Release Date(s)1964 (March 15, 2022)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
Man’s Favorite Sport? is a sadly neglected Howard Hawks film from 1964 that has never gotten the respect that it deserves. That’s true to varying degrees of most of the films that Hawks made in the twilight of his career, but while Hatari!, El Dorado, and even Rio Lobo all have their defenders, Man’s Favorite Sport? tends to get overlooked. It’s definitely the work of an aging director, as it doesn’t have the lightning pace of screwball classics like His Girl Friday, but its more measured rhythms give time to savor the jokes, and there are some enjoyably surrealistic Tex Avery style gags that are quite unlike anything else in the Hawks filmography.
Just like El Dorado and Rio Lobo were reworkings of Rio Bravo, Man’s Favorite Sport? is a reworking of Bringing up Baby. The screenplay is credited to John Fenton Murray and Steve McNeil, but the actual writing for most Hawks films was rarely that simple. In this case, Hawks veteran Leigh Brackett was on the set rewriting things on a daily basis, but the Writer’s Guild denied her any credit, despite the fact that Murray, McNeil, and Hawks were all on her side. The story pits author and sporting goods salesperson Roger (Rock Hudson) against Abigail (Paula Prentiss), the public relations director at a local fishing lodge. Abigail and the owner’s daughter (Maria Perschy) talk Roger’s boss (John McGiver) into having him participate in a fishing tournament up at the lodge. There’s just one hitch: Roger is a fraud, as he’s never been fishing in his entire life. Unfortunately, he’s going to have a hard time escaping Abigail’s clutches, in more ways than one.
Hawks had nothing but praise for Prentiss, telling Joseph McBride in Hawks on Hawks that “She ought to be a big comedy star. I don’t know what’s the matter.” He was much less kind regarding Hudson, who he praised for being a hard worker, but said that “Rock is not a comedian.” Yet that’s obviously far from a fair assessment. Part of the problem may have been that Hawks had originally conceived of the role for Cary Grant, and when Grant turned it down, Hawks still tried to direct Hudson as if he was Grant—Hudson visibly affects some mannerisms in the film that would have looked more natural coming from Grant. Cary Grant was certainly a superb comedian, but there are different approaches to comedy, and Hudson was more than capable of carrying things on his own. There’s a lot of tough physical comedy in Man’s Favorite Sport?, and Grant was too old at that point to perform it comfortably. Hudson, on the other hand, threw himself into it with relish—he even performs some pretty impressive underwater stunts. Plus, Prentiss is such a force of nature in the film that she needed the more stable presence of Hudson as a foil.
Man’s Favorite Sport? feels a bit old fashioned, even by 1964 standards, with some pretty unconvincing sets and rear projections. On the other hand, Hawks was able to take advantage of the more relaxed standards of the day, and get a bit risque at times (by Hawks standards, anyway). And while Hawks may have disagreed, Hudson and Prentiss make an appealing couple—his befuddled slow burns while listening to Prentiss talk nonstop are priceless. Some seemingly immovable objects simply can’t match an irresistible force like her.
Veteran Hawks cinematographer Russell Harlan shot Man's Favorite Sport? on 35 mm film using spherical lenses, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. There’s no information regarding the master that Kino Lorber used for this release, but it appears to be the same one that Universal used for their own 2016 Blu-ray. This transfer was likely derived from some kind of secondary element such as an interpositive, and while there are signs of digital tinkering, it’s been treated much better than the bulk of older Universal masters. It’s nearly spotless, though there’s been a light application of Digital Noise Reduction, which is especially noticeable when stepping through frame-by-frame, as some textures do smear. That’s less noticeable in motion, however, and the DNR hasn’t quite removed all of the fine detail; there’s none of the waxiness that marred many older Universal masters. The grain hasn’t been erased, but it doesn’t quite look natural. Contrast and black levels are solid, with only a bit of crush in a few scenes. The color balance is good throughout the film. It’s a fine transfer overall, so this is another case where it’s worth pointing out that the nitpicks here may not be visible at normal viewing distances on many displays.
Audio is offered in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. It’s a clean track, generally free of distortion or any major artifacts, and the dialogue is always clear. Man’s Favorite Sport? was the second Hawks film scored by Henry Mancini, who had risked being fired on Hatari! by going against Hawks’ wishes, but the director had been happy enough with the results that he invited Mancini back for his next film. It’s an appropriately wry score that supports the hijinks happening on screen.
The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary by Michael Schlesinger with Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin
- Trailer (HD – 1:59)
- A Farewell to Arms Trailer (SD – 2:38)
- The Tarnished Angels Trailer (SD – 2:41)
- Come September Trailer (SD – 1:18)
- Strange Bedfellows Trailer (HD – 1:15)
For the commentary, filmmaker/historian Michael Schlesinger is joined by Paula Prentiss and her husband Richard Benjamin—Schlesinger notes that they just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. Prentiss and Benjamin are content to let him do most of the talking, but they do chime in occasionally. As usual, Schlesinger did his research before recording, so he has plenty of facts and details to share. He always does a nice job of identifying all of the supporting actors, even the ones in bit parts, which can be very helpful. (He even points out The Thing from Another World veteran Margaret Sheridan in her blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo, which is nice, because I must have blinked while rewatching the film.) He also has nothing but praise for Hudson, who had no compunction about making an ass out of himself despite being such a hunky leading man. He also points out the fact that fishing in Man’s Favorite Sport? is a metaphor for sex, and it’s as if Roger was a man who has written a book about sex despite being a virgin. Schlesinger is obviously a fan of the film, and while he does concede that the pacing sometimes could have been picked up a bit, he’s the right person for the job of defending an unfairly maligned film like this.
Man’s Favorite Sport? may not be on everyone’s list of essential Howard Hawks films, but it’s on mine, and I suspect that Michael Schlesinger would agree. Thanks to his spirited defense, Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray should definitely be an essential purchase for any Hawks fan.
- Stephen Bjork