Next up? Ball of Fire, directed by Howard Hawks – starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. Kael obviously doesn’t like it – but I love this movie. It’s one of my favorites – and I would like to step into the world of that movie and live there for a while. I especially want to go to that nightclub.
But Kael was unimpressed.
Ball of Fire 1942
The romantic collision of Sugarpuss O’Shea, a burlesque dancer (Barbara Stanwyck), and Bertram Potts, a fuddy-duddy professor (Gary Cooper), is played as if it were terribly bright, but it’s rather shrill and tiresome. Howard Hawks directed, but Brackett and Wilder did the script, and Wilder’s influence seems strong. The professor’s colleagues have corny cute names and carry on like people left over from a stock-company Viennese orchestra.
It’s so ridiculous but one of my favorite lines is so obviously from Billy Wilder. It makes me laugh every time I see it – and one of the reasons is because it is played so STRAIGHT. Henry Travers (who everyone will remember as Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life) plays one of the 7 professors working on the encyclopedia. (There’s obviously a Snow White and the 7 Dwarves theme here – I think it might have even been originally called that.) But anyway, all the professors are awake way past their bedtime, listening to Gary Cooper tell the shocking tales of his time out in the streets, gathering slang. Suddenly – even though it’s one o’clock in the morning – the doorbell rings. All the professors look at one another, and mutter shocked phrases: “Who on earth could that be?” “At this hour of the night?” Suddenly, Henry Travers states, “Oh, that must be the statistics on San Salvador saltpeter. I asked them to be airmailed.”
It doesn’t sound as funny as it is in the film. “the statistics on San Salvador saltpeter”. Of all the things he could have been waiting for, of all the “statistics” he needed to complete his section on the encyclopedia … that??? It’s perverse, it’s hilarious, it’s so Billy Wilder.
I love this movie.