Ball of Fire

Ball of Fire

2.0 out of 52.0 out of 52.0 out of 52.0 out of 52.0 out of 52.0

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Howard Hawks liked to hide behind the role of unpretentious genre craftsman, but he was truly classic Hollywood’s closet intellectual, perpetually fascinated by the clash between mind and body in westerns, comedies, gangster thrillers, and sci-fi adventures. The tension is more relaxed in Ball of Fire, where the screwball intensity of Bringing Up Baby or His Girl Friday feels a bit diluted, though who’s complaining when it’s Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck providing the minds and bodies in question?

Indeed, the first of the film’s jokes comes from the sly casting of virile man’s man Cooper as English professor Bertram Potts, a prematurely fusty brainiac who, while collaborating with a sextet of graybeards on an updated encyclopedia, hits a dead-end upon reaching the “slang” entry. Off he scrambles through New York City to collect samples of jive idiom, which leads him to the nightclub where burlesque star Sugarpuss O’Shea (Stanwyck) performs “Drum Boogie” with Gene Krupa’s orchestra. She’s described as “root, zoot, cute, and solid to boot,” but Potts is at first interested only in her linguistic skills; exasperated, she orders him to “scrow, scram, scraw,” to which the enthralled professor exclaims, “A complete conjugation!”

Such verbal humor seems to spring irresistibly from the young Billy Wilder’s outsider fascination with American snap, though the basis for the screenplay he concocted with Charles Brackett is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a connection clinched when Sugarpuss, hiding out from cops out to snatch her gangland boyfriend (Dana Andrews), stays with the shy scholar and his seven “squirrelly cherubs” (endearingly played by character actors like Oscar Homolka, Henry Travers, S.Z. Sakall, and Richard Haydn, all of them old, dear faces to the seasoned movie buff).

After the rush of His Girl Friday, Ball of Fire is a more sedate ride, full of such marvelous passages as the conga line Stanwyck’s delectable Sugarpuss teaches the professors. Ultimately, the film’s optimistic integration of intellectual and physical impulses lends it a feeling of wholeness (greatly aided by Gregg Toland’s deep-focus cinematography) closer to Hawks’s later, more serene films than to his breathless early comedies.

Image/Sound

The adroit transfer helps appreciate Gregg Toland's contribution to the visuals, and, while the Hawksian dialogue may not overlap as fervently as in his other classics, the sound captures it deftly enough.

Extras

Zilch.

Overall

You’d have to go to Barbara Billingsley for another jive session this enjoyable.

Image 2.0 out of 5 2.0 out of 5 2.0 out of 5 2.0 out of 5 2.0 out of 5

Sound 2.0 out of 5 2.0 out of 5 2.0 out of 5 2.0 out of 5 2.0 out of 5

Extras 2.0 out of 5 2.0 out of 5 2.0 out of 5 2.0 out of 5 2.0 out of 5

Overall 2.0 out of 5 2.0 out of 5 2.0 out of 5 2.0 out of 5 2.0 out of 5

Specifications
  • DVD-Video
  • Single-Layer Disc
  • Region 1
  • Aspect Ratio
  • 1.33:1 Full Frame
  • Dolby Digital Formats
  • English 2.0 Stereo
  • English 2.0 Mono
  • Spanish 1.0 Mono
  • DTS
  • None
  • Subtitles & Captions
  • English Subtitles
  • Spanish Subtitles
  • Special Features
  • None
  • Buy
    DVD
    Release Date
    May 22, 2007
    Distributor
    MGM Home Entertainment
    Runtime
    112 min
    Rating
    NR
    Year
    1941
    Director
    Howard Hawks
    Screenwriter
    Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder
    Cast
    Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Oscar Homolka, Henry Travers, S.Z. Sakall, Tully Marshall, Leonid Kinskey, Richard Haydn, Aubrey Mather, Dana, andrews, Allen Jenkins, Dan Duryea, Ralph Peters, Kathleen Howard, Mary Field