Ball of Fire (1941) Poster


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Old Fashion Comedy
marquis de cinema16 November 2001
Snow White elated fable with an early 1940s touch. This modern day Snow White is riddled with lingo commonly spoken by people in early 1940s America. Instead of being a pure and innocent woman as in the original version, this Snow White is a nightclub singer with dubious associations to a known gangster. Also, the character played by Gary Cooper is both Prince Charming and head dwarf rolled into one.

Feels more like a Billy Wilder film than a Howard Hawks feature. This is because of certain characteristics throughout the story like its zanniness which is a fixture of Billy Wilder's comedies. Also includes a satiric element so importantly featured in most of Billy Wilder's directorial work. Skillfully written by Billy Wilder, a filmmaker with a knack for creating humorous situations out of everyday life.

Ball of Fire(1941) is the major blue print for Billy Wilder's late 1950s comedy masterpiece, Some Like It Hot(1959). It deals with someone who has to blend with a crowd she doesn't usually hang out with to avoid trouble which was the basic premise for Some Like It Hot(1959). The plot for Ball of Fire(1941) where Sugarpuss O'Shea finds sanctuary in a male filled world is the perfect opposite of Some Like It Hot(1959) where the two male characters blend in a female dominated band. Sugurpuss O'Shea and the two male characters of Some Like It Hot(1959) are involved in nightclub work though in different jobs.

Barbara Stanwyck is awe striking gorgeous for the part of Sugarpuss O'Shea. She belongs in a long line of beautiful and talented actressess who dazzles the big screen with presence in Howard Hawks films. Barbara Stanwyck in this film is a sensuous kitten and tough thinking woman. A warmup for Stanwyck's most sensual performance on film in Double Indemnity(1944).

No Howard Hawks motion picture(with few exceptions) goes through a story without including some kind of romantic chemistry and romantic conflict. Professor Potts and Sugarpuss O'Shea are opposites personality wise yet connect because of Potts naive but joyful look at life. What wins Sugarpuss's heart is Professor Potts clumsy and gentle nature which is quite a contrast to her gangster boyfriend. The romantic chemistry of the two lacks the hard-boiled edge of the Bogart-Bacall films by Howard Hawks which is a refreshing change here.

The classic screwball comedy that was extremely popular during the decades of the 1930s and 1940s. Ball of Fire(1941) is part of Howard Hawks screwball comedy period when he contributed to the sub genre with comical and witty portrayals of everyday life. Matches the rapid fire dialogue of His Girl Friday(1941) with the sultriness of The Big Sleep(1946). Ball of Fire(1941) puts smiles on faces with priceless moments of laughter.

Sugarpuss O'Shea is a typically strong Hawks female character who overwheims the film's hero with her flamboyant manners. The name Sugarpuss suggests something that is alluring and sweet. The inspiration for the person of Sugarpuss O'Shea was Mistress of Bugsy Siegal, Virginia "Sugar" Hill. Sugarpuss O'Shea bar none is the most alluring female character in a Howard Hawks movie.

Well rounded performances are turned out by the majority of the cast. The actors who play Professor Potts associates excell in their eccentric performances. Nice for a change to see Gary Cooper play a person who is awkward, intellegent, and romantic. Dan Duryea adds a touch of dry comic relief as a gangster thug.

Amusing to see six grown men behave in manners akin to an adolescent the minute Sugarpuss O'Shea walks into their lives. The scenes where Professor Potts goes on the street to learn of some street slang to add to his and associates encyclopedia is a masterstroke in editing. The moment near the end where Potts tells the gangster boyfriend of Sugarpuss to "Put up your dukes" is a hirilous moment in the film. His Girl Friday(1940) is still the best screwball comedy Howard Hawks ever did but Ball of Fire(1941) is a close second.

Ball of Fire(1941) comprises of some fine cinematography by Gregg Toland whose creative eye lended a hand to the monumental camera work of Citizen Kane released during the same year. Early in the nightclub scene is an uncredited cameo by Elisha Cook Jr. Most of the time an excellent film is marked by excellent direction and Ball of Fire(1941) is no exception. Lighthearted and sentlementle romantic comedy that belongs to an era when films were done a certain way.
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Very, very funny
otter1 March 1999
When you think of Gary Cooper, what kinds of part do you think of? Strong silent men, men of honor, gunfighters of the old west, people like Sergeant York and the Sheriff in "High Noon", right? You certainly don't think funny, and you'd certainly never think he could play a NERD, but he does in this film. Not only is he a convincing complete geek, but he's funny, AND sexy!

The story is pretty silly (inspired by "Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs", really): A group of dorky professors are writing an encyclopedia, and English Professor Cooper decides he needs more information on Slang. In his quest for current jive talk he meets Barbara Stanwyck, as a too-lively singer/gang moll. She takes advantage of his invitation to discuss verbiage to use his ivory tower as a hideout, and moves in with the professors. She quickly decides to stay, then to have her way with Coop (who wouldn't), and then falls...

A very funny, sprightly film, fast-paced and full of wonderful performances. Stanwyck is glowingly wonderful, but I still can't get over Cooper's wonderful characterization of a supremely attractive total geek. If that sounds like a contradiction in terms, see the movie and you'll realize it's true.
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ring of great "fire"
Lee Eisenberg16 July 2005
"Ball of Fire" is known as the last great pre-war comedy, and with good reason. It all begins when a group of egghead professors are writing an encyclopedia. Then, grammarian Bertram Potts (Gary Cooper) realizes that he doesn't know any modern slang. Frequenting the nightclubs, he meets dancer Katherine "Sugarpuss" O'Shea (Barbara Stanwyck), who has a connection to the mob. This leads all the characters on the most unexpected adventure.

I really liked the way that every one of the nerdy professors is tempted to correct every mistake made by the others. But the gags throughout the movie are really something. Hilarious.
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One of Barbara Stanwyck's best performances in a very funny film and role
Robert Reynolds24 January 2001
This film (remade in 1948 as a musical with Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo with the title, "A Song Is Born") is a hilarious vehicle for Barbara Stanwyck, who was nominated for Best Actress for her performance here. Anyone who has only seen Ms. Stanwyck in film noir such as "Double Indemnity" or in television's Big Valley should watch this or "Christmas In Connecticut" to see a fine comedic talent at work. She blows Gary Cooper off the screen! Most Recommended.
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Great Cast, Dated-But-Fun Dialog
ccthemovieman-114 November 2005
Wow, what a cast! Let's see, there's Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Richard Haydn, Oscar Homolka, Henry Travers, S.Z. Sakall, Tully Marshall, Dana Andrews, Allen Jenkins and more! Classic film fans know all these names.

What's more, it's a fun movie, fun to see and especially fun to hear. Stanwyck is her usual fascinating self, but in this movie it's the men - the seven old bachelors and the younger Cooper in the "club" - that are the most entertaining.

When you have directors and writers such as Howard Hawks and Billy Wilder behind the film, you know it's a winner.

Because the story dealt with a bunch of encyclopedia writers trying to find out the latest slang words, the dialog in here is really funny. The expressions of the day are dated and humorous and there are so many you can't count them all. Some are stupid; some are hilarious...which is what you get with most comedies anyway. Not every line hits the mark, but a lot do in this one.

Tack on some action and some romance and it's corny-but-cute film , entertaining all the way.
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Stanwyck wakes up a bunch of geniuses...and one in particular
blanche-217 December 2005
Barbara Stanwyck plays a wise-cracking entertainer who moves in with 8 professorial types in "Ball of Fire," a marvelous Billy Wilder film, directed by Howard Hawks, that is loosely based on Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs! Only Wilder could come up with an idea like this and make it shine.

And shine it does. Stanwyck is perfect as Sugarpuss O'Shea, whose boyfriend is a mobster sought after by the police. After a visit by Cooper, whose assignment is slang for the encyclopedia he and the others have been writing for only nine years, she drops in on him late at night, intending to hide out there so the police can't subpoena her testimony. Cooper falls for her while the other, older men develop paternalistic feelings for her.

Stanwyck is gorgeous and gets to show off that fabulous body and great legs as well as her flair for comedy. She's in stark contrast to Cooper as a man who's been in his ivory tower too long. Cooper was one of the handsomest movie stars ever. Tall and gangly, slow-talking, with a boyish smile that lights up his face, it's no wonder the heiress funding the encyclopedia is crazy about him and that Stanwyck finds herself drifting into love with him.

Dana Andrews has a good role as the mobster boyfriend, and one of his sidekicks is the always snarky Dan Duryea. The professors are all terrific. Highly entertaining fare from Billy Wilder, and the last film he ever wrote but didn't direct.
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A Comical Visit to the Past
Ralph Michael Stein3 January 2002
This is the perfect film to view in between seeing today's myriad message movies and super-techno thrillers. In stunning black-and-white the merry adventures of bachelor and aging academics, struggling to complete a massive encyclopedia funded by an increasingly doubtful (and homely) heiress, unfold. The scholars encounter the beautiful (and wonderful) Barbara Stanwyck, a gang moll who needs to hide out while her crime boss boyfriend seeks to avoid an unpleasant prosecution related to a rival who disappeared wearing concrete shoes (low tech disposal of the suddenly terminated was the simple order of the day in 1941).

Gary Cooper is the youngest of the researchers and, obviously, from the first moment that he and the gorgeous Stanwyck set eyes on each other, the ultimate outcome can't be in doubt. No psychological exploration of the nature of evil or the vagaries of love between opposites darken this sprightly gem from the vaults. The cast must have enjoyed making this film.

Easily obtainable for rent or for purchase, "Ball of Fire" shows pre-Pearl Harbor comedic Hollywood at its zenith.
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renfield5429 September 1999
A silly farce of a story that works. The elderly academians are stereotypically perfect. Gary Cooper does his "aww, shucks", naive, signature performance in a worthy role. Barbara Stanwyck is (always) "one hot mama". Great chemistry between the street smart Stanwyck character and the shy, bashful Cooper.

A later version with Danny Kaye falls flat. Instead of slang, they are researching music. Great musical cameo's, but the four star (rated 10) version is the original. I always thought Kaye's brand of humor more suited to children.

The original is funny and cute, the re-make seems like leftover pieces squeezed together to fit a pre-established mold. It lacks charm, stick with the real thing...THIS ONE!!!
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Ball of fun.
Glenn Andreiev29 November 2001
Basically, this is a gangster version of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" Here "Snow White" is a night club singer faultlessly played by Barbara Stanwyck. The "evil witch" is the local police, out to haul her in because of tie-in to a gangster (Dana Andrews) The magic forest of course, is New York. The seven dwarfs are a group of introverted professors led by bookworm Gary Cooper.

The film ahs a wonderful screenplay by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. (Sample dialog COP: How do you find a needle in a haystack? GANGSTER: Simple. Feed the hay to a horse, and X-Ray the horse.) Directed with zip by the great Howard Hawks.
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The Egghead is Mightier Than the Hood
theowinthrop19 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
What happens to an ivy tower atmosphere if it is invaded by a sexually alluring siren? Will it lead to events similar to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from their perfect cocoon of the Garden of Eden? But the sin of Adam and Eve was tasting of the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. The eight professors in the ivy tower already have all the known knowledge of the world - their only problem is trying to dispense that knowledge within a three year deadline. Will they now miss that deadline?

That is the situation of Howard Hawk's comedy "Ball Of Fire", one of the two great comedies (with "The Lady Eve") that Barbara Stanwyck made at Paramount in 1941. People who think of Stanwyck as the dramatic equal of Davis and Hepburn only think of her in films like "Stella Dallas", "Baby Face", "Double Indemnity", or "Sorry, Wrong Number". Nobody denies Stanwyck's abilities as a fine dramatic actress, but she was terrific too in comedies (and it is interesting that her two finest comedies showcase her as a sexually alluring comedian).

Katherine "Sugarpuss" O'Shea is a nightclub entertainer, who is also the girlfriend of mob boss Joe Lilac (Dana Andrews, in a rare villainous role). Joe is having trouble with the District Attorney of New York City (Addison Richards) who is trying to crack a murder that may be linked to the mobster. It turns out that Sugarpuss can cement the case, so Joe needs to hide his girlfriend...and maybe marry her (if they marry she can't testify against her husband). He sends his two henchmen, Duke Pastrami (Dan Duryea) and Asthma Anderson (Ralph Peters) to tell her to lay low...but where? Earlier that evening Sugarpuss got a visit from a Professor Bertram Potts (Gary Cooper) who needs her knowledge of street vernacular for an article he is writing in an encyclopedia on the subject of "slang". Although she initially rejected his request for help, she now finds it fits nicely into the needs of her boyfriend Joe. So she turns up at the building in Manhattan that Potts and seven colleagues (Richard Haydn, Aubrey Mather, Tully Marshall, Oscar Homolka, Leonid Kinski, Harry Travers, and S.Z. Sakall) have been living at for nearly a decade while working on this major encyclopedia for a foundation.

That is the bare bones set-up for this film, one of Howard Hawks best comedies. Like "His Gal Friday" and "I Was A Male War Bride", Hawks makes his female lead fully capable at being a match or more than a match for the male characters. If Cary Grant's newspaper editor Walter Burns did connive and scheme against Rosalind Russell's Hildy Johnson, she gave him as good as he gave her until circumstances played into his hands. The situation is the same here, except that Sugarpuss is like a breath of youth and fresh air to Cooper and the seven older professors, so that for all their book learning they lack a certain amount of common sense in dealing with the charming singer. She manages to compromise them from the start, establishing a room for herself in their headquarters building that the foundation never made plans for.

Not everyone is taken in: Kathleen Howard, the housekeeper Mrs. Bragg, finds out the truth from a newspaper and almost ruins Sugarpuss' schemes. But what is worse, perhaps, is the slow realization by Sugarpuss that the square, geeky Bertram is a decent guy - and a better boyfriend than Joe. Which sort of gums up the works for Joe and his schemes, and Joe is not the sort to like his schemes to be gummed up at all.

Samuel Goldwyn produced "Ball Of Fire", and since he did he got a first rate director and cast together. Stanwyck appears to have been third choice for Sugarpuss (Lucille Ball was supposed to play the role, but was dropped when Stanwyck became available - she might have carried it off, for she played a similar role in "The Big Street" opposite Henry Fonda a few years later). One wonder is Hawks originally planned for Grant in the lead (one could see him as the expert on English, who is a naive professor - similar to his anthropologist in "Bringing Up Baby"). But Goldwyn made several films with Cooper, and probably pushed for that leading man. Cooper shows enough naiveté in his performance to make his discovery of love all the sweeter. The real joy that he expresses when he realizes that Stanwyck favors him over Andrews is rather touching, even though it is presented at a moment of danger to Cooper and several others.

As for the supporting cast, they are all good. Duryea is properly insolent and dumb as the hoodlum Pastrami. Allen Jenkins is a garbage man seeking knowledge for pecuniary gain (quiz show answers). The professors are individually cute, particularly Homolka, driving with an out-of-date driver's license (from 1906) but insisting Teddy Roosevelt thought his driving "bully", and Haydn, the only one of the professors to have ever married, who proves a sentimental type (he carries his dead wife's hair around in a locket). One also notes Mary Field as Miss Totten, the daughter of the wealthy inventor who created the foundation, who (despite the wise words of her lawyer Charles Lane) keeps giving the professors more time to finish their work because she is sweet on Cooper. We last see that young lady enjoying a chase sequence - it was more fun than she ever had experienced before.

Finally there is a nice sequence where Stanwyck demonstrates her voice by singing "Drum Boogie" to the accompaniment of Gene Krupa and his band. She also (with the seven elderly professors) dances the conga. Stanwyck rarely appeared in musicals (I can only recall "Lady Of Burlesque" off hand), so it is nice to see her show her singing and her dancing here as well.
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