43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
This retelling of the SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS was actually based on a script that Billy Wilder wrote before immigrating to the United States from Germany, but it was only after the success of the Disney version that a demand was created for it. The enormously versatile Howard Hawks (quite literally the most versatile director in film history, the only director to have mastered and/or created five or six genres) took the script and turned it into one of the last great pre-WW II comedies. The story is simple: a group of monkish scholars living together in New York City are writing an encyclopedia. One of them is writing about slang, but being unfamiliar with contemporary argot begins research his topic by talking to people outside his normal range of acquaintance. He runs into gangster moll Sugarpuss O'Shea, who takes advantage of the scholars to move in with them in order to escape the police, who want to talk to her to implicate her guy Joe Lilac. While hardly Snow White, she certainly managed to stir up their lives.
The film is made wonderful by a number of things: Wilder's clever script, Hawks typically deft direction, a solid performance by Gary Cooper, but most of all by a scintillating job by the overwhelmingly alluring Barbara Stanwyck and a stellar collection of veteran character actors playing the seven dwarves. All the latter are great, but special mention has to be made of Richard Haydn (who excells even beside the others, with his extraordinary overpronounciation of everyday words), Oskar Homolka, and S.Z. Sakall. There are few more delightful collections of character actors in any Hollywood comedy. I personally prefer Barbara Stanwyck to any other actress in Hollywood history. She possessed an emotional immediacy that no other actress could approximate, and while her skills were perhaps a tad below those of someone like Katherine Hepburn, the latter never managed to match her fire and passion. And she is so sexy! I grew up watching Stanwyck on THE BIG VALLEY, so when I first started seeing her great roles from the thirties, forties, and fifties, I was absolutely stunned at how sexy she could be. She was attractive, yes, but sexier than she was attractive. And she was never sexier than she was here, with the exception of her role the same year in THE LADY EVE.
Another reason to see this film is the appearance of Gene Krupa in the early nightclub sequence. Krupa had, of course, been with Benny Goodman throughout the thirties, so this was very early in his career as leader of his own band.
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
Why haven't we heard more about this comedy classic? Gary Cooper is one of eight super-brains writing an encyclopedia. Barbara Stanwyck is a definitely non-intellectual entertainer looking for a place to hide. With her sassy freshness, she captures the hearts of all the professors, particularly Cooper; then he - and they - capture hers. But her boyfriend, a local gangster, has some other ideas. This movie is first-class in every way - writing (Billy Wilder), directing (Howard Hawks), and an elite cast of 1940s stars. Any movie sixty years old is going to seem dated - all films should be regarded as period pieces - but that can be part of the fun of watching, especially as "Professor Cooper" investigates the ins and outs of the "slanguage" of the times. A couple of musical numbers accent the story, including a drum solo on a matchbox.... really! "Ball of Fire" was remade some years later as "A Song is Born," which loses some of the sparkle of its predecessor but gains some enjoyable jazz music; the two movies should be treated only as cousins. If you really enjoy the classic comedies, you should find this one worth your time.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2005
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
"Ball Of Fire" is one my favorite screwball romantic comedies. It was made towards the end of a golden era of this genre of films, which also includes such better-known classics as "The Philadelphia Story" (1940), "His Girl Friday" (1940) and "Bringing Up Baby" (1938). Directed by Howard Hawks, the master of rapid-fire comedic dialogue, it tells the story of nerdy language scholar Bertram Potts (Gary Cooper, in one of his best "aw-shucks" performances, along with "Mr. Deeds Goes To Town") who lives in a house with seven other stodgy, albeit older bachelor scholars, all of whom are working on an encyclopedia.
Upon discovering that his knowledge of slang is outdated, Potts bravely ventures forth into the real world, where he discovers flashy (literally, as the dress she is first seen in is sequined and purposely lit so as to momentarily "blind" Potts when she shows up at his house in it) nightclub singer Katherine "Sugar Puss" O'Shea (Barbara Stanwyck). He is taken in by O'Shea's gusty performance of "Drum Boogie", (accompanied by a famous drummer of the times, Gene Krupa, who reminds me onstage a bit of "The Who" drummer Keith Moon), and her lively banter, and asks her to help him with his slang research. She takes him up on his invitation very abruptly by showing up at his home that same night, claiming to be arriving to help, when in fact she's trying to hide. The resulting storyline is predictable, fast-paced, extremely well-written, thoroughly dated, and filled with 1940's slang...in other words, to anyone who is a fan of this genre...completely captivating and charming.
With this in mind, and taken as a movie of the times, it's a comedic gem. Gary Cooper (my all-time personal favorite actor) is absolutely sexy here, believe it or not, and Barbara Stanwyck is perfect as the title's sassy little "Ball Of Fire", with her brash, streetwise exterior but ultimately soft heart, climbing onto a stack of books to reach the 6'4" Potts so she can show him the meaning of "yum-yum". Also, the above-mentioned dress she first wears, which is featured in most of the ads for the film is amazing; it's something Bob Mackie might have designed for Cher, and she looks gorgeous in it. The outstanding supporting parts are interesting, clever, and except for the gangster parts, individually well-fleshed. Veteran character actors such as Oskar Homolka (the servant in "Mr. Sardonicus") and Henry Travers (the angel in "It's Wonderful Life") help lend charm to the story. Dana Andrews ("Laura") and Dan Duryea ("The Little Foxes"), are effective, if somewhat wasted, in small parts as typical sterotypical 1940's mobsters.
You'd have to enjoy these kind of old screwball, dated comedies of the '40's to love this one...and I do.
Side note: the roles of the seven professors (excluding Cooper's) were inspired by Disney's dwarfs from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs".
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2001
Format: VHS Tape
Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper are perfectly cast as Sugarpuss O'Shea and Professor Bertram Potts. Potts and seven other erudite, academically entrenched professors are creating a new encyclopedia. Their residence is the perfect hiding place for Sugarpuss, when her gangster boy friend (played by Dana Andrews) forces her to go on the lam in order to avoid a subpoena. Using subterfuge and feminine wiles, she easily convinces the professors to let her stay with them. Her pretence being that linguist Potts will benefit from her expertise with modern (1941) slang. After a lifetime of academic isolation, Potts is attracted by her worldly sophistication and insouciance. This attraction rapidly turns into love, and this feeling becomes mutual. "Ball of Fire" is an exceptional movie. Let's not spoil it by revealing too much. If you haven't seen "Ball of Fire", it's well worth seeing. It's so outstanding that one viewing is not enough.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
For me, the highlight of this terrific comedy is the perfect performance by Barbara Stanwyck. Although not a conventional beauty by Hollywood standards, she is very sexy and funny as nightclub singer Sugarpuss O'Shea, who ends up hiding out with eight stuffy professors writing up a new encyclopaedia. She needs to hide to protect her crook boyfriend Dana Andrews, and the professors want her there because she can explain to them the meanings behind modern slang, since the professors are anything but hip and modern. Gary Cooper plays the professor responsible for the language sections of the encyclopaedia, and he quickly falls in love with her. Of course, numerous complications arise. Stanwyck, one of classic film's most versatile actresses, is terrific, and all of the professors (including Cooper) deliver warm, affectionate performances. The scene where Stanwyck gets them dancing is hilarious. This is classic comedy has been somewhat overlooked, but don't miss a chance to watch it.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2000
This comic masterpiece must be one of the best kept secrets in film history. I had only vaguely heard of it, and what I'd heard of it was all negative. But the cast (Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck and Dana Andrews) and screenwriter (Billy Wilder) and director (Howard Hawks) intrigued me, I rented this DVD and was blown away. I immediately bought the DVD, which is crystal-clear. Gary Cooper is the unwordly egghead who becomes entangled with the very-worldly stripper Barbara Stanwyck. Dana Andrews is her gangster boy friend. Sparks fly between the three of them. It is fast, funny, and surprisingly warm for a Howard Hawks film. But then, so was the Cooper/Hawks Sergeant York warm, perhaps Cooper gave Hawks a level of warmth that other stars didn't. Whatever, don't miss this wonderful, wonderful screwball farce.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2002
Format: VHS Tape
Rollicking satire is what is dished out in this superb 1941 valentine to 40's jive and slang. Rarely have written words and actors to deliver them ever experienced a happier marriage than here as the wonderful Barbara Stanwyck adds another triumph (and another Oscar nomination to boot!) to her list as the jive talking, flashy show girl come mobster's gal Sugarpuss O'Shea. Playing opposite her is frequent co star Gary Cooper as the upright and very proper Prof Bertram Potts in the Billy Wilder written, Oscar nominated screw ball comedy hit "Ball Of Fire".
Directed by veteran Howard Hawks this terrific screen confection is loosely based on the idea of Snow White and the Seven Dwarf's in its telling of a group of mostly elderly professors, led by the younger Cooper who have been hired to write a new encyclopedia containing all the up to date slang terms used in society. Into their tightly academic and isolated world waltzes the flashy woman of experience Sugarpuss O' Shea on the lam from the vice squad who needs a place to safely hide out in till the heat gets off her and her crooked fiance . In a delightful way she proceeds to turn the professors snug little world upside down with her gangster connections, sassy language loud music and free and easy manner with all of the professors who all become quite smitten with this rare bird who has flown into their nest.
Barbara Stanwyck was born to play Sugarpuss and had already teamed beautifully with the lanky Gary Cooper in "Meet John Doe". Barbara was as expert in comedy as she was in the hard hitting dramas she is probably better known for. In "Ball Of Fire" she has the perfect screen teaming with Cooper contrasting her tart and breezy mobster's moll character with Cooper's sound and respectable academic with no experience of the opposite sex. Of special delight are Sugarpuss's wonderful exchanges with the elderly professors (expert character actors like Henry Travers, S.Z. Sakall and Tully Marshall among them in truly delightful performances).By employing her considerable feminine wiles and smart talk she manages to not only convince them to let her stay with them in the house but also dupes them into literally becoming her personal bodyguards when her fiance (Dana Andrews in an early performance) starts to cause her trouble. Prof. Potts finds himself attracted to her worldly manner and proposes marriage with a minisule diamond ring that pales beside the vulgar nuckle duster given to her by her mobster fiance. Sugarpuss also finds herself falling for the prim Professor's sincerity and what ensures is a mad race to the altar complete with interfering mobsters, machine guns and the professors taking on the mobsters at their own game.
Under Hawk's breezy direction this madness all works beautifully and the film is unique in containing a very complete catalogue of all the early war time slang expressions which are a delight to listen to and are as fresh and funny today as they were back in the forties. Edith Head's designs for Stanwyck are wonderful as always and Cooper's shock at Barbara's gold lame show costume slit right up the sides in their first scene together is priceless.
"Ball Of Fire' is fast, sexy and great fun all round with the stars at their absolute peak. I always laugh at Barbara's reactions to the stuffy professors, the gem being when S.K Sakall is stroking her hand repeatedly and Barbara simply states "Do you mind if I have that back?" Great stuff delivered with relish and it's evident that they were all having as much fun filming this piece as the audience has watching it. Simple and extremely innocent it indeed is but what's wrong with that? It easily beats many of todays so called attempts at a heart warming comedy. Enjoy Barbara and her beloved Coop at their best in "Ball Of Fire".
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 13, 2012
As this is the only way you can get this movie right now- there's nothing for it. Please be aware though that the framing on this release is COMPLETELY messed up. People's heads getting chopped off and such. I am familiar with this movie as I have a Criterion Laserdisc release from many years ago (LD player starting to die, so I wanted a replacement). If you are familiar with Criterion, you know that their releases are always respectful of the film. This version was not. If you have no other way to see this film, I highly recommend it. Otherwise, hope for another release.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2007
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
We are talking about the best of the best in romantic comedy. Here is one of the 2 couples that stood out during the golden age of American films. (Capra, Cukor and Preston Sturges, each in their own styles, also gave us some of the greatest classics in the genre). Here Cooper plays himself, the innocent, sweet and honest man who is incapable of doing a bad deed. He and seven older learned men are trying to assemble a modern encyclopedia in New York City. Their search for the newest street slang causes them run into 'trouble-girl' Stanwyck and her gang.
With touches of gang thriller and romantic comedy, its not very ambitious plot captivates by the sheer charm of its stars and the magical touch of genial Howard Hawks, who has a knack for making great classics look simple and unpretentious.
Capra, Hawks and Cukor; Stewart, Cooper and Grant or Jean Arthur, Barbara Stanwyck and Hepburn... whatever the combination it's always a winner. Truly the stuff classics are made of.
Even if any new edition of this classic is welcome, we must still hope for a better treatment (some extras and better print quality) of this treasure of American movie-making history in the future.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2010
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
The year 1941 should have held very fond memories for both Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper. Each had three good to excellent films open that year that showed off their acting skills both comic and dramatic to maximum advantage. Stanwyck shone in Preston Sturges' scintillating "The Lady Eve"(excellent), Gary Cooper starred in "Sergeant York" for which he won his first Best Actor Oscar. Then there were the two films in which they both co-starred: Frank Capra's social drama "Meet John Doe"(good) and finally this one, the romantic comedy "Ball of Fire"(near excellent).
One of the best screenwriting teams in the Golden Age of Hollywood, Charles Brackett and Bill Wilder penned the original screenplay, a very savvy 20th century update of the classic fairy tale "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". Stanwyck's Snow White is called Sugarpuss O'Shea, her Prince Charming, gangling Professor Bertram Potts, Cooper of course, and the Seven Dwarfs are seven elderly professors of slight stature. The eight professors, all bachelors, live together in Manhattan in a house owned by the Daniel S. Totten Foundation for which they are working on compiling an encyclopedia. They are totally immersed in their work, and as such lead very sheltered, insular lives sternly kept in line by their tyrant of a housekeeper Miss Bragg (Kathleen Howard). When Potts discovers his current topic, American slang woefully outdated he ventures out into the city to do research. At day's end he finds himself at a nightclub where the star attraction is a sizzling singer called Sugarpuss O'Shea. Intrigued by her snappy line of patter, Potts goes backstage to try to enlist her participation in a slang workshop. She turns him down flat, but he leaves her his card in case she changes her mind. Sugarpuss shortly does, when she finds out the police are after her as a material witness against her gangster boyfriend Joe Lilac (Dana Andrews). She needs a hideout, finds Potts card, and next thing you know she's moved in pretending she's enthusiastic in helping him learn the latest slang. Just as Snow White's living with the Seven Dwarfs changes their lives for the better, so does Sugarpuss' influence bring the eight professors back into the vital real world. However Sugarpuss' character also changes positively, she becomes less hard-boiled, her finer side begins to emerge as she begins to be fond of them all. Bertram's long dormant hormones awake with a vengeance; despite herself Sugarpuss is touched by his gentle naïveté and starts to be attracted to him. Except, what of Joe Lilac who wants to marry her so as his wife she can't testify against him, and his two goons that are keeping tabs on her?
Some previous reviews have called the film dated because of the outmoded slang. I disagree, it's a snapshot of it's time, the USA in the early 1940's, and the initial motivation of the plot is that Professor Potts finds out how quickly the slang can become outdated. Also with texting and all the acronyms such as "OMG" and "LOL" going on these days, it's very pertinent. Quite fun to listen to American slang circa 1941, several of the terms are very quaint and picturesque such as: "smackeroo", "clip the mooch", "shove in your clutch", and my personal favorite "bop the apple" (hit the baseball). And, calling the feet "dogs" then is no more ludicrous than the current slang term "junk" used to label a guy's genitals!
Barbara Stanwyck has been grouped as one of the three "strong woman" actresses in films of the 1930's and 1940's, along with Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, and both have unjustly overshadowed her. She's an infinitely better actress than Crawford, and never chews the scenery as much as Davis can at her worst. Sugarpuss O'Shea the slick, hard as nails singer who winds up redeemed by love, is one of her most vibrant, delightful portrayals. The shift in her character is beautifully subtle, very delicately handled by Stanwyck, and always believable, with the additional bonus of her being provocatively alluring as well! This role landed her a second Best Actress nomination, probably in addition to her gorgeous dual performance in "The Lady Eve" that same year, but in yet another Oscar injustice she lost the prize!
This is one of Gary Cooper's funnier characterizations, he's quite inspired as the reserved, self contained Professor Bertram Potts, whose exposure to the "ball of fire" known as "Sugarpuss" results in his own dimly lit pilot light to start burning brightly. His frenzied bolting up the stairs after Sugarpuss has given him his first yum-yum, to dash cold water on his neck is a great piece of physical comedy, as is his spastic loose limbed fight with Joe Lilac near the end of the film. He masters a marvelous double take when Sugarpuss removes her fur coat the night she arrives at the foundation to reveal her scanty costume showcasing her fabulous legs. Also his goofily dreamy expression tinged with lust after Sugarpuss and he have had a little yum- yum is priceless. Yet he doesn't make the professor a buffoon and gives him a simple dignity that is very appealing, and makes it apparent why he is able to melt Sugarpuss' heart.
All of the seven professors give marvelous supporting performances, especially the superb character actors Henry Travers, S.Z Sakall, Oscar Homolka and Richard Haydn. In an early role, future star Dana Andrews is both smirking and menacing as Joe Lilac and Dan Duryea and Ralph Peters as his two thugs make perfect oafs, smug and stupid at the same time. A special nod of appreciation to Gene Krupa and his orchestra who perform the catchy "Drum Boogie" with Stanwyck. And last but no means least, director Howard Hawks, who developed the "Hawks woman" in film, the bright, attractive, self assured woman who was man's equal and insisted on it, such as Katharine Hepburn in "Bringing Up Baby", Jean Arthur in "Only Angels Have Wings", Rosalind Russell in "His Girl Friday" and Lauren Bacall in "To Have and Have Not". This was a trailblazing new woman in film, and Sugarpuss is one of the best examples.