Ball of Fire (1941)

Ball of Fire (1941), directed by Howard Hawks.


(The nightclub singer arrives late at the house where all the old professors are ready for bed. She is greeted by their young handsome leader)

He: Those are my colleagues. I apologize for their lack of costume.

She: Oh, that's all right, Professor.

He: And the fact that I haven't got my tie on and...

She: Oh, you know, once I watched my big brother shave.

Eight professors in a boarding house, each eccentric in his own way, are working on a new encyclopedia. They know everything, see? When their leader discovers their knowledge of contemporary slang is woefully inadequate he hits the streets for research. He strikes sparks with a nightclub singer who moves in with them while hiding from the DA who wants her to testify against her mobster boyfriend.

Would you believe that opposites attract?

Hawks demonstrates his customary skill in handling a large ensemble and giving life to even the minor characters. Plenty of snappy patter. It is very sweet how all the old guys are a little in love with the wise-cracking singer. For a few minutes the screwball comedy stops and we have a moving, poignant reflections by timid, fussy Richard Haydn on his departed wife.

Much as I revere the director and everyone else involved, I don't think it works as well as his other pictures. My problems:

Stanwyck performs with Gene Krupa and his band; her voice is dubbed.

Ginger Rogers and Carole Lombard turned down the female lead.

Screenplay by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder. Photographed by Gregg Toland. Costumes by Edith Head.

Available on DVD.