Two films with the same story but from very different eras, even though they weren’t made that many years apart.
Ball of Fire, from 1941, features seven bookish bachelor professors and Gary Cooper (also playing nerdy) living together in a big house while writing an encyclopedia. Cooper discovers from a garbageman that his idea of slang is long out-dated, so he ventures out to find out how real people speak. He encounters Barbara Stanwyck, a nightclub singer (not entirely believable in her lip-syncing). She’s a gangster’s girlfriend, and she’s got to get out of sight before she gets subpoenaed, so she invites herself to stay with the scholars.
The two find themselves falling in love, of course, in a charming tale of opposites attracting and clashing cultures learning from each other. Although he’s normally the stoic tough guy, Cooper is just adorable and touching as the introvert discovering love and life for the first time. His resolve comes in handy when he discovers how he’s been played and tells her off; the two together have nicely complementary strengths.
The remake, A Song Is Born (1948), has the same basic structure, only with Danny Kaye (whom I have trouble believing in ANY romantic role these days) and Virginia Mayo, who’s almost as bland as her name.
Instead of general knowledge, in this film, the professors are all working on a musical encyclopedia, and they have to learn about jazz. The gimmick is that the scholars are portrayed by notable musicians, including Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Louis Armstrong. The musical numbers resulting from that casting are the reason to watch this version.
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