Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ball of Fire

Ball of Fire, 1941
Dir: Howard Hawks
December 19, 2009

Even an extreme dislike of all of Hawks' previous comedies couldn't dissuade me from having a rollicking time watching this. Maybe the masterful triple threat of Hawks directing, Gregg Toland as cinematographer (Citizen Kane (1941), and a screenplay written by Billy Wilder (Sunset Blvd. (1950) pushed it over the edge. Seriously, Deep Focus. It's structure, while being fine, isn't really what makes this an important film. It's a piece of pop cinema for 1941 for sure, as a gangster comedy, but this ain't Analyze This (1999). The social commentary that Wilder's script adds is pretty subtle while not taking away from any kind of entertainment value, which is why I think this is good. Not only does it take subtle jabs at politics, especially when people take it too seriously (some foreshadowing of McCarthyism), but the sexual innuendo is off the charts for a film from 1941. Gary Cooper plays a nerdy (really, more nerds?!?) English professor helping to compile an encyclopedia with the help of 7 other much older professors (based on the 7 dwarfs of Snow White) who, in an attempt to figure out the new "slang" used by real people (like "smackeroos" or "killer diller"), meets Sugarpuss O'Shea (Barbara Stanwyck), a nightclub singer who's involved with the mob. Cooper I think needs a lot of cultish love to appreciate, but Stanwyck really shines in this, throwing out her ballsy jive with a charisma that radiates with her verbal sexual aggression that must have been something of a shock for people when they first saw this. She pretty much typifies what the strong Hawksian woman is. Some of the comedy bits are a bit corny (or maybe just very 1940s), even the bit that is about "corn," but it's hard not to laugh a lot during this. Also the scene where Cooper first sees Stanwyck is a big reminder of how cool Big Band was. I'll let you decide what to think of "Matchbox Boogie." Gene Krupa also shows why he was the hero and inspiration of many crazy rock drummers, especially Keith Moon. This film has something for everyone, and is totally worth watching.


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