Roger Willoughby (Rock Hudson) is happily employed as one of the world's great angling experts. Unfortunately, even his own boss doesn't know that Roger has never been fishing in his life. So when press agent Abigail Page (Paula Prentiss) arranges for Roger to participate in her resort's upcoming fishing tournament, he's thrown into a panic. At the resort, he and Abby commence a crash course to turn him into a genuine outdoorsman - only to have their plan riotously upset by a surprise visit from Roger's fiancé.This description from the DVD case for Man's Favorite Sport? (1964) immediately called to mind two films for me: Christmas in Connecticut (1945), in which Barbara Stanwyck's character writes for a magazine pretending to be married, have a baby, live on a farm, and be an excellent cook; and Libeled Lady (1936), in which William Powell's character pretends to be an expert at fly fishing in order to become friend's with the father of Myrna Loy's character, leading to a hilarious fishing scene where Powell tries to fish and look at a manual at the same time. As I watched I was reminded of yet another film, Bringing Up Baby (1938). The "love impulse" quote, ripped back of dress (in this case a stuck zipper), and "strangely attracted" bit as well as all the bad things that happen to Roger when Abby is around are practically lifted right out of the beloved Screwball film. But it's really not that much of a surprise, seeing as both films were directed by the legendary Howard Hawks. Hawks even originally wanted Cary Grant in the lead role! Cary turned it down for Charade (1963) so he had to settle for Hudson, who was fresh off of his first two films with Doris Day.
While this film is no masterpiece, it's a fun little comedy with plenty of laugh out loud moments. The film starts with what will become a pattern for Roger (Hudson) as Prentiss's character Abby steals his parking space with her tiny car as he's about to back in. He tries to explain that she is in his space, where he parks every day, but she's not budging, telling him if he wants to park there he'll have to move her car himself. It's reminiscent of the scene in Bringing Up Baby where Katharine Hepburn drives off in Cary Grant's car. What follows is a classic tall man tries to get in small space, in this case Roger trying to release the break by sticking his top half through the sun roof. A police gets involved and he ends up with a ticket for leaving his car in the middle of the parking lot.
When Roger finally gets upstairs where he's late to a meeting, he discovers his meeting is with none other than the young lady from the parking lot. She is naturally embarrassed and he tries to control his anger and annoyance. It doesn't help matters when he hears the purpose of her visit. As the author of a best selling fishing book, she thinks Roger should enter the annual fishing tournament!
His boss is all for it, not knowing the truth about his employee (Christmas in Connecticut anyone?). Roger takes Abby and her friend out for a drink and in an odd scene in a musical museum he confesses he doesn't know the first thing about fishing. Since Abby got him into this situation, she's determined to help him get out of it. With five days before the tournament begins, they head to the lake to begin a crash course in fishing. Roger's boss sends a carload of equipment for him to try out for the store while he's there. This causes no end of troubles for Roger, culminating in some inflatable fishing pants that nearly drown him than save him - Roger can't swim of course.
Abby finally hits upon an idea she thinks will work. What if Roger breaks his arm? Well, not actually break it, just plaster it up so everyone THINKS it's broken. So, Abby plasters it up. While it's drying she discovers that another famous name in the world of fish is participating in the tournament so Roger can simply drop out! Right? Wrong. The other guy REALLY gets a broken arm and once again Roger is stuck as a contestant in the tournament.
And so it begins. Somehow Roger manages to catch a good sized fish on the first day, coming in second in the days results! Of course it's completely by accident and he gets completely soaked in the process but so far so good. He also manages to catch a large fish on the second and third days of the tournament and finds himself with a trophy for first place!
Also in the course of the tournament he loses his fiancé due to a scene taken right out of the aforementioned Bringing Up Baby. It's taken a step further with Roger's tie getting stuck in a zipper - which happened earlier with a sleeping bag and also witnessed by his fiancé - causing his engagement to be broken.
Abby has by this time fallen in love with Roger but is upset that he won the tournament purely by accident. She tells him he has to confess to being a phony, even if it means losing his job at Abercrombie and Fitch. Roger had already decided to do just that but Abby goes off into the woods by herself to be miserable.
And so, Roger gets back his job and redeems himself in the eyes of Abby, who he's "strangely attracted" to despite all the trouble she has caused him. And there the movie ends, with the two of them in their sleeping bag floating in the middle of the lake.
While the film didn't do to well at the box office, due to 25 minutes being cut and the overall phony look of the studio-built sets, I greatly enjoyed the film and found myself laughing aloud at several comic moments. Hudson and Prentiss are great in their roles and the supporting cast, particularly the other fishermen, added greatly to the film.
Love this outfit Abby wears!
Here's a great clip I found on YouTube of Prentiss after a 2010 screening of the film talking about her experience working with Hudson. The first eight minutes are about Man's Favorite Sport? and then she talks about some other films from her career. You can watch the trailer for the film here.
Happy Birthday Rock!