art animation slicing and dicing various photographs of beautiful women over a theme song about man’s insatiable appetite for the fairer sex—Man’s Favorite Sport? announces its anarchic, tongue-in-cheek spirit, which seemingly promises a movie of unchecked sexual energy. After Hawks introduces protagonist Roger Willoughby (Rock Hudson), however, the tune is revealed as gently ironic: this is a man defined by his resistance to emotionality, placing him in a lineage of comic Hawksian prudes like David in Bringing Up Baby or Bertram in Ball of Fire. Indeed, the former film is the template for this absurd comedy of humiliation, which finds Willoughby, a “fishing expert” who has actually never fished because he’s disgusted by fish, enduring one embarrassment after another at the hands of Abigail Page (Paula Prentiss), who is trying to recruit him for a tournament she helps promote. In addition to being a vehicle for outrageous sight gags such as a bear cub riding a red motor bike, the plot is ultimately another of Hawks’ explorations of male-female antagonism as a route to love, even if the hindsight awareness of Hudson’s homosexuality turns it into an altogether more subversive romp.

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