A simple gag is hardly enough on which to string 110 minutes of film. And that’s all – one funny situation – that Samuel Goldwyn’s director and writers have to support Ball of Fire. It’s sufficient, however, to provide quite a few chuckles.
Gag on which the whole thing is based [from an original story by Billy Wilder and Thomas Monroe] is Gary Cooper’s professorial efforts to write a learned piece on slang for an encyclopedia. He needs, for research purposes, someone who’s hep to the last syllable of the lingo and brings into a sanctum, where he and seven colleagues are working on the encyclopedia, a burlesque stripper (Barbara Stanwyck). She upsets and excites the eight old men in the expected manner. Much of the dialog is rapid-fire slang, plenty labored, but frequently good for laughs.
Casting is meticulously perfect to make every character a caricature of itself. Cooper is in the familiar ‘Mr Smith-John Doe’ role of the brainy guy who’s not quite hep to his surroundings until near the end, when he wises up in time to snatch victory from the smart boys. Stanwyck is likewise in a familiar part that she can play for maximum results.
1941: Nominations: Best Actress (Barbara Stanwyck), Original Story, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture, Sound