Tuesday, 3 February 2015

BALL OF FIRE - Review By Greg Klymkiw - The TIFF BELL LIGHTBOX series "Ball of Fire: The Films of Barbara Stanwyck". Curated by the inimitable Senior Programmer James Quandt.

Prince Charming, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs:
Howard Hawks/Billy Wilder/Charles Brackett-Style
Ball of Fire (1941)
Dir. Howard Hawks
Scr. Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper, Oscar Homolka, Henry Travers, S.Z. Sakall, Tully Marshall, Leonid Kinskey, Richard Haydn, Aubrey Mather, Dana Andrews, Ralph Peters, Dan Duryea, Kathleen Howard, Allen Jenkins, Gene Krupa

Review By Greg Klymkiw
"Yes, I love him. I love those hick shirts he wears with the boiled cuffs and the way he always has his vest buttoned wrong. Looks like a giraffe, and I love him. I love him because he's the kind of a guy that gets drunk on a glass of buttermilk, and I love the way he blushes right up over his ears. Love him because he doesn't know how to kiss, the jerk! " - Sugarpuss O'Shea

In this day and age, how hard would it be for movies to include characters with colourful monickers like Sugarpuss O'Shea? (Accent on "like" since there can only be one Sugarpuss O'Shea as portrayed by Barbara Stanwyck.) Seriously, it's not as if anyone in real-life during 1941, when the great screwball comedy Ball of Fire was made, actually sported sobriquets (officially christened or not) like Sugarpuss O'Shea, anyway. So, hell, 2015 is as good a year as any for screenwriters and directors to embrace similarly delectable appellations in their motion pictures.

And dialogue? What's with movies today? Come on, get with the programme, dudes! (AND dudettes!) Really! Does anything in the 21st Century come close to the magnificent banter as wrought by those esteemed Ball of Fire scribes Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett? Check out this gloriously sexy, funny and eminently romantic repartee twixt Sugarpuss (Stanwyck) and Professor Bertram Potts (Gary Cooper):

Sugarpuss: You think we could sort of begin the beguine right now?

Potts: Well, it's nearly one o'clock, Miss O'Shea.

Sugarpuss: Oh, foo, professor. Let's get ourselves a couple drinks, light the fire maybe, and you can start working on me right away.

Potts: I wouldn't think of imposing on you at this hour.

Sugarpuss: I figured on working all night.

Yes, it's always important for a gentleman to start working on Barbara Stanwyck tout suite! Imposing, indeed, if you ask this fella'.

Like any first rate romantic comedy, we've got a seemingly mismatched couple whom we desperately desire to get un-mismatched by getting together for an eternity of blissful whoopee by coming to appreciate and love each other's differences and in so doing, discover a few things or two about their own charming selves.

We begin with the introduction of a most unlikely Prince Charming in the form of Bertram Potts who, along with seven bookish codgers (Henry Travers, Oscar Homolka, Tully Marshall, S.Z. Sakall, Leonid Kinskey, Aubrey Mather and Richard Haydn), live and work in a stuffy old domicile branded the Totten Foundation by their late benefactor who has charged the men with writing a brand new encyclopedia bearing his surname and, of course, a decent entry within the A-Zs of all human knowledge.

Though our gents are well behind schedule and over budget (they're still working on the letter "S"), Potts is especially obsessed with his dictionary of contemporary American slang. After a conversation with the local garbageman (Allen Jenkins), our tightly-collared leading man discovers he's only begun to scratch the surface of the vulgar verbal vernacular of the modern American. He drags his coterie of stuffy old gents to a nightclub, hoping to connect with the beat of the country's au courant argot.

And WHAT a beat they connect with.

Legendary drummer Gene Krupa and his Orchestra are playing to a packed house and it's here where Potts encounters the woman of his dreams (only he doesn't quite know it yet). Krupa and his boys are blasting through a blistering rendition of "Drum Boogie" which gets even hotter with a closeup of a gorgeous hand clasping a curtain, its slender, titillatingly provocative finger tapping in rhythm to the beat until the hand clutches the fabric, wrenches it open and the sensual digit's owner, none other than hot chanteuse Sugarpuss O'Shea parades onto the floor and sexily croons along to the mirthful stylings of the orchestra.

Now, allow me please, an interjection not unlike the queries I opened my review with. Why, Oh Why, do we never see nightclubs in contemporary movies like the one on display here? Probably, because nightclubs like this don't exist anymore. Well, GOD DAMN IT, they should!

Before reading on, check out this clip from Ball of Fire and tell me afterwards you're not salivating at the prospect of such a nightclub appearing in a modern movie and on every bloody street corner on the North American continent.

Gene Krupa Orchestra -Drum Boogie-1941 by redhotjazz

And now try telling me that wunderkind director Damien Chazelle shouldn't have included repeat helpings of this clip in his otherwise perfect motion picture Whiplash.

But, I digress. Here's where Ball of Fire kicks into full gear. Sugarpuss is hooked up with mob boss Joe Lilac (a slimy Dana Andrews) and the District Attorney wants to subpoena her to testify against him. It's perfect! She needs a hideout and Potts needs an ideal guide to the lexicon of the savages. Lilac's henchmen Duke Pastrami (an even slimier Dan Duryea) and Asthma Anderson (the bumblingly slimy Ralph Peters) dispatch her into the lair of Prince Charming and the Seven Dwarfs of the esteemed Totten Foundation.

Here's where they fall in love (though they don't know it yet). Here's where the seeds of betrayal are sown. Here's where Ball of Fire delivers laughs and romance aplenty until its stirring climactic chicanery involving guns-a-blazing, mad-dashes and lovers destined to be together being ripped apart and brought back into each other's arms for some very hot Yum-Yum-Yum.

And if you want to know what a yum-yum-yum is, you're going to have to see the movie. I'm not spoiling that one for you.

The Film Corner Rating: ***** 5-Stars

Ball of Fire plays Thursday, February 12 at 9 p.m. at TIFF BELL LIGHTBOX in James Quandt's amazing series "Ball of Fire: The Films of Barbara Stanwyck". The film is presented in a GLORIOUS 35MM ARCHIVAL PRINT. For further info, visit the TIFF website HERE. As well, there are many Barbara Stanwyck films from this TIFF series which can be ordered directly from the following links: Buy Barbara Stanwyck movies in Canada HERE and/or Buy Barbara Stanwyck movies in the USA or from anywhere in the world HERE. You can even click on any of these links and order ANY movie you want so long as you keep clicking through to whatever you want to order. By doing so, you'll be contributing to the ongoing maintenance of The Film Corner.