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Ball of Fire, 1941

"Like Shooting Fish in a Barrel"

Warner Home Video continues to release new DVDs of the Samuel Goldwyn Family Trust film library, and the 1941 Howard Hawks directed Ball of Fire [ amazon.com ] has just come out [2014]. Besides subtitling and languages (English & Spanish) there are no added features to the disk.

When worlds collide

Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett wrote the screenplay, which is a screwball updating of Snow White and the 7 Dwarves, with the 6'3" Gary Cooper as lead dwarf (he's also Snow White, in an important sense) who lives and works in an all-male home where a group of professors have spent 9 years in seclusion writing an encyclopedia. They're not a stuffy group, but they are old-fashioned and hopelessly out of synch with the modern world that they only see during morning constitutional walks (or when their garbageman sneaks into their house to ask them questions, for he is always competing in radio quiz-shows).

Stanwyck is a night-club singer (Sugarpuss O'Shea) and part-time girlfriend to a shady New York City "businessman" (Dana Andrews) that suddenly needs for her to hide. The police are wanting to ask Stanwyck a few questions about his whereabouts vis-a-vis a recent murder (which he insists he is being framed for). As added incentive, Andrews sends along an expensive gift of diamond jewelry. She obliges and follows his instructions to disappear until they can get married (because, as Andrew's mob attorney tells him, a wife cannot be made to take the stand against her husband).

But, where can Stanwyck hide? A brief meeting earlier with Gary Cooper (he was at her nightclub researching modern slang usage for his encyclopedia) presents her with the perfect solution. So, with a little bit of persuasion over their protests, she moves in with the professors. Mayhem ensues.

Hawks, Brackett and Wilder have fun turning the world of dry academics upside down, but the trouble doesn't run in only one direction: Stanwyck's street-wise, brass-plated woman of the world gets out-maneuvered by the sentimentality of the old men she is intending to use, and before too long she is no longer sure which side she is really on.

Music of Ball of Fire

Hawks has Gene Krupa and his band onscreen to provide the music for Stanwyck to sing Drum-Boogie, (and the band has an extended solo section). Hawks also has his group of professors serenading later in the film with Sweet Genevieve (a hit from 1869) and then follows that with the professors singing Gaudeamus Igitur (and that dates to the year 1287!)

With Krupa, once isn't enough, Hawks provides time for Krupa to replay Drum Boogie using only match-sticks for percussion.

Sharp language and fast paced editing

The writing is first rate, and though loaded with outdated slang and phrasing, it is all perfectly understandiable to even a novice film buff familiar with 40s era American film. Stanwyck and Cooper work well together and are funny, and/or touching , depending upon whatever Hawk's and Wilder's script requires. Ball of Fire has the glossy production values of a high-end Hollywood movie of 1941, and it shows in every category.


Original Page 2014 | Last update April 2019


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Letters from Hollywood Book

Letters from Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American Movemaking

352 pages - Published by Harry N. Abrams

"This is, quite simply, one of the finest books I’ve ever read about Hollywood." Leonard Maltin

Reproduces in full color scores of entertaining and insightful pieces of correspondence from some of the most notable and talented film industry names of all time—from the silent era to the golden age, and up through the pre-email days of the 1970s. Annotated by the authors to provide backstories and further context. Greta Garbo, Alfred Hitchcock, Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra, Katharine Hepburn, Marlon Brando, Elia Kazan, Cary Grant, Francis Ford Coppola, Tom Hanks, and Jane Fonda.

Letters from Hollywood: Inside the Private World of Classic American Movemaking


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