Random Film of the Week(end) – (Summer Edition!): Ball of Fire

(thank you, Victor Creed!) 

ball of fire p2longImagine this as a movie idea today: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with Snow being an extremely talented exotic dancer type and those dwarfs a bunch of stuffy but eager to learn elderly eggheads she ends up hanging out with to teach them all the things they didn’t know. Once you get your eyeballs above the obvious jiggle-tease material and plentiful opportunities for modern day humor sixteen writers working together come up with, the results would probably be pretty darn terrible.

I can see the trailer now: two minutes, thirty eight or so of slow-mo cleavage shots and some special guest cameo coot rattling off one-liners, plus someone getting hit in the nether regions with a golf, basket or other ball, maybe a nice pratfall, a fart joke, a fat girl joke and some annoying music on that soundtrack that doesn’t even fit. Yeah, that’s not a movie I’d want to see at all. Fortunately, Howard Hawks’ 1941 film Ball of Fire takes the Snow White and thanks to a wonderfully funny and sassy Barbara Stanwyck helping loosen up those old guys (and an even stuffier Gary Cooper), a great script and plenty of screwball humor, it still holds up today as a total riot.

Ball of Fire 1Stanwyck’s Sugarpuss O’Shea is the slang-slinging nightclub talent who moves in with Cooper and the other professors when she decides to go on the lam from a gangster and his muscle who want to hook her in to testify for him in a murder case. The codgers and Cooper reel her in because they just so happen to be working on a dictionary of modern colloquialisms, have hit a few rough patches and need a hot helping hand. Thankfully, the film isn’t taking any of its material at all seriously, so there’s not a hint of lecherousness as the geezers gather, gaze and get used to Sugarpuss’ saucy antics. Cooper plays the anti-O’Shea for a bit and hilariously comes off as much more stodgy initially. But a quick “Yum Yum” lesson or two sets his sails.

(thank you, Gregory May!) 

The rest of the cast is great and clearly having a ball here as they fall for Sugarpuss and her not at all winsome ways. The film downplays the sexy stuff so Sugarpuss’ streetwise nature and matter-of-fact attitude makes her extremely likable from the first moment she’s on the screen. The film also gets the profs out on the street in their research and throws some funny slang around that I haven’t bothered to look up (yet), but manages to sound “natural” in the way some slang does. Then again, this isn’t a documentary folks, so you’re not going to learn anything here other than what a great director Hawks is and how he gets all his pieces falling into place for your viewing pleasure.

ball of fire 2

Cooper’s conversion from anti-hot mama matter to “Oh man, DOES she matter (and how!)” as the film progresses is both funny and sweet, and it’s great to see him play and nail his character perfectly. Of course, the man does give the O’shea ire the old college try at the beginning. That conga line scene above from early in the film is priceless, as is any scene Stanwyck gets to slink and sling lingo around the screen. You’d have to be a total lemon-headed sourpuss not to want to squeeze your screen at some point. Just refrain from squeezing it too hard if it’s one of those fancy HD sets with a high price tag. You don’t want to crack that thing or worse, get a jolt is you decide to smooch some scan-lines in the heat of the moment.

ball of fire 3And hey, if for some reason you don’t buy Barbara and her slim build as a burlesque babe (and oh, you’d have to be quite blind, I say), here’s a little bonus RFotW to bowl you over, courtesy of the DigiComTV YouTube Channel: 1943’s absolutely amazing Lady of Burlesque, a murder mystery flick based on the novel by (hold onto your seats) the legendary burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee (!).

OK, stop laughing. It’s actually a lot better than you’re probably thinking if you’ve never seen it before, so check it out when you get the chance. After you’ve seen this flick first, of course. Just think of them both as a way to welcome this hot summer season as you break out the cold beverages, pull up a seat and get your eyeballs warmed up a bit…


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