Hudson has a reserved acting style. Most of the time his facial muscles move almost imperceptibly, in that Robert Mitchum way. In comedies, he plays the straight man well, the character who is usually the only clear thinker in the room who reacts to chaos around him.
Thus, when you see him in Man's Favorite Sport? (1964) opposite Paula Prentiss - an actress with a much more unpredictable acting method- you've got friction and, therefore, comedy gold. The two have a Burns and Allen vibe, not in material, but in his reactions to the silliness, often stemming from Prentiss' character.
Producer-director Howard Hawks envisioned Sport as a remake of his classic Bringing Up Baby (1938), about a screwball lady who follows a guy around, unintentionally making his life miserable. Sport follows Roger (Hudson), a fishing expert and sporting goods salesmen at Abercrombie and Fitch who has never fished a day in his life. Public relations expert, Abbie (Prentiss) secures Roger's spot in a fishing competition, then discovers his secret. The bulk of the film is the two of them desperate to deceive everyone, and falling in love with each other in the process.
It's more of an homage to Baby than a remake. There's even a replay of the famous scene in the original where a lady's dress tears and the guy walks closely behind to save her embarrassment. In the original, the lady (Katharine Hepburn) accidentally tears the man's (Cary Grant) tuxedo. He's annoyed. He then accidentally tears the lady's gown and feels an obligation to help her out of the room, which causes him to miss an appointment. It's yet another inconvenience for him caused by the presence of the goofy leading lady.
In Sport, the character whose dress is torn is not Abbie, but Abbie's friend Isolde (Maria Perschy). The man doesn't accidentally tear it, a wooden chair does. So he helps her out and misses an appointment. What in the original was an awkward and almost literal bonding moment between the two leads becomes random in the remake, mostly because the problem in the scene has nothing to do with Abbie, and does not drive the story or their relationship forward. So the movie just pauses for a comic bare back shot of Isolde (who is given the unfortunate nickname, "Easy").
Man's Favorite Sport? is nothing like this poster. Roger does not spend his time being caressed by Abbie or anyone else. He spends half of the movie trying to fish and the other half despising the woman who has just made his life miserable and could cost him his job. It's a charming story, but caught in a changing of the guards in terms of comedy tastes.
It's a movie that is ambivalent about what it wants to be. At times, the movie stretches towards its pedigree and wants to be an old fashioned screwball comedy with an emphasis on witty dialogue, fun characters and improbable situations. Thus, it places our leads in a noisy room where Roger shares his secret just as the noise dies down and everyone in the room can hear him.
It also wants to be hip and cool and tap into the return of overt sensuality -often found in teen beach films of the day- where the humor comes from guys making none-too-subtle quips while the camera ogles ladies. Thus, there is a random scene where Abbie gets drenched in the rain, making her blouse see-through... and that's the whole joke. End scene.
Though there are disparate tones in the film, the differences in the two leads' acting methods are complimentary. Hudson is a reserved and "bashful" actor, giving the audience only the part of himself that he wants us to see. He carries more than a trace of glamorous, old Hollywood - unattainable, enigmatic, a star.
Paula Prentiss is also a star, but a different kind, an accessible kind. You could see yourself knowing this person. Whereas Hudson carefully places himself in a scene and locks himself in, Prentiss remains forever in motion.
She is always doing "business," i.e. flicking her bangs so that they are not perfectly coiffed throughout the scene, punctuating someone else's line with uproarious laughter, waving her hands around, and speaking in that quick His Girl Friday clip as if she has so much to tell you but there isn't enough time in the day to get it all out. This is also the first time I've seen anyone in a movie made before 1970 lick her fingers. It's a gesture someone might make in real life, which is slightly jarring, but it works because we understand what Roger is going through when this whirlwind of activity enters his life.
Sport is a good enough film. Prentiss was excited to work with Hudson. She's a big fan of the actor, stating for the Miami News just before the movie was released that,
"He's been my idol and I went to see Pillow Talk again to watch him operate."
The actress is a fan just like us. Again, she makes herself accessible. I'm looking forward to watching more of her films.