|by Natasha Theobald
I don’t usually review soundtracks unless something has been released on CD. It just tends to make the job easier to have most of the music in one place, with the ability to listen time and again before making any sort of judgment. This time, however, I am making an exception. I’ve realized that movie music is about more than the marketing of a few radio-friendly singles or the more specialized ideal of catching on with a soundtrack score-loving crowd. Sometimes movie music is great just because it is so memorable. Here is where I tell you that I can’t get a song from this movie out of my head.
I am a huge fan of Barbara Stanwyck. I have been enamored with her since the first time I saw Double Indemnity. She has such a wicked wit with how she delivers a line and range that most actors couldn’t even fathom, with decades of work as proof. Ball of Fire is just a part of that, as Stanwyck is given the opportunity to sing (Martha Tilton’s dubbed vocals) and dance and fall in love with Gary Cooper in the Howard Hawks directed comedy. The role of Sugarpuss O’Shea gives her sparkling dialogue from the pens of Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett to chew over and eight doting professors, a la the seven dwarves, to charm. And charm she does.
The film calls for Sugarpuss to first gain the attention of Cooper’s professor as she performs for a nightclub crowd. He’s out on the town trying to pick up some slang terminology for a study of it he is doing – very academic. The song is “Drum Boogie,” an infectious, rhythmic exercise so endearing that the crowd asks to hear it again. The first time it is performed with a full-out big band, plenty of brass and a firm drum presence. The second time it is offered in closer quarters, in hushed, chanted tones, around a table and match tapping drummer and Sugarpuss herself. This is a song that I can’t seem to shake, humming and hearing and mumbling the only words of it I can remember, which are “drum” and “boogie.” It is something else.
Gary Cooper doesn’t sing, exactly, but he is party to a love song as sung by the professors. Only one of them seems to have experienced love, having once been married to “Sweet Genevieve.” The love song of the era, circa 1940, becomes part of an enchanting memory, then lilts and sways on the professors’ tongues as they remember and grasp and sing. It is a lovely scene and a charming musical counterpoint to the blazing ruckus of “Drum Boogie.”
And, that’s it. Sugarpuss does teach the fellas that you can’t exactly dance a conga line to polka music, but, other than that, the film is sharp, quick dialogue and the space in between. Maybe that is what makes the music that is used so memorable, something of which contemporary directors may wish to take note. It stands out as special, because it is. It is special and chosen and works beautifully in the space of the film.
That’s SDM for this week. If I haven’t tempted your movie-viewing appetite with this movie in particular, at least try to see something with Stanwyck. In her nearly sixty years onscreen, she did everything from Westerns to soaps to heart-stopping thrillers and, like this, comedy and romance. She is a singular talent, and her work is not to be missed.
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1934
originally posted: 09/07/06 02:49:50
last updated: 09/20/06 04:15:12