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Roger Willoughby is considered to be a leading expert on sports fishing. He's written books on the subject and is loved by his customers in the sporting goods department at Abercrombie and Fitch, where he works. There's only one problem however: he's never been fishing in his life. When the store owner enters him in a fishing contest, mayhem ensues. Written by
Howard Hawks did of course create the classic _Bringing Up Baby_ and some comparison between _Favorite_ as a 26-year update of the former is inevitable. Hawks did plenty of screwball comedies, but above all, Hawks was a director who made GUY films; _Red River_ may be the ultimate man's man film of all time. And to some extent, this film is about Willoughby's (Hudson's) fraudulent expertise in "manly" activities such as camping, outdoor activities and--most critical to the plot--fishing.
Life is good for Hudson as the expert fisherman who is big man at Abercrombie and Fitch, until brash Abby Page (Prentiss) destroys his serene existence with a publicity stunt of having Hudson enter an annual fishing contest.
After resisting the idea, Hudson is soon forced to confess he's never fished in his life--that his reputation is a hoax. Rather than sensibly abandon the scheme, Prentiss decides she can teach Hudson how to fish in 3 days. This inevitably leads to all sorts of misadventures as Hudson is so inept he can't even swim! Some of the more amusing sequences are Hudson's inflatable waders exploding underwater, having a bear steal his trail-bike, or literally running across the surface of the lake to escape another bear. Some of the gags work better than others; the gags range from leisurely to elaborate, but all in good fun.
The fast-talking overlapping dialog is pure Hawks and (the uncredited) Brackett, and is wonderful.
Hudson has been criticized for not being Cary Grant (how could anyone be?) but he actually develops his own persona, different from both Grant and his own Hudson-Day characterizations. In this film, he is partially browbeaten by Prentiss and her sidekick Perschy, but ultimately, he voluntarily suffers through his ordeals as a matter of penance.
Paula on the other hand is a complete success: perky, beautiful, brash, and unpredictable--she gives a spectacularly energetic performance. This is the sole film is where Prentiss has the script and the screen time to refine her comic persona. While Perschy and Holt exist to create a triangle and fuel the high-jinx, they also define the limits of the Prentiss character; she is neither exotic like Perschy nor sultry like Holt. In comparison, she is pleasantly and very prettily tomboyish, often wearing outdoor sporting wear, and thoroughly competent at all things in which Hudson had professed expertise.
When compared with _Baby_, _Favorite_ perhaps begins with a potentially even richer premise, and is less fanciful, disposing of rich Connecticut dowagers and University endowments. But it never quite builds to the same frenetic pace and lacks the absurdity of the situations Grant finds himself in: remember "Mr. Bone?" Hawks does lift sequences right out of _Baby_ when Hudson shadows Perschy because the back of her dress is open, the "Love impulse in men manifests itself in conflict" from Dr. Lehman is used by Easy, the fish in the pants comes out of _Monkey Business_.
Yet the films are quite different. Grant's character is entirely asocial while Hudson's is the leader of the Hawksian male group. Furthermore, Hepburn is quickly determined to snare Grant, while Prentiss is to the end ambivalent or in self-denial.
I've seen it commented (including by the Voice film critic Molly Haskell) that the film is more satisfying when seen for the second time, and I wholeheartedly agree with this. This review replaces one which was not quite so laudatory. Three times is even better. Familiarity, in the case of this film, breeds endearment.
The sad part is that Paula Prentiss is so lovely and talented to watch in this film, and clearly the critics had huge expectations of her career, yet the next year she would do only three small parts in ensemble casts before withdrawing from films entirely for the next five years. These years, from when she was 26 through 31, were those where she certainly would have become a huge star.
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