On Ball of Fire

There is one prolonged sparring-sexy scene between Cooper and Stanwyck in the library, which ends with them in a passionate clinch. She plays a show-girl who speaks almost completely in slang, and Cooper plays a sexually inexperienced grammarian who has enlisted her help in getting to know the slang terms of the day. The scene in question is where he admits his attraction (but in a bumbling shy way) and she is putting the moves on him … The scene goes on and on and on. It is so generous with its moments. The actors are two virtuosos, at battle.

Billy Wilder co-wrote the script, so it has that WIT, that Puckish naughty cleverness (“That must be the statistics on saltpetre from San Salvador”).

But the movie doesn’t sacrifice sentiment. When it gets tender, it’s quite beautiful. I was particular moved by the defeated and yet tearful way Stanwyck admits to someone else that she loves the stuffy professor. And the LINES she says to declare her love shows Billy Wilder’s special brand of genius.

Stanwyck sits slumped in an armchair, she’s got the glimmer of tears in her eyes. She’s a tough dame, wrapped up with the wrong crowd … but you can tell she’s falling in love with Cooper … and to describe it, she says, “I’m in love with him because he gets drunk on a glass of buttermilk. I’m in love with him because he doesn’t know how to kiss …” (Then she kind of chokes up, she can’t go on anymore. Finally she resumes:) “I’m in love with him.”

I’m in love with him because he gets drunk on a glass of buttermilk.” THAT’S screenwriting.

Gary Cooper is fantastic, although it may not be obvious casting to put him in the role of a stuffy intellectual. Barbara Stanwyck is stunning. I adore the other 7 scholars (Gary Cooper plays one of an 8-man team who have been working on putting together an encyclopedia for 9 straight years). These 7 guys are character-actors you would recognize, old pros, comedic geniuses – able to create specific characters with a few broad strokes.

The impulse to make people laugh – the impulse of comedians and comedic writers – I think is one of the noblest impulses in existence.

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3 Responses to On Ball of Fire

  1. CW says:

    Barbara Stanwyck – mmmmmmmmmmmm

    Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper are the kind of people they apparently don’t make any more – in Hollywood or elsewhere. The kind of folks you can unabashedly admire. I haven’t seen that movie but anything with the two of them in it is an automatic favourite with me…

  2. red says:

    Barbara Stanwyck, mmm indeed.

    CW, you gotta check this one out. You’ll love it.

  3. Kerry says:

    Just a side note: “Ball of Fire” was remade in 1948 under the title “A Song is Born”, as a vehicle for Danny Kaye’s particular gifts. Also directed by Hawks, with Virginia Mayo in the Stanwyck role, chiefly and delightfully notable for the inclusion of such musical luminaries as Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, and Charlie Barnett. It’s not Cooper and Stanwyck, but an amusing romp in its own right.

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