Ball of Fire (1941)

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Ball of Fire (1941)

Ball of Fire (1941). 111 minutes. Directed by Howard Hawks. Starring Barbara Stanwyck (as Katherine “Pussyfoot” O’Shea), Gary Cooper (as Professor Bertram Potts), S. Z. Sakall (as Professor Magenbruch), Richard Haydn (as Professor Oddley), and Dana Andrews (as Joe Lilac). Screenplay by Billy Wilder.

If you have ever seen Billy Wilder’s 1959 comedy Some Like It Hot, you will immediately notice the similarities between it and Ball of Fire, whose screenplay Wilder also wrote. Both involve characters going on the lam in conjunction with mob activity, a sexy nightclub singer with a ridiculous name (Sugar Cane in Some Like It Hot, Pussyfoot O’Shea in Ball of Fire), and men who have to transform themselves temporarily into their opposites in order to secure a woman’s affections.  In Some Like It Hot, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon don female attire, with dirt-poor Curtis additionally and intermittently posing as a playboy millionaire in order to woo singer Marilyn … Read the rest

Double Indemnity (1944)

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Double Indemnity (1944). Directed by Billy Wilder. Starring Fred MacMurray (as Walter Neff), Barbara Stanwyck (as Phyllis Dietrichson), and Edward G. Robinson (as Barton Keyes). Screenplay by Raymond Chandler.

Double Indemnity manages to do something many may have thought impossible: it makes the insurance business seem sexy, exciting, and dangerous. In this film noir, insurance salesman Walter Neff (played by Fred MacMurray) drops by the house of Phyllis Dietrichson (played by Barbara Stanwyck) to renew her husband’s auto policy one afternoon, and eventually, due to his sleazy infatuation with Mrs. Dietrichson, he consents to forging new life insurance papers for her husband that she can use to cash in on an enormous sum once she has tidily eliminated him. It does not take long for the seemingly decent Neff to succumb to Mrs. Dietrichson’s wiles, and soon he is masterminding the plot not only to kill Mr. Dietrichson but to do it in the most profitable way: via a double … Read the rest

Ninotchka (1939)

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Ninotchka (1939)

Ninotchka (1939).  110 minutes.  Directed by Ernst Lubitsch.  Starring Greta Garbo (as Nina Ivanovna “Ninotchka” Yakushova), Melvyn Douglas (as Count Leon d’Algout), and Ina Claire (as Grand Duchess Swana).  Written by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, Walter Reisch, and Melchior Lengyel.

Ninotchka is a sparkling comedy about the collision between the Soviet East and frothy 1930s Paris.  It was released in October 1939, just one month after World War Two began, and it gleefully depicts pre-war life with barely a reference to the ordeal unfolding on the continent.  The closest we come to a note of the German conflict comes early in the movie when three Soviet envoys await the arrival of their Russian supervisor at a Paris train station.  They assume this supervisor will be a man, and they scan the crowd for him, not knowing what he looks like.  One of them arrives at a possible candidate: a man with a round, bearded face — perhaps it is him?  … Read the rest