Ball of Fire (dir. Howard Hawks, 1941) is a glorious piece of silliness. Eight scholars are writing an encyclopedia of the world’s knowledge. A chance conversation makes Professor Bertram Potts (Gary Cooper) realize the inadequacy of his article on slang. He resolves to update his understanding of the subject, going out into the world with a pencil and a pocket notebook. He listens to people talking — on the street, on the El, at a baseball game, pool hall, and nightclub.
It’s in the nightclub that Potts meets Sugarpuss O’Shea (Barbara Stanwyck), singer of the killer diller tune “Drum Boogie.” O’Shea soon moves in with the scholars. Yes, it’s a variation on Snow White.
[Snow White, her prince, and the seven dwarfs. Clockwise from the lower left: Tully Marshall, Henry Travers, Richard Haydn, S. Z. Sakall, Aubrey Mather, Oscar Homolka, Leonid Kinskey.]
Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder’s screenplay has some hilarious O’Shea-Potts exchanges about grammar and usage:
“I came on account of you.”She calls Potts “a regular yum-yum type.” And later:
“And not on account of you needed some slang. On account of because I wanted to see you again.”
“Miss O’Shea, the construction ‘on account of because’ outrages every grammatical law.”
“So what? I came on account of because I couldn’t stop thinking about you after you left my dressing room. On account of because I thought you were big, and cute, and pretty.”
“Say, I found out what’s wrong with ‘on account of because.’ It’s saying the same thing twice. You know, like calling somebody a rich millionaire. You call it a pleo-, no, play-”And:
“Yes. Is that how you pronounce it?”
“That’s it. Who told you that?”
“This room’s full of books about grammar. I read for a couple of hours.”
“I thought I was married to my books. The only thing I thought I could care for deeply was a correctly constructed sentence. The subject, predicate, adverbial clause, each its proper place. And then —”The December 15, 1941 issue of Life had an article about Ball of Fire with a list of slang expressions used in the film. Dig it, or them:
The model for Sugarpuss O’Shea is one of my favorite singers, Anita O’Day. (O’Day, O’Shea: dig?) Here is an O’Day performance of “Drum Boogie” with Gene Krupa. And here is the movie version, with Martha Tilton dubbing the vocal. That’s Roy Eldridge in the trumpet section. Write these names down in your pocket notebook.
More notebook sightings
Angels with Dirty Faces : Cat People : Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne : Dragnet : Extras : Foreign Correspondent : The Honeymooners : The House on 92nd Street : Journal d’un curé de campagne : The Lodger : Murder at the Vanities : Murder, Inc. : The Mystery of the Wax Museum : Naked City : The Palm Beach Story : Pickpocket : Pickup on South Street : Pushover : Quai des Orfèvres : Railroaded! : Red-Headed Woman : Rififi : Route 66 : The Sopranos : Spellbound : State Fair : T-Men : Union Station : Where the Sidewalk Ends : The Woman in the Window