Tuesday’s Overlooked A/V: Ball of Fire

Ball of Fire, a classic screwball comedy riffing on Runyonesque patois and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves: really, you say? Overlooked?

You’d be amazed, but even students in my film classes seem entirely unacquainted with films many would consider classic. I suppose it’s no different from those who’d never read Beowulf or Chaucer, but it’s so easy to remedy the lack. But over and over, I hear that gobsmacking sentence:

I don’t watch black and white films.

Insert image of me blinking in disbelief despite hearing this over and over. Admittedly, it had been ages since I’d seen it and when Anne Billson mentioned it on Twitter as a terrific version of the fairy tale, Of course Stanwyck is outstanding as the tough talking dancer with a well-hidden heart of gold, but I have to admit watching again that I just adore Cooper in this role. I’m not overly fond of him on the whole but he is just so different from the stoically honest humorless character he often plays. There’s such a genuine, joyful openness in Professor Potts.

Stanwyck’s Sugarpuss O’Shea offers her the chance to shine as she does in The Lady Eve. She’s such a noir goddess, folks don’t always give her props for the comedy. She even gets to fight! The seven other linguistics professors are just so cute, too. They’re all Bashful! With spats, too. Kathleen Howard’s Miss Bragg finds just the right balance of ‘battleaxe’ and tenderness; she’s a worthy opponent to Sugarpuss. And Dana Andrews is such a reptile!

You can’t really go wrong with Howard Hawks. The Brackett and Wilder script just sings, full of fun, delight and a great message of getting academics out of the ivory tower and into the streets.

Plus there’s Gene Krupa drumming: aces!

See the round-up of TOA/V recs over at Todd’s.


  1. Todd Mason says:

    Even more incredibly, my father has actually expressed some confusion over the years as to why anyone would prefer to shoot a film in b&w over color…ever…

  2. Richard says:

    This is my second favorite Stanwick (or Stanwyck, if you prefer) film just being edged out by the other one you mention, The Lady Eve. O know lots of people like her better in her tough crime films, but she’s such a ace in these comedies and plays so well against Cooper and Fonda.

    1. katelaity says:

      They’re both wonderful films; comedy is so much more difficult than drama, I think she’s really amazing to be able to pull off both with such aplomb. I think of the cruelty she brings to life in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and then match it against the sheer FUN of this role — impressive stuff.

  3. Widdershins says:

    Love this movie!

    1. katelaity says:

      It’s a great one.

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