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Ball of Fire (1941)

Casting Barbara Stanwyck as Snow White may seem an odd notion. But when Howard Hawks enlisted her in one of the last screwball comedies released before the U.S. entered World War II and things got serious, he created a hit that brought her the second of her four Oscar nominations. Of course, with Hawks directing and Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett writing, Snow White became a stripper, the seven dwarfs and Prince Charming (Gary Cooper) professors writing an encyclopedia, and the wicked witch a gangster (Dana Andrews).

In this version, Snow White is Sugarpuss O’Shea, a gangster’s moll and nightclub singer (with a little help from big band star Martha Tilton’s dubbing). When the professors assign Cooper to do their entry on slang, he goes to Stanwyck’s club to do research. At first, she’s not interested, but then the police go after boyfriend Andrews, and she needs a place to hide out. She moves in with the professors and soon finds herself falling for the intellectual life—and for Cooper.

Independent producer Sam Goldwyn made the film because he was tired of seeing contract star Cooper do his best work for other studios. So, he finagled a deal with Paramount Pictures to borrow Wilder and Brackett in return for lending them Cooper to star in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943). Wilder was tired of writing for other directors and only did the job on the condition that he be allowed to watch Hawks make the film. Not only did that get his directing career going, but he also made friends with Cooper and Stanwyck, who would star for him in later years.

d. Howard Hawks, 112 minutes, 35mm

Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Trust and Park Circus LLC