When Prof. Bertram Potts decides he needs some first-hand research for an encyclopedia on slang he's co-writing with seven scholars, he takes to the streets where he recruits various characters for further research, inviting them to the professors' residence. One of his subjects, stripper Sugarpuss O'Shea (Barbara Stanwyck), takes him up on his offer when her gangster boyfriend, Joe Lilac (Dana Andrews), decides to force her into marriage so she can't testify against him. Moving in with the academics, Sugarpuss soon charms the older men and wins Potts' love but it's only a matter of time until Lilac and his henchmen track her down. Blessed with one of the screen's most perfect meldings of talent on both sides of the camera, Ball of Fire has developed a devoted following through the years, as much for its unique modernization of the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as for its historical position as the last of the Golden Age screwball comedies. Finding a leading lady for the film, however, proved to be a challenging task. Although all who read Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett's script thought it was a gem, Goldwyn struck out with his first choice for the role, Ginger Rogers. Having just won an Oscar® for her dramatic turn in Kitty Foyle (1940), she decided the role of a stripper was beneath her. Jean Arthur was the second choice, but Goldwyn couldn't negotiate a loan from Columbia Pictures. After testing Betty Field and Lucille Ball for the role, he sent a script to Carole Lombard, but she didn't like the role either. Finally, Cooper suggested one of his favorite leading ladies, Barbara Stanwyck, with whom he had just starred in Meet John Doe (1941). Goldwyn had fond memories of working with her on Stella Dallas (1937), another film role she won after numerous other actresses proved unavailable, and quickly agreed to the deal. It turned out to be a great break for the actress, whose starring performances in Ball of Fire, Meet John Doe and The Lady Eve (also 1941) made her one of the year's top box office stars.
> According to Billy Wilder, "Ball of Fire was an idea that I brought with me from Germany. It was written in German, in Berlin, before Hitler. It was better in German. The idea of the respected professors who lived life only in their books was more of a German idea. You know, 'Herr Doktor Professor.'" Wilder's original story evolved into "From A to Z," the tale of a professor who hires a burlesque queen to teach him slang. On his arrival in the U.S., Wilder had Americanized the story with the help of writer Thomas Monroe and sold it to MGM. Studio mogul Samuel Goldwyn originally considered calling the film either Blonde Blitzkrieg or The Professor and the Burlesque Queen but finally settled on Ball of Fire. He also liked the idea of Gary Cooper as a shy romantic lead, so Goldwyn put Wilder and Charles Brackett to work on the screenplay, which sent the screenwriters to various places around Los Angeles -- the drugstore across from Hollywood High School, a burlesque house, a pool room and a racetrack -- to research slang. They also had great fun shaping the characters of Cooper's academic colleagues around the seven dwarfs as presented in the Disney classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).
> To help audience members connect the seven elderly professors with the seven dwarfs from Walt Disney's movie, the publicity department posed a portrait of the seven actors seated in front of a poster for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, with each in the same position as the dwarf he represented: S.Z. Sakall - Dopey; Leonid Kinskey - Sneezy; Richard Haydn - Bashful; Henry Travers - Sleepy; Aubrey Mather - Happy; Tully Marshall - Grumpy; and Oskar Homolka - Doc.
> In 1948, Goldwyn produced a musical remake with Hawks directing under the title A Song Is Born. Danny Kaye took over the Gary Cooper role, with Virginia Mayo as Sugarpuss. Mary Field, who played Kaye's fiancée, was the only member of the original cast to return for the re-make. The film had problems from the start. Kaye was temporarily separated from his wife and seeing a psychiatrist twice a day which left him, according to Hawks, "as funny as a crutch." Mayo was hampered by the fact that Goldwyn forced her to view the original repeatedly and play her role exactly as Stanwyck had. A Song Is Born got some of the worst reviews of Goldwyn's career.
> Historians have called Ball of Fire the last great screwball comedy released before World War II. Technically, the film only previewed before the U.S. entry into the war, not having its official premiere until January 1942, but it was still the last appearance of this brand of Hollywood comedy before the U.S. was plunged into battle against the Axis.
> Ball of Fire was the film that introduced writer-director Billy Wilder to Barbara Stanwyck. Impressed with her work, he would later offer her the role of Phyllis Dietrichson in the classic film noir Double Indemnity (1944).
> Ball of Fire was the last time Wilder received credit for a screenplay that he did not direct himself. He had been increasingly unhappy with the way some directors were treating his work, and moved into the director's chair with his next film, The Major and the Minor (1942), starring Ginger Rogers.
> Ball of Fire was the 25th highest-grossing film of 1942, taking in $2.2 million at the box office.
> With the success of Ball of Fire and Sergeant York (1941), Gary Cooper ranked seventh at the box office for 1941.
> During the shootout with the police, Dan Duryea licks his thumb and rubs it on his gun sight before shooting, saying, "I saw this in a movie." The movie in question was Sergeant York, in which Gary Cooper's Alvin York uses the same trick.
> Ball of Fire won Oscar® nominations for Best Actress (Barbara Stanwyck), Best Original Screenplay, Best Score and Best Sound. Stanwyck lost to Joan Fontaine in Suspicion.
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Remember the Night DVD
A filmmaker masquerades as a hobo to get in touch with the little people.