Ball of Fire

Ball of Fire

Infobox Film | name = Ball of Fire

caption = Ball of Fire movie poster
director = Howard Hawks
producer = Samuel Goldwyn
writer = Charles Brackett
Billy Wilder
starring =Gary Cooper
Barbara Stanwyck
music =Alfred Newman
cinematography =
editing =
distributor = RKO Radio Pictures Inc.
released = December 2, 1941 (U.S. release)
runtime = 111 min
language = English
budget =
imdb_id = 0033373

"Ball of Fire" (also known as "The Professor and the Burlesque Queen") is a 1941 comedy film about a group of professors laboring for years to write an encyclopedia and their encounter with a nightclub performer who provides her own unique knowledge. The film stars Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck, with a supporting cast that includes Oskar Homolka, Henry Travers, Richard Haydn, Dana Andrews, Dan Duryea and Elisha Cook Jr.

In 1948, the plot was resurrected as a musical film, "A Song Is Born", starring Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo.


A group of professors have lived together, isolated for years in an urban residence, compiling an encyclopedia of all human knowledge. The youngest, Professor Bertram Potts (Cooper), is a scholar of grammar and language who is researching modern American slang. They are accustomed to working in relative seclusion at a leisurely pace, but their impatient financial backer suddenly demands that they finish their work soon.Venturing out to do some independent research, Bertram becomes interested in the slang vocabulary of saucy burlesque performer "Sugarpuss" O'Shea (Stanwyck). She is reluctant to assist him in his research until she needs a place to hide from the police, who want to question her about her boyfriend, gangster Joe Lilac (Andrews). Sugarpuss takes refuge in the house where the professors live and work, despite Bertram's objections.

The professors soon become enamored of her insouciance, and she unexpectedly begins to become quite fond of them. She teaches them to conga and demonstrates to Bertram the meaning of the phrase "yum yum" (kisses). She becomes attracted to Bertram, who reciprocates with a vengeance by awkwardly (and inadvertently) proposing to her. She accepts, but is promptly taken away by Lilac's henchmen: Lilac also wants to marry her, but only so she cannot testify against him.

The professors eventually outwit Lilac and his henchmen and rescue Sugarpuss. She decides she isn't good enough for Bertram, but his forceful application of "yum, yum" convinces her to change her mind.


*Barbara Stanwyck as Katherine 'Sugarpuss' O'Shea
*Gary Cooper as Professor Bertram Potts
*Oskar Homolka as Professor Gurkakoff
*Henry Travers as Professor Jerome
*S.Z. Sakall as Professor Magenbruch
*Tully Marshall as Professor Robinson
*Leonid Kinskey as Professor Quintana
*Richard Haydn as Professor Oddley
*Aubrey Mather as Professor Peagram
*Dana Andrews as Joe Lilac
*Dan Duryea as Duke Pastrami, one of Lilac's henchmen
*Ralph Peters as Asthma Anderson, the other henchman
*Kathleen Howard as Miss Bragg, the housekeeper
*Mary Field as Miss Totten, the financial backer


*Martha Tilton provided Barbara Stanwyck's singing voice for the "Drum Boogie" performance.
*Drummer and bandleader Gene Krupa performed the song "Drum Boogie" with his band. In an unusual twist, he also plays it on a matchbox with matches for drumsticks.
*Krupa band member and legendary trumpeter Roy Eldridge receives a brief on-camera spell during "Drum Boogie."


The script was written by Charles Brackett, Thomas Monroe, and Billy Wilder from a short story written by Wilder while he was still in Europe, and based in part on the fairy tale Snow White. The professors themselves were based on the dwarfs from Walt Disney's animated film "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". Although "Ball of Fire" was directed ably by Howard Hawks, Wilder thereafter directed his own films. The film was the second feature of 1941 to pair Cooper and Stanwyck, following "Meet John Doe".

Wilder reveled in poking fun at those who took politics too seriously. At one point, 'Sugarpuss' points to her sore throat and complains "Slight rosiness? It's as red as the "Daily Worker" and just as sore." Later, she gives the overbearing and unsmiling housekeeper the name 'Franco'.


"Ball of Fire" was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Barbara Stanwyck), Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture, Best Sound, Recording and Best Writing, Original Story.


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