Posts Tagged ‘Barbara Stanwyck’

For Sex!(Now that I have your attention) Blogathon: 1941’s Ball of Fire

A couple months ago, fellow classic movie fan and blogger, Steve, at Movie, Movie, Blog, Blog  posted that he was hosting an upcoming blogathon, entitled Sex!(Now that I have your attention), a look at classic movies that tastefully, skillfully, without being graphic or vulgar, hinted at that something that causes a man to seek his mate, so to speak.  I saw Steve’s announcement for the blogathon, I blushed, and decided that I wouldn’t be able to participate.  Then, 3 weeks ago, I received a personal invite to participate in this blogathon!  The first day of this blogathon, June 19th, happens to be  my birthday, and not just any birthday; I was born in 1965, so I’ll let you do the math.  I decided, oh let’s have some fun and I contacted Steve and told him I was in.  Be sure to visit his site to read about the other films getting the treatment this weekend.  Sex!(Now that I have your attention!) Blogathon

I decided to take a look at  1941’s screwball, rom-com, Ball of Fire.   This film is shown on Turner Classic Movies quite regularily, and I always ignored it!  This past winter, I finally gave in and tivoed it and viewed it.  The film is a gem!  Well-directed by the late, great Howard Hawks(here is a list of his award winning films courtesy of imdb), well-written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, two gentlemen who excelled at getting those double entendres into their scripts, and well-acted by the two leads, Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck.  The supporting players are also great, but  more about them in a moment!  Ball of Fire poster 1  Barbara Stanwyck plays  Katharine  “Sugarpuss” O’Shea, a nightclub singer and dancer.  Sugarpuss loves her work but her problem is her gangster boyfriend, Joe Lilac(Dana Andrews in an early role).  Joe may have committed a murder and the District Attorney wants to question Sugarpuss about Joe, his whereabouts when the murder happened, etc.  Joe wants to marry Sugarpuss because then she can’t testify against him; it’s known as testimonial privilege in the US judicial system.

She loves her job!

She loves her job!  The sparkly outfit was designed by none other than Edith Head.

Enter the movie’s hero, Professor Bertram Potts, played by handsome Gary Cooper.  He is a nerd, a very serious linguistics professor.  He and his 6 professor friends, all bachelors, live in the same house near their college.  They are all working together on an encyclopedia of knowledge, and Professor Potts has taken it upon himself to learn about American slang amd then he’ll write that section for the encyclopedia.  He decides to go out daily to walk the streets of NYC and listen to the slang that is all around him.  One evening, he stumbles upon the nightclub where Sugarpuss works, and is fascinated with her language usuage.  Here are two clips, courtesy of Youtube, that show Sugarpuss entertaining the audience.  The legendary Gene Krupa has an excellent drum solo, as do other musicians in the band.  Cooper’s Professor Potts is writing down slang terms he hears Sugarpuss use in her song.  The second clip is fun, as Sugarpuss and Gene Krupa are called upon for an encore.  Note how Cooper, as the Professor, tries to use a new word, “Boogie”.   Fun scenes!

Professor Potts asks Sugarpuss to join in a roundtable at his home, so he can study slang in depth.  Sugarpuss turns down the invitation as she thinks the Professor is a bit of a nut and too dull. Sitting in her dressing room after the show, Sugarpuss gets a visit from her boyfriend Joe’s two henchmen, Joe Pastrami(the ever great Dan Duryea- a family man in real life, an expert at playing sleazy, no-good baddies in the movies!), and Asthma Anderson(Ralph Peters).   The two henchmen tell Sugarpuss that she needs to make herself scarce as the DA is looking for her.  She agrees to hide out and quickly finds Professor Potts.  She says she’ll be a part of his study, but that she needs a place to stay and before he can blink, she has it planned that she’ll stay at his house!

Some movie critics have compared Ball of Fire with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and I can see a tiny bit of that fairy tale in Ball of Fire.  When Sugarpuss arrives to live at the house, in her showgirl costume and her slang speech, with her very feminine charms on display, it shocks the old professors right on their keesters!  They awaken to how nice it is to have such a pretty lady in their midst.  They begin to spruce themselves up a bit, to remember old girlfriends, their courtship days; a few remember with sweet fondness their late wives.  Sugarpuss does have to contend with the grouchy housekeeper, Miss Bragg, who is appalled that a showgirl is living in the house with 7 men, so more modest clothing is worn; the flashy showgirl number is packed away.   Sugarpuss even teaches the professors  how to do a Conga line!   It is reminiscent of how the 7 dwarfs start to warm up to Snow White and grow to love her.   The professors are wonderfully acted by: Oskar Homolka, Henry Travers, Leonid Kinskey, S.Z. Sakall, Richard Haydn, and Tully Marshall.  Here is a clip of the Conga lesson.

Sugarpuss meets the Professors!  Look at those legs!

Sugarpuss meets the Professors! Look at those legs!

The Conga Line!

The Conga Line!

 

Professor Potts and Sugarpuss are thrown together due to his work studying her grammar and  her slang, but she also uses those  times to study him, and to find out what makes him tick.   There grows a chemistry of attraction between the two, and it explodes in the scene where Sugarpuss decides to give the Professor some “Yum-Yum”, er, kisses.  Here’s a great clip of that scene via Youtube.

Preparing for some Yum-yum!  Books are handy when the guy is so tall!

Preparing for some Yum-yum! Books are handy when the guy is so tall!

Professor Potts loves Sugarpuss and wants to marry her.  Joe Lilac, gangster on the lam in New Jersey, wants to marry Sugarpuss, too. What’s a girl to do?  You’ll have to find Ball of Fire to find out how all of the love and romance plays out, with good dashes of comedy strewn over all the happenings.  Turner Classics will be airing Ball of Fire on Sunday, July 12th, at 4:00 pm eastern/3:00 pm central.   It’s available to buy via Amazon and at TCM’s Shop.    To close out my post, here are some more stills from the film, the film’s trailer,  and a fun video tribute I found made by a fan of the movie, set to Jerry Lee Lewis’s hit song, Great Balls of Fire.

Publicity Still for the film

Publicity Still for the film

Professor Potts does fight for Sugarpuss

Professor Potts does fight for Sugarpuss

Dana Andrews as Joe Lilac

Dana Andrews as Joe Lilac

 

 

 

My Classic Movie Pick: My Reputation

My blog today is for the Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon, being hosted by a great classic movie blogger, The Girl With the White Parasol.  July 16th would have been Ms. Stanwyck’s 106th birthday and in her honor the Blogathon was created.  If you click on the link The Girl With the White Parasol, you will be able to read other blog tributes to the late actress.stanwyckblogathon3

My Reputation, a 1946 Warner Brothers film,  happened to air on Turner Classic Movies this past winter and I recorded it with our family’s dvr system.  I have always enjoyed Barbara  Stanwyck’s work as an actress.  Whether the film be a  drama or a  comedy, Stanwyck could deliver her roles with intelligence and energy.  Since I had also recently viewed her in Sturges’s comedy  The Lady Eve, I decided to see her in a drama and My Reputation fit the bill.  Mr poster 3

Barbara plays Jessica Drummond, recently widowed with two sons: 14 year old Kim and 12 year old Keith.  They live in a rich suburb of Chicago( I loved the exteriors  of her  ranch style home!) Jessica’s husband died from a long illness and he was her high school sweetheart.  Fortunately for her and her sons, her late husband’s will was set up well, and the family will not want for anything monetarily.  The only other  thorn in Jessica’s side is her mother, imperiously played by Lucille Watson, who seemed to specialize in either playing irritating mothers or aunts or wise and kindly mothers and aunts.  Jessica also has a faithful housekeeper and cook in Anna, played by Esther Dale, with a dash of common sense and spunk.

Esther Dale, as dedicated servant Anna.

Esther Dale, as dedicated servant Anna.

Jessica with her two sons.

Jessica with her two sons.

Jessica dwelling on her new life as a widow.

Jessica dwelling on her new life as a widow.

It isn’t explained too well as to why Jessica’s mother is so bossy, but when she demands that Jessica must continue to wear black the rest of her life because she is now a widow, one can’t help but cheer for  Jessica when she politely but firmly tells her mother that no, she’ll wear other colors when she wants to.

Lucille Watson, as Jessica's bossy mother!

Lucille Watson, as Jessica’s bossy mother!

Jessica has a new would-be suitor, the family friend and  lawyer, Frank Everett(Warner Anderson) who lets it be known that when she is ready to date again, he’d like to be the one to court her.  Jessica’s mother approves of Frank heartily, which will not help his cause in Jessica’s eyes.  Frank is nice and a gentleman, but so boring!!!

As Jessica begins her new life without her husband,  she busies  herself with volunteer work; her sons are back east at their boarding school.  One evening, she reluctantly agrees to go out on the town with other couples, couples that she and her late husband were socially connected with.  One husband, George Van Orman(Jerome Cowan), drives Jessica back to her house after he has dropped off his wife,  and he promptly grabs Jessica in the car and  makes a pass at her!!!!

Jerome Cowan, as Van Orman, not ashamed of his antics!

Jerome Cowan, as Van Orman, not ashamed of his antics!

Jessica is so upset by Van Orman’s behaviour that she calls her good friend, Ginna Abbott played by Eve Arden,  her wit and candor shining through in her small part.  Ginna and her husband Cary,(John Ridgely) invite Jessica to leave with them in the morning and  spend a week-long vacation with them at Lake Tahoe, in a cozy cabin they’re renting.   Jessica hesitates but at Ginna’s urging, she does go with them for a nice break from her routines.

Of course, out skiing one afternoon, Jessica has a “meet cute” with a tall, handsome fellow, one Army Major Scott Landis, played by George Brent.  Major Landis is also skiiing solo, and sees Jessica with her broken ski, and after he falls into the snow, she helps him up.  As it is getting late, he convinces her to get on the back of his skis, and together they swoop down the hills to the cabin where Ginna and Cary are waiting.

Ginna and Cary, Major Landis and Jessica, at Lake Tahoe.

Ginna and Cary, Major Landis and Jessica, at Lake Tahoe.

The skiing rescue scene.

The skiing rescue scene.

George Brent plays Lt. Major Scott Landis

George Brent plays Lt. Major Scott Landis

Skiing mishap results in meeting a handsome guy!

Skiing mishap results in meeting a handsome guy!

As the week goes on, Major Landis is obviously attracted to Jessica and she is  also attracted to him, but she isn’t sure if she wants to start dating another man yet.  She definitely likes him a lot more than  Frank!   When the end of the week at Tahoe is up, Jessica and the Major say good-bye and wish each other well.  Some weeks go by and one evening at home, when Jessica is having dinner with Frank,  a phone call comes from Ginna.  She tells Jessica  that she and  Cary are at a Chicago hotel bar/ball room and Major Landis has just walked in!   Jessica rushes off to dress and gets poor Frank to drive her to that hotel, not telling him that a certain Army Major is there.  Frank figures it all out and Jessica and Major Landis begin seeing one another as he has been assigned to a duty post in Chicago for several months.

One of bossy mother's friends sees Jessica enter the Major's apartment, thus the rumors begin!

One of bossy mother’s friends sees Jessica enter the Major’s apartment, thus the rumors begin!

Jessica and the Major have a chance meeting in Chicago.

Jessica and the Major have a chance meeting in Chicago.

Tongues start wagging, rumors start flying, Jessica’s mother is quite unhappy with Jessica, and then more vicious rumors start to swirl about Jessica and the Major and those are overheard by Jessica’s two sons, who are home for Christmas break.  Jessica finds out who her true friends are, confronts the rumor mongers, deals with her mother, and finally has a long heart-to-heart talk with her sons.  After all of this  happens, we still don’t know if a future for Jessica and Major Landis will occur.  I’m also not going to tell so potential viewers will have to find this out for themselves!

Christmas Eve and not wanting to say good-bye!

Christmas Eve and not wanting to say good-bye!

I only have a few bones to pick with My Reputation, but none of them are with Barbara Stanwyck.  She is great as Jessica.  She is  shell-shocked in the movie’s beginning, like she is in a mental fog, and that makes sense as her husband has died, and now this new life has to begin, one which she didn’t ask for or want.  She is a warm and loving mother to her two sons.  There is a genuine camadarie between the three of them in all of their scenes. She also has that same relationship with her maid, and with her dear friend Ginna.  Her mother is a pill, and Jessica, at first, looks like she’ll let mother call the shots with her life, but Jessica stands up to her, in small bits at first and then in larger amounts as her relationship with Major Landis grows.   My bones of contention?  Eve Arden should have been in the movie more, and the movie posters.  I don’t know who makes the advertising decisions for a movie, but most of the posters depict Jessica as a  tawdry  woman with tag lines  telling folks to get off her back about her reputation.  The posters make one think the movie is about a loose woman and all of her man problems, instead of portraying Jessica as a widow with two sons.  If the  movie going public in 1946 went to see this movie based on what the posters were advertising, they were in for a surprise!

Here's one of the "trampy" My Reputation movie posters, Spanish version.

Here’s one of the “trampy” My Reputation movie posters, Spanish version.

Wishing Eve Arden had had a bigger role in this film.

Wishing Eve Arden had had a bigger role in this film.

Here's the French poster, with some extra men thrown in for good measure, I guess.

Here’s the French poster, with some extra men thrown in for good measure, I guess.

My Reputation has great music by Max Steiner, was lensed by James Wong Howe, and the screenplay was adapted by Catharine Turney from Clare Janes 1942 book, Instruct My Sorrows. Its  available to purchase through Amazon, appears from time to time on Turner Classic Movies, and is also available to rent throught Netflix.  My Reputation is a woman’s picture, with Stanwyck giving  it her all and for her fans, a movie not to miss.

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