Ball of Fire, 1941

Barbara Stanwyck helps Gary Cooper with his work in this movie about hiding the truth. Cooper is a professor in a group of men who make their home in a large library where they continue their efforts to complete a new encyclopedia. Cooper’s plan is to update the listing of slang words commonly used by the working class.

He meets with a newspaper boy, a garbage man, and others to find out what “today’s slang” is. The garbage man is the first to make Cooper aware that his ability to understand current slang is quite lacking. The newsboy Cooper chooses to listen to  is nervous about Cooper hanging around. When Cooper asks him to show up the next day to help with the slang project, the boy asks Cooper, “Who are you anyway, Father Flannagan?”

The police are looking for Stanwyck in her usual places because of her gangster boyfriend, played by Dana Andrews. When street-smart Stanwyck appears at Cooper’s door, she hides the fact that she’s wanted by the police, but makes him believe that she wants to educate the professors. Since Stanwyck is connected to a mobster, she gets the professors mixed up in a situation beyond their experience.

Howard Hawks directed this film with all its humorous awkwardness and romantic tension. The clothes were designed by Edith Head. Henry Travers played one of the professors. We know him from his role as Clarence the angel in It’s A Wonderful Life.

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