Sunday, November 25, 2007
Over the weekend Nikki Finke’s site has been hosting a number of videos featuring high-profile actors in regards to the current WGA strike (for the record, Mr. Peel’s Sardine Liqueur fully supports the WGA in this matter). One of these spots features long-married couple Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss playing a game of charades. Prentiss mysteriously has one arm in a cast and—hang on a second! Paula Prentiss!!?? Really? When was the last time anyone saw her anywhere? How is she? Why does she have an arm in a cast? And why aren’t there ten other Paula Prentiss movies in my DVD collection?
I’ve seen THE WORLD OF HENRY ORIENT and WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT, there are a few titles I haven’t checked out, there’s her infamous nude scene in 1970’s CATCH 22 but even by the time of that film her popularity seems to have peaked and after that there’s just her supporting roles in THE STEPFORD WIVES and THE PARALLAX VIEW to keep us interested. Why she didn’t become a bigger star in the sixties is beyond me. Maybe it was the collapse of the studio system, maybe she was more interested in marriage to Richard Benjamin, maybe it was a combination of circumstances. What we do have to see her at her best is Howard Hawks’ late career 1964 comedy MAN’S FAVORITE SPORT?, maybe the best starring role she ever had to play. Too bad the film, one of several Hawks disappointments in the sixties, isn’t better.
Rock Hudson plays Roger Willoughby, author of a best-selling book on fishing who is cajoled into taking part in a fishing tournament at the risk that everyone will learn the secret that he has never been fishing in his life. Prentiss plays Abigail Page, the public-relations rep who has to help him keep his secret. It’s most enjoyable these days to those Hawks fans who are already used to his rythyms and preoccupations. That would include me, Quentin Tarantino and maybe a few others. I find myself sitting through it every now and then, but even I have to admit it’s a long two hours, compounded by the fact that it’s a rather dull premise with an uninteresting setting. Maybe there’s a movie in existence that could get me interested in fishing, but this isn’t it. Rock Hudson is playing a role which was conceived for Cary Grant but Grant, who did want to work with his old friend Hawks again, must have realized that this wasn’t prime material and passed on it in favor of CHARADE. So Hawks was left with Rock Hudson, who to put it kindly wasn’t as adept at slapstick as Grant was. And too much of it simply moves too slow anyway, with lots of Mancini music designed to tell us how ‘funny’ everything is. Fortunately there’s a good amount of classic-sounding Mancini cocktail music in the evening scenes. And it goes with the territory—even before they’ve gotten up to the lake where the bulk of the film takes place, there’s already been a number of martinis guzzled, the drinking continues when the fishing begins and Rock Hudson even has a cigarette dangling from his mouth when he’s in a canoe. All this drinking and smoking makes me look forward to the second season of MAD MEN.
But the best part of the whole film is easily Prentiss, tailored out like a classic Hawks chick and with enough enthusiasm for five movies. When I think of the Hawks Chick and everything that means, she’s definitely on the list of actresses that come to mind. Much is made about how Rock Hudson refers to her as 'strangely attractive'. She is that, but she's much more as well. The range of octaves that her voice is able to cover, the razor-sharp wit she exudes and her obvious beauty make her pretty easy to fall for and it’s delightful to see that all of those features are still there in this WGA video, even as she approaches seventy. I’ll watch MAN’S FAVORITE SPORT? again one of these days and I may again be disappointed by it, but I’ll always enjoy her work in the film and imagine a world where Paula Prentiss was a huge movie star.
And I have to say that she and Richard Benjamin look like a very happy couple. Dinner parties at the Benjamin household must be a total blast. I just hope her arm heals soon.