What happens if a leading expert on sport fishing turns out to be someone who’s never been fishing in his life, never even touched a real live fish? If he were a scientist, you’d call him a theoretician. In everyday life, you’d call him a fraud! Sounds fishy? You bet it does. It’s all the fish, you know…
Roger Willoughby (Rock Hudson) may look like Rock Hudson, but he isn’t used to pretty young women following him in the streets. There he is, driving his large convertible to work, like any industrious
sex-symbol man should, when he notices a perky little sports car following him. He is puzzled, but drives on to work. In his parking lot, he gets ready to back into his spot and makes an annoying discovery - the pretty young woman (Paula Prentiss) in the sports car has taken unfair advantage of her tiny car’s superior manoeuvrability. She’s grabbed his parking spot! He tries explaining to her that she has violated his right to park-and-go-to-work, but she is unimpressed. He wants the spot? Well, he can try moving her car while she attends to more important things. He tries getting into the tiny car to move it, but though his feats of contortion are of gymnastic proportions, he is unsuccessful. So now Roger is late for work, and to top it all, he gets a parking ticket because his car is not in a parking spot! Little does Roger know it, but this is just the beginning of his troubles.
Unaware of what fate has in store for him, Roger goes in to work. He is a salesman of sports fishing equipment and the city’s leading expert on fishing. All his loyal customers swear by his book - Fishing Made Simple - and depend upon him for the latest fishing tips. Just as he begins dispensing his invaluable fishing advice to a waiting customer, he is summoned by his boss, Mr. Cadwalader (John McGiver). Cadwalader introduces him to two lovely ladies - the lady who stole his parking-spot - Abigail/Abby Page (Paula Prentiss) - and her boss 'Easy' Mueller (Maria Perschy). Abby and Easy have come to invite Roger to the Lake Wakapoogee Fishing Tournament. They need a star for their tournament, and who better than Mr. Fisherman himself? Roger refuses, but Mr. Caldwalader will have none of it. He senses an advertising opportunity for his store and tells Roger to settle the details with the ladies over lunch.
Roger tries his best to get the ladies to rethink their invitation, but he is too busy stumbling over his two left feet to make much headway. When neither straight refusals nor excuses work, a desperate Roger tells Abby and Easy the truth: he has never been fishing in his life! He can give fishing advice with the best of them, but he doesn’t know how to fish. Abby refuses to let such minor details ruin her plans. So what if THE Roger Willoughby cannot fish? The tournament is a few days away. There is time for him to learn! And she can teach him.
Roger is not exactly on board with this plan. He does not want to learn how to fish! But Abby is nothing if not determined. If he won’t join their tournament, she will tell his boss and his loyal customers just how good a fisherman he is. If he wants to keep his job, Roger better cooperate! And so the sport fishing world acquires a new and very reluctant convert. Abby’s plan? Roger will get to Wakapoogee two days before the tournament, stay at Easy’s lodge, and she (Abby) will teach him fishing. But the best laid plans are the ones most likely to go astray, as Roger and Abby soon find out.
Cadwalader instructs Roger to camp outdoors and test some of the store’s camping equipment. So Roger loads up on camping gear and makes his way to Lake Wakapoogee. The trouble with the plan is that poor Roger is just as ignorant of camping as he is of fishing. His efforts at setting-up camp just lead to his tent collapsing upon him. Abby and Easy have to interrupt their snorkelling session to rescue their star fisherman!
Abby manages to convince Roger that anybody who sees him "camping" would know him instantly for a hothouse flower that he is. His cover would be blown! Besides, with the tournament starting in two days, he barely has time to learn fishing. So Roger gives up on the outdoors and moves into a room in the lodge. Abby begins the fishing lessons. Once again, nothing goes smoothly for poor Roger. In addition to his two left feet, he also has two left hands and the worst of bad luck. His fishing lessons go from accident to accident, and Abby spends all her time rescuing him!
The day of the tournament dawns, and neither Abby nor Roger have any hopes of his making it through the tournament with his reputation as a fishing expert intact. He cannot even get into a boat without nearly drowning, how will he ever get round to catching fish? The tournament will go on for days - plenty of time for Roger to get into lots of accidents!
While Roger is grappling with the great outdoors, Abby has troubles of her own. She’s discovered that she has fallen for her bumbling "fisherman" (surprise! surprise!). Roger finds his fishing instructor "strangely attractive" too, but he is already engaged. So what are they to do about their growing attraction? Even more important, what will they do about all the fish that Roger is supposed to catch? Can Roger ever make it through a fishing day without nearly drowning or otherwise doing himself some serious injury?
Now, I’d watch paint drying if Rock Hudson was in it, but I’d much rather watch him in a good romantic comedy. And this one gets almost everything right. Rock Hudson’s Roger Willoughby is a clumsy but sweet and likeable character, someone in dire need of a female knight errant! This makes such a refreshing change from the character of the superior, know-it-all, ladies man that he played in his other (fun but very sexist) romantic comedies – films like Come September, Lover Come Back and Pillow Talk. Unlike the latter, though, the comedy in this film is almost entirely slapstick – not my favourite comedy genre. Roger is just too clumsy for words and most of the film's humour comes from his awkward accidents. I hate to say this, but I must admit that I much prefer the annoyingly sexist Jerry Webster of Lover Come Back – he has a spark that Roger Willoughby does not!
Another thing that struck me was that I did not find any of the other characters in this film particularly memorable. The leading lady did not make much of an impression and the two comic sidekicks - Cadwalader (John McGiver) and John Screaming Eagle (Norman Alden) – struck me as rather lack-lustre. That said, I must admit that I did like this film a lot better on my first watch, several years ago. Maybe the intervening years have raised my expectations. I’d still recommend it to all Rock Hudson fans and anybody who likes their romantic comedies relatively sexism-free!