Ball of Fire
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Sexy wisecracking nightclub singer Sugarpuss O'Shea is a hot tomato who needs to be kept on ice: mobster boyfriend Joe Lilac is suspected of murder and Sugarpuss' testimony could put him away. Naive Professor Bertram Potts meets Miss O'Shea while researching an article on slang and in true romantic comedy fashion the two worlds collide. When Miss O'Shea hides out with Potts and his fellow professors everyone learns something new: the professors how to cha-cha and Potts the meaning of "yum-yum"!System Requirements:Run Time: 111 minutesFormat: DVD MOVIE Genre: WESTERN/MISC. Rating: NR UPC: 027616075161 Manufacturer No: M107518
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And comedy it is from first to last. Here’s how it played out. A group of professors, you know the usual shoulder to the wheel stuffy suspects from academia who have their heads in the clouds knocking into every earth-bound object in their way, had been commissioned by a private foundation to write an encyclopedia. You know write up the totality of the human experience in about twenty or thirty volumes for future high school and college students to refer to when doing assorted term papers (now mercifully superseded by Wikipedia and the like although the temptation to crib whole sections by those self-same lazy students has probably not abated). Said work to be done in a spacious New York City brownstone and done at an apparently leisurely pace. Naturally when writing up the totality of human experience in twenty or thirty volumes a certain division of labor is necessary. The question of language, the English language of course, had been assigned to the youngest of the professors. Potts from Ivy League Princeton, played by long tall Gary Cooper last reviewed in this space while defending a town’s honor in High Noon. Since he will become one of the central figures we will key in on him. Potts’ (I refuse to call the august Cooper “Pottsy” as others will) area of work just then was on American slang (expressions which probably got transmitted world-wide as such things goes once an expression gains a critical mass). He had prepared a beautiful article fully footnoted, with secondary references noted as well, probably a big bibliography to boot, but after running into a trash-man he had an epiphany. His damn beautifully footnoted and referenced article was way out of date, the slang went out with his grandfather’s spats. Tear that thing up, no question.
Here was Potts' new take. He will, fortunate to be in the Big Apple, to be in New Jack City, to be, well, you know New York, run around town to local gin mills to hear what the heavy drinkers have to say, maybe the racetrack over in Long Island to take note of the touts, listen to cabbies gabbing, check out the crippled newsies hawking their wares, sit at a table in the Automat overhearing what workaday lunch talk poured forth, and fatally, take in a nightclub act to see what slang popular dance and serious jazz were up to. All duly noted. That fatal last locale was not really fatal fatal but led to his comeuppance, of sorts. See it was at that unnamed nightclub that one staid proper Professor Potts ran smack daub into one nightclub singer Sugarpuss O’Shea (yeah, I know, where did they get that one), played by a fetching bouncy filled to the gills with slang young Barbara Stanwyck who was last seen in this space beguiling one Fred MacMurray into murder most foul, murder for hire, in the film adaptation of James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity. Sugarpuss certainly had all the answers and while she could not sing worth a damn (at least according to my sources Stanwyck was lip-synching that Drum Boogie while showing off some nice gams on stage) she could dance to the beat of Gene Krupa’s drums (no fakery there, no fakery on the whole orchestra blowing like Gabriel blew his horn way back when).
The problem for a gal like Sugarpuss though, a gal who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, on her way up in this hard old world she didn’t meet many professor types. Probably had lost her virtue on the way up too. In fact she was shacked up with a no good gunsel, a hood, a mobster, a bad guy named Joe Lilac (played by Dana Andrews last mentioned here as the good guy cop in Laura in a fairly small role), who the police would have liked to have a moment with, would like to get seriously under the lights in the precinct basement for a bunch of unsolved murders of bad guy New York citizens but citizens nevertheless, who was walking around free as a bird. And the reason that our Joe could walk around in that condition was that under his orders Sugarpuss, who had information that might be helpful to the fuzz, had taken a powder, had gone on the lam. On the lam straight to the Professors’ digs.
Of course the cover story was that Sugarpuss, along with assorted other denizens of New York life, of Damon Runyon’s New York, newsies, pug-uglies, touts, working stiffs, were furthering the quest for academic excellence under the guidance of Professor Potts. Naturally though a guy who has had his head in the clouds, has been hanging around with seven other stuffed shirt professors with their collective noses to the grindstone to long was clueless about worldly nightclub performers. And certainly clueless about that jasmine scent, that fresh bath soap smell, that glimmer in her hair, those well-turned gams, that has him in a dither every time he was within five feet of her. So naturally our professor threw all caution to the wind and fell for Sugarpuss head over heels. She, for her part, has a little twinkle in her eye for him but mainly she was playing him for a fool to cover for her darling Joe.
Oh yeah, back to Joe who had the big legal problem if Sugarpuss surfaced soon anywhere near New York City. On advice of counsel, wise advice under other circumstances if you were rooting for the Professor to sweep Suagarpuss off her feet, Joe proposed to her under the theory that a wife could not testify against her husband. Nice play. Nicer still for a girl from the wrong side of the tracks among the fellahin was the huge rock he lays on her as an engagement ring. Any girl, high society or tramp, from a wrong gee or not, from wrong side of town or not, would have to take that rock-laden proposal seriously. So Sugarpuss did, figured to finally ride the blind to easy street. Then damn it didn’t naïve old Potts gum up the works and propose marriage to her as well. With a dinky Woolworth’s dime-store ring that might as well have come from a crackerjacks box, maybe did, and which any sensible frail would blow off as some much bad air.
But see there was something about Potts that had gotten under her skin, had Sugarpuss feeling a little out of sorts, something she couldn’t put into words later when she went big for him. Stuff about him getting drunk on buttermilk, the way he blushed when he was around her, his inability to kiss worth a damn. Go figure with dames, right. But that was later, later after Joe Lilac had made his big goof-ball play. Joe was in a rush to get married, to get back above ground, but Sugarpuss was, as frills will for no known to man reason, stalling. Joe decided to speed things up, decided to foul her game, by telling the Professor the facts of life, that he was being played for a sucker by Sugarpuss, was being strung along. That was that once Joe dropped the other shoe.
Well not quite because Joe didn’t get to be king of the hill in the tough New York underworld by being some Professor named Potts from Princeton’s patsy and so he has his boys strong-arm the professors in their brownstone quarters in order to get Sugarpuss to do his bidding. Wrong move by Joe as the profs used their collective non-violent wisdom to take care of his henchmen. Then take off for Jersey to stop the wedding, of course getting there just in time to stop the ceremony, and just in time to let the police round up Joe and his cronies. And so the Professor and his tart, okay, okay his gal with the heart of gold lived happily ever after. Well almost, almost happily ever after because naturally being a twist Sugarpuss had to balk one last time thinking she was a tramp unworthy of the good professor. A little “didn’t know how to kiss” kiss on his part left things looking up as the screen fated. Hey, this one is a good one for 2015 as it was in 1941, hell, we still have the night-takers about and we still can use a couple of hours of escape. This one is aces, pure aces.