February 10, 2014

Movie Monday: Ball of Fire

I am not at all surprised this film was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay award. Granted, having a stellar cast and a brilliant director certainly helps, but the screenplay is fantastic fun, which is important when one of the main characters is an English nerd.


It starts with a dozen man all living in the same house, devoted to a single cause: writing a new, more-complete encyclopedia for the English-speaking world. Each of them has their own areas of expertise they contribute to the project: history, geography, botany. After years, they are all the way up to the letter S.

Bertram Potts (Gary Cooper), their language expert, is working on the “Slang” section when a chance encounter gives him the rude awakening, that being cloistered in a house of dusty books means that the English language has moved on without him, and he needs to do some field research. This takes him to various places, like baseball games, restaurants, and nightclubs. At the nightclub, he encounters a floor performer, named Sugarpuss O’Shea (Barbara Stanwyck), and I know what you’re thinking, but she’s a singer. Bertram asks Sugarpuss to participate in a study to help him learn modern slang, but she blows him off. A few hours later, she shows up on his doorstep with no explanation except that she has decided she does want to be part of the study, and she’s going to move in to the bachelor pad indefinitely.

While the other “professors” are giddy at the thought of having a pretty young woman living in the house, Bertram has reservations. He’s lived his entire life as a sheltered prodigy, and has no “life experience” outside of cold academia. In his mind, a female in the building (aside from their elderly cook) spells dangerous distraction from their main purpose. When he finally orders Sugarpuss to find a new living situation, she confesses a passionate love for him, and says that was the reason she wanted to live there in the first place.

Unknown to Bertram, Sugarpuss is already in a relationship, with gangster Joe Lilac (Dana Andrews, a film noir icon). Lilac is in trouble with the police, the cops are looking for Sugarpuss, she needed a place to hide, so she wormed her way into the encyclopedia mansion. To stay there, she has to keep Bertram blindsided with love. Her plan works a little too well, however, and Bertram falls head over heels. To the point that he even proposes to Sugarpuss, a few days after meeting her.

Because she isn’t actually a heartless hussy, Sugarpuss starts to feel guilty about using Bertram’s emotions to protect another man, even her fiance. And she also gets to experience being courted by a real gentleman, albeit a ridiculously na├»ve one. But the police start closing in, Lilac is getting desperate, and she has to decide whether to stick with the crook or with the brain.

It’s kind of your classic “bad boy vs. the geek” love story, only without the direct competition angle. And with a script that revolves around the English language, you know it has to be solid, snappy dialogue. Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck are wonderful together, and each in their signature-style roles, he being the galumphy, awkward “aw shucks” leading man, Stanwyck is the sassy, saucy femme fatale, only this time without the fatale, since it’s a comedy.

“Ball of Fire” will be on TCM on Tuesday, Feb 11, at 9:15 am CST.

Feb 11
Best Original Screenplay Nominee and Winner Marathon
The Lady Eve (1941) – 7:30 am CST
Ball of Fire (1941) – 9:15 am CST
Adam’s Rib (1949) – 11:15 am CST
Designing Woman (1957) – 1:00 pm CST
Lover Come Back (1961) – 3:00 pm CST
1956 Best Adapted Screenplay Nominees
Around the World in 80 Days (1956) – 7:00 pm CST
Friendly Persuasion (1956) – 10:15 pm CST

Feb 12
1956 Best Adapted Screenplay Nominees

Giant (1956) – 5:00 am CST
Best Supporting Actress Nominee Marathon
Singin’ In the Rain (1952) – 8:30 am CST
Imitation of Life (1945) – 12:45 pm CST
The Manchurian Candidate (1962) – 3:00 pm CST
1963 Best Supporting Actress Nominees
Lilies of the Field (1963) – 12:00 am CST

Feb 13
Best Actress Nominee Marathon

Camille (1937) – 5:00 am CST
Marie Antionette (1938) – 7:00 am CST
1942 Best Actress Nominees
My Sister Eileen (1942) – 7:00 pm CST
Mrs. Miniver (1942) – 9:00 pm CST
Now, Voyager (1942) – 11:30 pm CST
Woman of the Year (1942) – 1:45 am CST
The Pride of the Yankees (1942) – 3:45 am CST

Feb 14
Best Actor Nominee Marathon

The Old Man and the Sea (1958) – 7:45 am CST
You Were Never Lovelier (1942) – 9:00 pm CST
1955 Best Actor Nominee Marathon
Love Me or Leave Me (1955) – 11:00 pm CST

Feb 15
Best Picture Nominee Marathon
The Talk of the Town (1942) – 7:00 am CST
Father of the Bride (1950) – 9:00 am CST
Field of Dreams (1989) – 5:00 pm CST
1929/1930 Best Picture Nominee Marathon
The Divorcee (1930) – 11:15 pm CST

Feb 16
Best Picture Nominee Marathon
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) – 5:00 am CST
Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) – 7:00 am CST
The Thin Man (1934) – 9:00 am CST
Picnic (1955) – 12:30 pm CST
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) – 5:00 pm CST

Feb 17
Best Sound Nominee Marathon
Gambit (1966) – 7:00 am CST
Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) – 2:00 pm CST
1962 Best Scoring of Music
The Music Man (1962) – 9:00 pm CST
Gypsy (1962) – 11:45 pm CST

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