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Ball of Fire

Classics and Westerns movie

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Stanwyck and Cooper light up the screen with shades of "Pygmalion" and "Snow White"

  • Jun 12, 2007
A burlesque performer on the lam becomes the unexpected muse for a strait-laced professor in Billy Wilder's sparkling 1941 comedy, BALL OF FIRE.

When a group of stuffy bachelor professors are compiling a new encyclopedia, they find trouble writing about modern slang. Professor Bertram Potts (Gary Cooper) scouts the streets of New York to find willing people to help in their research. A visit to a nightclub reveals Sugarpuss O'Shea (Barbara Stanwyck) performing the rousing "Drum Boogie". Potts realises that here is the ideal expert who can lead him through the difficult world of the modern speech. But Sugarpuss is being pursued by the police...and the Mob!

Cooper and Stanwyck give off a splendid chemistry here after previously being paired in Frank Capra's Meet John Doe earlier in 1941. Legend has it that Lucille Ball was originally mentioned for the role of Sugarpuss, but it's hard to imagine anyone being better than Stanwyck, who gives a spirited performance (for another slice of Barbara in a similar role, be sure to see the hilarious Barbara Stanwyck: Lady of Burlesque).

The other professors are played by legendary character actors S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall, Richard Haydn, Oscar Homolka, Henry Travers, Tully Marshall, Aubrey Mather and Leonid Kinskey.

So great to see BALL OF FIRE firmly on DVD. This has been issued as part of the new MGM Movie Classics series along with three other Gary Cooper titles (Casanova Brown, The Wedding Night, and The Adventures of Marco Polo).

(Single-sided, single-layer disc).

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April 17, 2011
Great review, Byron.
More Ball of Fire reviews
review by . April 17, 2011
The professor and the showgirl
Barbara Stanwyck struts her stuff and steals the show in Ball of Fire. Born Ruby Stevens in Brooklyn, she was right at home in the role of sexy New York nightclub performer Sugarpuss O'Shea. Unaware that she's trying to evade her gangster boyfriend (Dana Andrews), a coalition of straight laced academics enlists her aid in compiling an dictionary of slang. Try as he might, Professor Bertram Potts (Gary Cooper at his longest and leanest) cannot resist her charms; considering that this was …
About the reviewer
Byron Kolln ()
Byron has been actively involved in theatre since the age of 12. He has had a great variety of roles (both on-stage and off). In addition he has hosted the long-running "Show Business" programme … more
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About this movie


Offering a screwball twist on the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, this delightful comedy has grown dated since its release in 1941, but that only adds to its everlasting charm. Written by the ace screenwriting team of Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett and directed by Howard Hawks, the movie presents a breezy case of opposites attracting when nightclub singer "Sugarpuss" O'Shea (Barbara Stanwyck) is recruited to teach jazzy slang to a group of culturally isolated professors. Gary Cooper plays Bertram Potts, the straight-laced scholar who's compiling slang for a new encyclopedia, and his equally stodgy colleagues are fascinated when Sugarpuss and "Pottsie" seem to be warming up for romance. Complications ensue when the savvy singer must distance herself from her mobster fiancé (Dana Andrews), andBall of Firetakes a wacky turn when the klutzy intellectuals take on the mobster's henchmen. It's all a bit quaint by today's standards, but the movie's got a wealth of witty dialogue and sassy appeal, with Stanwyck leading the way in a role that's equal parts tough exterior and soft-hearted vulnerability. As a bonus, she performs a pair of rousing nightclub numbers (including a lively rendition of "Drum Boogie") with hopped-up drummer Gene Krupa and his orchestra.Ball of Firewas remade in 1948 as the Danny Kaye musicalA Song is Born. This one's a real treat for fans of vintage Hollywood comedies. Don't miss it!--Jeff Shannon
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Genre: Classics, Western
DVD Release Date: May 22, 2007
Runtime: 111 minutes
Studio: MGM (Video & DVD)
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