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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Ball of Fire
Ball of Fire
HBO
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Heather Picker | posted January 4, 2000 | E-mail the Author
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In the screwball comedy Ball of Fire, Gary Cooper plays an English professor, Bertrand Potts, who has spent the last eight years in seclusion with seven colleagues, compiling an encyclopedia. When he discovers that the slang terms he was going to use in the encyclopedia are outdated, he enlists the help of a group of "normal" folk with healthy slang vocabularies to assist him in compiling terms.

One of the contributors is Sugarpuss O'Shea (Barbara Stanwyck), a burlesque dancer and gangster's moll who has to hide from the authorities because her boyfriend is in trouble with the law. Sugarpuss and Professor Potts become involved, jeopardizing their lives and the encyclopedia project in the process. Never mind the fact that she has been deceiving him to bide time before hastily planned nuptials to her mob boyfriend, who himself has only proposed because he faces criminal charges and Sugarpuss wouldn't have to testify against him if they were married. Her indecisiveness when wedding bells finally ring is contrived; the plot is wearing thin by this point, but Stanwyck and Cooper skillfully keep the film afloat.

Ball of Fire was one of the last screwball comedies made before World War II, and though it isn't as frenetically funny as other Howard Hawks comedies, the A Song is Born. The script was written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, and Wilder's influence is more evident, though he has dismissed the film as a hasty effort (note the half-baked Snow White references). Three years later, in 1944, he worked with Stanwyck on Double Indemnity.

The DVD: Ball of Fire, distributed by HBO, looks absolutely wonderful for a film of its age (it was made in 1941). The transfer is clean and there is great contrast between grays. The mono soundtrack is crisp and clear (slight static was detectable two times, both for only a few seconds), highlighting Alfred Newman's delightful score. Unfortunately, there is no trailer, only cast bios. Includes standard language and scene selections, as well as subtitles.
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