|Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. Ball of Fire, indeed.|
It does appear that the fairy tale motif got away from him a bit. The parallel is made way too obvious at the beginning of the film in some rather unnecessary narrative text, and then never seems to make its way back in, apart from a few risque quips about apples. But then, setting aside its idiotic premise and gaping plot holes, Ball of Fire is a perfectly delightful film on its own merits.
The seven dwarfs (and there are eight of them) are played by a motley collection of some of the finest old man character actors in Hollywood: Oskar Homolka (The Seven Year Itch, Sabotage), Henry Travers (It's a Wonderful Life, The Bells of St. Mary's), S.Z. Sakall (Casablanca, Yankee Doodle Dandy), Tully Marshall (Scarface, The Big Trail), Leonid Kinskey (Casablanca, The Talk of the Town), Richard Haydn (Alice in Wonderland, The Sound of Music), Aubrey Mather (House of Fear, Adventures of Don Juan), and Gary Cooper (Pride of the Yankees, High Noon). One of these things, is not like the others...
|Sugarpuss O'Shea and the eight lexicographers.|
The devil, they say is in the details, and it is certainly the detailed craftsmanship that Wilder and director Howard Hawks brought to this film that gives it its punch. The seven supplemental dwarfs are every one of them individuals, or at least individual takes on the fuddy-duddy old academic. Although they do tend to move in a pack (or a conga line) and seldom show much difference of opinion from each other, they also never seem like one character in seven bodies.
Sugarpuss's nightclub act is very capably backed by Gene Krupa and orchestra, although even this hardly seems necessary, as Stanwyck's legs surely need no musical accompaniment. As an encore, the band gathers around a table and reprises the song ("Drum Boogie") with a pair of matches for drum sticks and the tune being carried by hushed staccato whispers. All too often musical numbers in non-musicals end up cumbersome and irrelevant, weighing the film down with several minutes of non-plot. That is assuredly not the case here. Not only is the music interesting in its own right, but more importantly, it all serves to advance one of the primary themes of the film, i.e., that Barbara Stanwyck is sexy as all get out.
|Dana Andrews, left. Coop learned how to box by reading a book in the car.|
Coop is well at home in this sort of role, as a bumbling, naive, boy next door, and makes the young professor both believable and likable, without appearing impossibly stupid, as often happens with "living under a rock" types. After Sugarpuss demonstrates the meaning of "yum yum," he dashes from the room to apply cool water to the back of his neck before he can continue talking with her. When he returns, he shyly mumbles, "Would you, Miss Sugarpuss, would you yum me just once more?" Ordinarily, dialog as hoky as this would break the spell for me, making me groan in pain rather than sympathizing with the character's own awkwardness. Yet somehow here, it's just adorable.
|Somehow I don't think Walt's Snow could pull off a dress like that.|