View Full Version : Ball of Fire(1941)

Al Edwards
09-24-2005, 05:33 AM
A revised Snow White/Seven Dwarfs story that has nice moments of comedy. It even is good at playing against the Snow White tale. Sugarpuss is the opposite of Snow White in her personality. Prof Potts makes for a clumsy, shy Prince Charming. He has more of the characteristics of Snow White than Sugarpuss. There is some wonderful chemistry in Ball of Fire(1941) between Cooper and Stanwyck. Actor-actress chemistry is an aspect that is one of the enjoyable things about a Hawks film. The interactions between Cooper/Stanwyck are done with some charm. Cooper and Stanwyck are excellent in their scenes together. Like in the contrast between a confident Sugarpuss and the awkward Potts. A film filled with colorful characters and names. People like the doting Professor Oddly or the other eccentric professors. Then there is the garbageman who comes to ask help for radio trivia questions. I like the name of the henchmen with Duke Pastrami and Asthma Anderson. Of course, there is also a name like Professor Oddly which perfectly says a lot about the character. There are some good classical comical moments. Like the escape from the two henchmen and the scene preceding it. Ball of Fire has the characteristics of both a Howard Hawks and Billy Wilder film. Has a small zanniness that is part of the film's entertainment value. More of a romantic comedy than a screwball comedy.

Well written by co-writer Billy Wilder who adds his own touches into the mix. I feel Ball of Fire seems more like a Billy Wilder film during some scenes. Has some of the qualities and touches of a film by Billy Wilder. A satiric approach is another Wilder element presented here. Wilder was as good a writer as he would be a director. Howard Hawks proved to be adept in the comedy genre. Specifically the screwball comedy which the director was a success at. Hawks is very good in the direction of the humorous scenes in Ball of Fire(1941) and other comedies of his. My favorites of Hawks films are comedies like Ball of Fire, His Girl Friday or Twentifith Century. Another genre besides the western and action that he did well in. Sugarpuss O'Shea is one of a long line of confident, sensual, street wise women who occuply. a lot of Hawk's films. A female protagonist who overwheims the film's main male character with her confident, flirting manners. Her nickname suggests something alluring and sweet. The character's personality and qualities are wonderfully carried out by Barbara Stanwyck. She is excellent in bringing her character to life. Gary Cooper gives a solid, humorous portrayal of a meek, shy, awkward professor. I think he is very good in his role. He could do comedy roles as well as roles for other genres. He makes for a wonderful opposite match to Stanwyck. With a terrific director at tow, Cooper could give some very good to excellent performances.

Al Edwards
09-24-2005, 06:01 AM
Part 2

Stanwyck was a gifted comedien who could combine a quality of humor and sympathy. Her presence helps a lot in comic scenes. The character she plays here is like an extension of her Lady Eve role. she is just as good in Ball of Fire as she is in The Lady Eve. An underrated actress, imo. Some fine cinematography work by Greg Toland for Ball of Fire(1941). Toland's collaboration with director, Hawks is successful. One of the best cinematographers in the history of film. His command of b/w is impressive for this film. Toland is also one of my favorite cinematographers. A different kind of comedy compared to the previous year's His Girl Friday. A little more subdued but still has its doses of wacky humor. Without the rapid fire pace of His Girl Friday's dialogue. While I like His Girl Friday(1940) a little more, I find Ball of Fire(1941) an enjoyable viewing experience. A change of pace comedy that works fine for me. The first scene helps introduce the eight professors(including the leader) during a walk in the park(Cooper stands out in his quiet demeanor compared to the excited state of his colleagues). The next sequence enforces the eccentricities hinted in the opening scene. The seven professors are played wonderfully by very good character actors. Each is excellent in displaying their character's eccentric traits. They also add to the enjoyability level.

Dana Andrews as Joe Lilac is a villain to remember. A consistent character actor who could be counted for a good performance in any type of genre(especially noir). As a character actor he is underrated. Andrews' smooth, tough gangster is a polar opposite to Cooper's shy, unassuming professor. In the couple of scenes they are in together, they are terrific. Another memorable touch is the use of lingo commonly spoken at that time. Like during the montage when Professor Potts goes to the streets to update his book on slang. Or the garbageman's colorful usage of lingo in describing the radio quiz or the woman he wants to see. The director and writer seem to have a good understanding of that period's lingo and uses it well. Some of it may be dated yet one can get the feel of early 40s America. The housekeeper working for the professors is a perfect foil to Stanwyck's confident O'Shea. Ball of Fire(1941) feels like a blue print for Billy Wilder's late 50s film Some Like It Hot. The idea of Sugarpuss O'Shea finding sanctuary in a male filled environment is the complete reversal of the two main male characters in Some Like It Hot(1959) where they blend in a female dominated band. The first kissing scene with Cooper and Stanwyck is a wonderful humorous moment. I liked the added touch of her having to stack up books to reach him. Dan Duryea and Ralph Peters are memorable as a pair of henchmen. They add some humor of their own into the mix. One of my favorite scenes is the fight between Lilac and Potts. The image of the gangsters being tossed into the back of a garbage truck is very humorous and an interesting metaphoric one. Features a hard to forget cameo by Elisha Cook Jr.

Al Edwards
02-08-2007, 03:14 PM
Getting a DVD release on 5/22.