Sunday, May 28, 2023

From Clyde’s Movie Palace Out on Lake Wakapoogee: Man’s Favorite Sport? (1964)

I am not a fisherman. That is not to say I've never been fishing. I have on numerous occasions taken my rod and reel in hand and headed to a nearby lake or stream to enjoy the great pleasures that nature has to bestow upon us as I'd sit idly under some shady oak tree for three or four hours, hoping my wiggly slimy night crawler would offer up his life for that evening's dinner, so the catch of the day could be fried to a deep tasty golden brown over an open fire. Sounds great, doesn't it? Too bad it's all bullshit. I never really cared for the sport. I was just never any good at it. I couldn't snag an old tennis shoe, rusty 1925 license plate, or some castoff chunk of Goodyear out of the river.

I did scoot off to some local pond a few times with a couple of neighbor's kids way back in the times of the ancients, but only because they just wanted someone along. I had no fishing equipment, and they usually gave me some crappy old cane poles to dip in the water. Needless to say, I never caught anything. My only consolation? Neither did they, except for a blue gill or two weighing about an ounce, two at the most.

My dad? Forget it. I'm unsure if he knew anything about fishing, but if he did, he never told me about it. I never saw him tickle a rod-and-reel the way he could tickle the ivories on a keyboard. I feel he probably had a low opinion of the sport. I know his brother fished because my cousin posted a father/son picture of them together on a fishing trip on Facebook.

Things were different after I was married to my wife, Numero Uno. She loved to fish, as did my ex-old best friend, Fred. So I learned to look like I knew what I was doing. And I think I even managed to catch a few. The problem was that they had to be cleaned before being eaten. And guess who got stuck with that chore? And I couldn't do it in the sink in the house because my ex-wife didn't care for the mess or the smell. She was a neatness freak. The ashtrays in our house were cleaned after every single cigarette. Both of us were smokers, but we had the cleanest butt depositories in the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, the last batch of fish that we caught together, I took outside. I was gutting them when attacked by the most enormous swarm of blood-sucking mosquitoes you'd ever want to see. In fact, I expected Irwin Allen to come popping out around the corner with his camera crew at any second. Seriously. I managed to finish the task, but it was also the last time I ever went fishing. That would have been about forty years ago. I don't miss it and have no desire to revisit that chapter in my life, so I now live out in the desert.

Another point I want to make here is that with all the information now available on the internet, one could quickly gather up enough knowledge and write their own treatise on just about anything and make people believe they are experts on various subjects. It's not like you'd be Milli Vanilli out on stage lip-synching before thousands.

Screenshot-105A few years back, when I wrote a fictional story about a gay teen growing up and coming to terms with her sexual identity, I wanted to be sure that particular part of the story was factually based.

So I spent hours and hours researching and finding out what I could. I know it was just a Sims story. Still, my whole motivation for getting it right was because of all the misinformation being plastered in one story after another that was being uploaded to The Sims 2 web pages. I wasn’t trying to pass myself off as an expert on gay lifestyles. Still, I needed my fictional story to have a basis in reality.

Suppose I wanted to write a non-fictional book about how you could become the best damn fisherman living. Would it be that difficult to pull it off in this day and age of speedy research? There’s hardly any information one can’t obtain on the Internet. If I re-phrased and re-worded everything, I might get away with it. If I got stumped, I could always call my cousin in Ohio to help me out. I could even take some of my cousin’s Facebook pictures and photoshop myself in for effect. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. And then maybe I could sell it as a Kindle download for about $3.00 a pop.

So let’s pretend there were no Google, Wikipedia, or Bing. It would be a lot tougher to pull off such a stunt. But it could still be done if one read enough books on the subject or knew enough fishermen who were somewhat knowledgeable and willing to let you pick their brain. In that case, you just might be able to get by. You could then take everything you learned and put it into a bestselling guide on how to become a champion fisherman.

Submitted for your approval the case of one Roger Willoughby (Rock Hudson). Willoughby works in an Abercrombie and Fitch outlet located in California. No, he doesn’t sell over-hyped, sexually provocative clothing to teenagers carousing in and out of the mall. Until 1976, A&F sold overpriced sporting equipment for hunting and fishing excursions to old farts like me who meander along just about anywhere. Willoughby is the head honcho in charge of the fishing department. He is so knowledgeable about angling and anglers that he’s even written a bestselling guide called Fishing Made Simple. If he were to write the same book today, it would be called Fishing For Dummies.
Fishermen come into the store to ask Willoughby’s advice on everything from the essential equipment, lures, the correct bait, the best casting method, the best places to fish, and what fish to try and catch on any given day. Some, like Major Phipps (Roscoe Karns), swear by Willoughby’s book. When preparing to enter a fishing tournament at nearby Lake Wakapoogee, he goes directly to Roger for help.

Willoughby is more than willing to help the Major right after he gets the correct information from another customer who coincidentally happens to be fishing at the same lake where the fishing tournament is to be held. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, especially since any sportsman worth their salt would want the latest updated information: The fish of the day is trout, caught between ten and eleven in the morning with a water temperature of 68 degrees just below the surface starting with a Colorado Spinner and ending with a Super Duper. See, I’m an expert!

Willoughby’s sales pitch is interrupted when he is called to the office of the store’s owner and fussbudget, William Cadwalader (John McGiver). Waiting for him, along with his boss, are two attractive women, Abigail Page (Paula Prentiss) and Isolde ‘Easy’ Mueller (Maria Perschy). Isolde is the daughter of the owner of the lodge at Lake Wakapoogee, and Abigail is the Director of Public Relations. Having met the pair earlier in the day when they stole his parking place, causing him to get a ticket and be late for work, Willoughby is none too happy to get reacquainted. Roger is even less happy when he finds out that Abigail has sweet-talked Cadwalader into ordering him to fish in the upcoming tournament at Lake Wakapoogee.
Unable to convince the two ladies that he has an excellent reason for not participating, it becomes necessary for Willoughby to let the cat out of the bag. Roger can’t enter the tournament because he has never fished. And since he can’t fish, there is no way that Abigail and Easy should want him as their celebrity fisherman.   But it doesn’t matter.

Abigail sees no problem as being completely insurmountable. After accusing Willoughby of being a phony and a fraud, she blackmails him into going to Lake Wakapoogee to participate in the tournament despite his shortcomings by threatening to reveal his secret, which would cause him to be fired.

My question is, if Abigail can get on her moral high horse and accuse Willoughby of being a fake, what does that make Abigail who uses blackmail? It bugs me every time I’ve seen this movie. And besides, it’s a stretch to say Willoughby is a phony when he has never claimed that he had gone fishing. Oh, what the hell. Maybe I’ve just set my moral standards too low. Or would that be too high?

Take Gregory House, for instance. House knows as much about medicine and diseases as anybody. Still, you rarely see him with a scalpel in his hand inside an operating room. But I guarantee you he could write one hell of a book on the subject if he so desired, provided he could stay off Vicodin long enough to find the keys on his PC.

But I guess it doesn’t matter. You have to get the dude up to the lake to do some fishing, or we’ll have no wacky slapstick comedy scenes of Willoughby attempting to become one with nature. And blackmail works as well as any plot device, although it doesn’t endear us to Abigail.

Once he arrives at the stomping grounds of Yogi and Boo Boo Bear, instead of checking into a lodge, the well-over-equipped Willoughby does his best to pitch a tent but only succeeds in throwing a fit, especially after his main adversaries arrive on the scene. That would be Abigail and Easy.

Willoughby:  Where did you come from?
Easy:  Down at the lake
Abigail:  What are you doing?
Willoughby:  I am setting up a tent
Abigail:  Oh?
Easy:  Are you?
Roger:  After which I shall try making a bed.
Abigail:  Can we help?
Willoughby:  Yes. Go away.
(in regards to Roger’s overabundance of equipment):  I’m curious, what is all this about.
Willoughby:  This is Mr. Cadwalader’s idea of what a well-equipped camper should have.
Abigail:  Well why are you camping?
Roger:  Again, Mr. Cadwalader’s idea.  He seemed to be inspired since he met you.
Abigail: Oh well now, don’t be angry Roger, it wasn’t my idea. 
Roger:  Miss Page
Abigail:  Um…hm.
Roger:  I had time to think while driving up here.  I don’t think you can ever get me angry again.

Speaking of Easy, I’ve scanned through the DVD several times, and not once is it mentioned how Isolde obtained that moniker. I guess it is supposed to be left to our imagination. So you have my permission to come up with any wild scenario you can imagine, just as I have.
   Abigail and Easy do their best to convince Roger that staying at the lodge would be in his best interest.

Easy: You don’t have time to learn camping.  You’ll have enough trouble learning how to fish
Abigail:  After the tournament you can learn how to make your bed
Roger: Mr. Cadwalader told….
  Phooey on Mr. Cadwalader

Or as Abigail later tells Easy, “If anybody sees him camping, they’ll know he’s never been “out of a hothouse before.”

As if to lend credence to their words, lurking nearby is John Screaming Eagle (Norman Alden), who has overheard much of their conversation. John does a lot of lurking in this movie. I don’t know if he’s supposed to be a peeping tom or what he is precisely, except that when there’s anything worthwhile going on, you’ll find him nearby standing with his arms crossed because that’s Hollywood’s idea of what Indians do. Especially pretend ones. Nowadays, Mr. Screaming Eagle would have the last laugh by running his own casino. I think the real reason Mr. Eagle is here is because the story needed a character of convenience. Having one around is always good when you need to tweak the plot.

He shows up to prove Abigail’s point and to nab $5.00 from Willoughby to buy his silence and help pack up Roger’s camping equipment. If this film were a drama, Mr. Screaming Eagle would be the comic relief. But since Man’s Favorite Sport is already a comedy, it hardly needs any relief from itself. Maybe he’s just an extra added attraction sort of like going to McDonald’s and running into Ronald in the parking lot.
More complications ensue. Roger’s fiancé Tex (Charlene Holt) has made reservations to join him at Lake Wakapoogee. Roger has yet to tell her about his lack of fishing and camping expertise.

It is Abigail’s duty to teach Roger how to fish, and there’s a trail bike-stealing bear on the prowl. Roger also has fun testing new, untried sporting equipment such as inflatable waders, which may or may not come in handy because, among his many other camping deficiencies,
Roger has never been boating, and he can’t swim.
There’s an old slapstick comedy rule of thumb: When a man can’t fish, can’t swim, and can’t boat while wearing inflatable waders, you know with one hundred percent certainty that this mix will come into play sooner rather than later, leading to off the wall hijinks, mirth, merriment, and knee-slapping hilarity. Or perhaps a chuckle or two.

Roger eventually hooks his first fish, but as any fisherman knows, catching a fish and reeling him are two different animals. The other fishing lesson we learn from Man’s Favorite Sport is that sometimes you don’t need a rod, a reel, a hook, or bait. All you need is a good pair of waders, a bear, and a tree. You will find out.
For all the outdoor fishing and camping scenes, Man's Favorite Sport? is another take on the old romantic comedy premise where a man and a woman meet and seem completely incompatible. In this case, Abigail falls for the guy she has done nothing but antagonize through the movie's first half. So much so that Roger Willoughby would like nothing more than to be as far away from her as possible, hoping never to see Abigail again.

And it's easy to see why. Abigail will get on your nerves at times. She talks fast, changes the subject in mid-sentence, and rattles on endlessly, sometimes almost incoherently. So pay attention because eventually, she'll grow on you and work her way into your heart despite her propensity for being obnoxious.

You can attribute that to Paula Prentiss, who never lets her character become so over-the-top irritating that she alienates you. In fact, once you get used to the rapid-fire overlapping dialogue that runs rampant in this film, it's a real hoot. You'll probably want to go back and watch it a second time just to hear what you've missed.
Hudson is good here as well. The role was meant to go to Cary Grant at one time. While they are birds of different feathers, it’s a bit of a switch for Hudson to be the nice guy right from the start instead of starting out as the loathsome creatures he played in films such as Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back. And given a chance to do a lot of comedic slapstick as the inept fisherman, he handles it like a pro.
The supporting cast is just what the term implies, here to prop up our two leads for the most part.

Character actor John McGiver who made a career out of playing the nitpicking worry wart fuss budget does it well here. How can you not like a guy with a name like Cadwalader? Just saying it elicits a chuckle, for that matter. With monikers like “Cadwalader, Willoughby, Abigail, Easy, Screaming Eagle, Tex, Skaggs, and Major Phipps, it’s better than a novel by Dickens.

Maria Perschy is charmingly beautiful as Abigail’s friend and confidante, Easy. And she has a simmering, sultry, sexy quality to her, not to mention the sexiest back one might find in an early sixties movie (Read on for an explanation). Although Perschy was never a massive star, she was an international one, having starred in numerous foreign films. U.S. films such as 633 Squadron and guest starred on many television shows, including Hawaii Five-O.

Charlene Holt, a former Miss Maryland who plays Roger’s fiancé Tex, comes on long enough to play the part of the aggrieved girlfriend. And to wear a very revealing negligee which helps make the visit worthwhile. Holt would also do most of her acting in T.V. series but would work with Hawks again in Red Line 7000 and another film. Read on to find out more about that gig as well. Her last listed appearance was in the 1980 film Melvin and Howard, and according to the IMDB, she passed away in Tennessee in 1996 at age 67.

Roscoe Karns as Major Phipps and Forrest Lewis as Skaggs are Willoughby’s main competitors in the tournament. Still, their own personal rivalries and friendly bickering with each other add a nice touch to the film. Both of them were old pros at this sort of thing. Karns began his career in 1915 and has a list of film credits as long as both of your arms. Lewis started his career in 1943 at 44 and was a consistent character actor on television, even having appeared on The Andy Griffith Show six different times as six other characters. Man’s Favorite Sport is Karn’s last listed film role on the IMDB, and he would pass away six years later. On a trivia note, Karns appeared in the first talkie, The Jazz Singer, and the first Academy Award Winning Best Picture, Wings.

All is not peaches and cream, however. There are times when this film screams, “Filmed on the Universal Studio lot.” During some fishing scenes at the lake, I fully expected Gilligan, The Skipper, and the rest of the gang to come floating up on the S.S. Minnow.

The film has a low-budget-cheap studio look, which puts a damper on the feeling that you are part of the great outdoors. And some bits don’t work. I’m considering one incident involving a fake broken arm and a little bird falling from a tree. It’s not particularly funny, and for all the time spent on it, the whole thing leads nowhere. If it were excised from the film, you would never miss it. There were 20 minutes cut from the film’s release because studio execs thought it was too long for a romantic comedy which made for a very unhappy Howard Hawks. It’s doubtful that the 20 minutes of footage still exists, and you have to wonder how it would have changed the film, if at all.

The worst part of the movie for me had to be the opening credits which featured an abundant bounty of scantily clad women in bikinis accompanied by one of the worst theme songs in the history of motion pictures, neither of which actually has anything to do with the content of the film. The theme song was written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, and I can only surmise these two great composers were on a drunken binge when they wrote it. It’s that bad. Although it may be no big deal to most moviegoers, I found it beyond irritating, and believe me, I absolutely have nothing against eyeballing scantily clad-beauties. I’ll let you decide for yourself.

The film was directed by Howard Hawks, who was revisiting the kind of rapid-fire dialogue-driven slapstick comedy screwball films such as his own 1938 movie, Bringing up Baby. Baby is listed as number 14 on the AFI top 100 comedy films of all time, and I sought the film out on Amazon Prime based on that fact and to compare it with this film. Although it’s a good film, I’m not sure I hold Baby in the same high esteem as others. Still, I’m an outlier who shakes his head negatively, wondering how The Godfather is often placed in the top ten films of all time. But Hawks thought so highly of his movie he even lifted a whole scene from it.

imageBut Hawks gets a pass because Man’s Favorite Sport was initially supposed to be either a remake or a homage. In fact, Hawks wanted Cary Grant to star in the film, but he turned it down because, at 59, he thought he was too old to play opposite the much younger 24-year-old Prentiss.


Hawks was practicing for the day when he would completely remake another of his films. In 1959, he would make Rio Bravo starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Angie Dickinson, and Ricky Nelson. Just seven years later, in 1966, he would rehash the whole shebang as El Dorado, again starring Wayne but co-starring Robert Mitchum, Charlene Holt, and James Caan.

Hawks denied it was a remake, but anyone who has seen both films knows better, and I’ve seen them both. Man’s Favorite Sport will never be held in the lofty esteem of many other Hawks-directed films such as Red River, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (probably my favorite), Sgt. York, The Big Sleep, His Girl Friday, and The Thing from Another World. But it gets by thanks mainly to the snappy dialogue, an immensely engaging Paula Prentiss and Rock Hudson, and a plot that may seem absurd but is still highly plausible. It’s hard to figure out why the film sat on the shelf for almost two years before being released because it is pretty good lighthearted entertainment. And if you’re as light at heart as I am, you leave me no choice but to give you my B grade.

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