BALL OF FIRE has lots of talent on either side of the camera in a sprightly 1941 reworking of “Snow White”. Burlesque toots ‘Sugarpuss O’Shea’ (Barbara Stanwyck) is recruited by ‘Professor Bertram Potts’ (Gary Cooper) to aid his seven colleagues in putting together an Encyclopedia of Slang. This works out fine for her, as she’s hiding from the cops, but by the time her gangster boyfriend (Dana Andrews) gets ready to spirit her away, she is—in the best movie tradition—stuck on the nerdy professor.
Not as much of a kick viewed now as back when, since some of what was once arch is a wee too cute today, and the story stretches out longer at 111 minutes than need be, but faults aside, there are still enough smiles and chuckles to be had from script and cast–all in fine fettle. Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder wrote it, Samuel Goldwyn put up the $1,153,000 for director Howard Hawks to play with, Alfred Newman scored, Gregg Toland filmed.
Stanwyck gives it all she’s got: it’s a great role for her to have some fun with and she was Oscar-nominated for Best Actress. It was a banner year for ‘Missy’, as she was also on view in Meet John Doe and The Lady Eve. Cooper could likewise strut some, nailing this alongside Meet John Doe and a triumphant Sergeant York. Dan Duryea, as one of her boyfriend’s mugs, is a gas, and the inimitable batch of character actors who play Coop’s egghead associates steal as many scenes as they can manage.
They are Oscar Homolka, Richard Haydn, Henry Travers, S.Z. Sakall, Tully Marshall, Leonid Kinskey and Aubrey Mather (Haydn is especially bizarre). It was the 25th biggest earner of its year, taking in $6,000,000. With Allen Jenkins, Ralph Peters, Charles Lane, Elisha Cook, Addison Richards and Gene Krupa & His Orchestra. Along with sassy Babs and her gams,the Screenplay, Score and Sound were also on the Academy nomination roster.