Ball of Fire

Critics Consensus

A splendidly funny twist on the story of Snow White, Ball of Fire boasts a pair of perfect leads in Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck.



Total Count: 27


Audience Score

User Ratings: 3,311
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Movie Info

Professor Bertram Potts is the youngest of eight bookish academics assembling a dictionary of slang. They find a perfect "research associate" in the curvaceous form of strip-tease dancer Kathryn "Sugar Puss" O'Shea, who has hidden out at the professors' domicile to escape Joe Lilac, her gangster boyfriend. As Sugar Puss interprets various slang expressions, she and the professors grow quite fond of one another. She brings their personalities out from under their collegiate facades, while they revive her essential decency and genial womanhood. When Joe and his enforcer Duke Pastrami show up to claim Kathryn, the professors save the day.


Gary Cooper
as Prof. Bertram Potts
Barbara Stanwyck
as Sugarpuss O'Shea
Oscar Homolka
as Prof. Gurkakoff
Henry Travers
as Prof. Jerome
S.Z. Sakall
as Prof. Magenbruch
Tully Marshall
as Prof. Robinson
Leonid Kinskey
as Prof. Quintana
Richard Haydn
as Prof. Oddly
Aubrey Mather
as Prof. Peagram
Allen Jenkins
as Garbage Man
Dana Andrews
as Joe Lilac
Dan Duryea
as Duke Pastrami
Mary Field
as Miss Totten
Ralph Peters
as Asthma Anderson
Kathleen Howard
as Miss Bragg
Charles Arnt
as McNeary
as Fissette
Al Rhein
as Horseface
Eddie Foster
as Pinstripe
Will Lee
as Benny
Aldrich Bowker
as Justice of the Peace
Addison Richards
as District Attorney
Kenneth Howell
as College Boy
Tommy Ryan
as Newsboy
Ed Mundy
as Spieler
Ken Howell
as College Boy
June Horne
as Nursemaid at Park
Geraldine Fissette
as Hula Dancer
Ethelreda Leopold
as Nursemaid at Park
George Barton
as Garbage Man
Walter Shumway
as Garbage Man
Otto Hoffman
as Stage Doorman
Doria Caron
as Girl in Subway
Merrilee Lannon
as Girl in Subway
Catherine Henderson
as College Girl
Helen Seamon
as College Girl
Mark Collver
as Fighting Bum
Mildred Morris
as Chorus Girl
Gerald Pierce
as Delivery Boy
Francis Sayles
as Taxi Driver
Lorraine Miller
as Girl in Cafe
Chet DeVito
as Tollkeeper
Lee Phelps
as Policeman in Station
Ken Christy
as Cop With Miss Bragg
Del Lawrence
as Irish Gardener
Eddy Chandler
as Cop on Garbage Truck
Dick Rush
as Policeman at Motor Inn
Johnnie Morris
as Justice of the Peace's Clerk
Edward Clark
as Motor Court Proprietor
Gene Krupa
as Orchestra Leader
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Critic Reviews for Ball of Fire

All Critics (27) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (27)

Audience Reviews for Ball of Fire

  • Aug 21, 2017
    What a fun movie this is. Gary Cooper and seven other intellectuals are living together in a giant house and are hard at work creating an encyclopedia, a project which has taken them years, when it becomes apparent to Cooper that his knowledge of slang is out of date. He takes to the streets of New York, pen and paper in hand, eventually going to a nightclub. Enter Barbara Stanwyck, all a-glitter and performing "Drum Boogie" with Gene Krupa and his orchestra. Well, Marsha Tilton provided the voiceover, but Stanwyck and the orchestra are captivating, including a reprise using a matchbox and matches for drums, huddled around a table. Unbeknownst to Cooper, Stanwyck needs to hide from the police because of her involvement with a gangster (Dana Andrews), and ends up coming to his house. The casting and acting in this movie is wonderful, from top to bottom. Sparks begin to fly between Cooper and Stanwyck, at first because she's manipulating him into letting her stay, but eventually as his simple considerate nature begins to soften her cynical edges. The seven other professors make a charming group, and include Richard Haydn as Oddley and Henry Travers as Jerome, the latter of whom you'll easily recognize as Clarence from 'It's a Wonderful Life'. Things get complicated with the gangster decides to marry Stanwyck in order to invoke spousal privilege in investigations against him, but I won't spoil it further. There are so many nice little touches in the dialogue of this film: the slang they use (amped up because of Cooper's "research"), the innuendo, and the nerdy references. There is the sweetness of Cooper quoting Richard III when giving Stanwyck a ring: "Look, how this ring encompasseth finger; Even so thy breast encloseth my poor heart. Wear both of them, for both of them are thine." There are fantastic moments, such as when as when the professors sing a couple of rounds of "Sweet Genevieve" while sitting around a table, as well as the look on Stanwyck's face in the scene where Cooper's realized he's being used and walks out in a dignified way, and she finishes his sentence, that she's a tramp. Then of course there's the chemistry between Stanwyck and Cooper. As Cooper tries to send her away he says "Make no mistake, I shall regret the absence of your keen mind. Unfortunately it is inseparable from an extremely disturbing body." Stanwyck replies by saying "I'm going to show you what yum-yum is. Here's yum. (big kiss) Here's the other yum. (big kiss)..." Both play their parts perfectly, and while the whole thing is improbable and predictable, the story-telling from Howard Hawks is taut, and it's a lovely romantic comedy. What a year 1941 was for Stanwyck, between this Oscar-nominated performance and 'The Lady Eve'. Great stuff!
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Jan 16, 2012
    A grammarian who is toiling away at an encyclopedia meets a nightclub singer who teaches him slang. In the Hollywood's mind, making a film often involved merely pairing the two right movie stars, actors who would look good together and whose respective markets would overlap. To a large extent, that's even true now (e.g. You've Got Mail and Runaway Bride are re-hashes of couples that worked well in the past). It's like multimillion-dollar I suspect that's the thinking that went into Ball of Fire. The story is trite and cliche. It's re-telling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs [sic] -- how cliched can you get? But Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck are delightful, rapping their dialogue in a staccato that often makes classics classic. Overall, it's a fun diversion and easy to predict, but there's a lot to like about Ball of Fire.
    Jim H Super Reviewer
  • Jun 22, 2011
    With Howard Hawks directing a screenplay co-written by Billy Wilder, how can you go wrong? <i>Ball of Fire</i> offers one answer: hopelessly dated material. Gary Cooper is well cast as stiff, puritanical linguist who is one among eight experts in other areas of science & literature sequestered in a house together for nine years writing a new encyclopedia because the benefactor felt slighted he didn't get a mention in Britannica for inventing the the electric toaster. Yes, only in a Hawks or Frank Capra movie will you find this scenario! Into their sheltered lives storms Sugarpuss O'Shea (no, I did not make that up) upon the pretense of helping Cooper with his study of slang but who is really there to circumvent police interrogation at the request of her gangster boyfriend. What struck me most during this movie is how much times have changed since 1941, staggeringly so. Most of the slang expressions introduced here have long since been extinct, the electric guitarist plays scratch rhythms in a big swing band, there is one brief shot of a non-white actor during the whole 2 hours in New York, Cooper proposes to a woman he's known for a week because "it's the next logical step" after having declared his love the evening before, and the sight of a woman's bare leg completely disrupts the scholarly function of the entire house. (Well, that last one might still apply depending upon whom the leg is attached.) I've seen & love many old movies but occasionally catch one that seems better left in the time capsule. Barbara Stanwyck is indisputably terrific as the titular pyrotechnic display Sugarpuss, providing a consistent spark as she commandeers this collection of blubbering elderly bachelors. Fans will love watching her in this.
    Doctor S Super Reviewer
  • Sep 05, 2010
    Not only is this movie hilarious, unique, and witty, but you learn a lot about slang words too. This movie is really fun, great cast and story and everything, I loved it, and I highly recommend it.
    Aj V Super Reviewer

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