December 7, 2014

Barbara Stanwyck, Ball of Fire


I can't help but chuckle at the fact that Barbara Stanwyck's character in Ball of Fire is called Sugarpuss. Sure, the film explains that the name is slang for one with a sweet face, but given that Stanwyck was such a prominent presence in Pre-Code films (I'm thinking about Baby Face most notably), I'd like to believe that Sugarpuss is a not-so-subtle double-entendre, a kind of acknowledgment of Stanwyck's ability to convey sensuality in her characters that's as alluring as it is perilous to the people around them.

That's what I find so fascinating about Stanwyck as an actor--the way in which she can command attention while oozing sultriness makes her a splendid presence to any film. I think it's her confidence that I find so intriguing--as Sugarpuss (and as Jean in The Lady Eve for that matter), Stanwyck knows how to carry herself, how to move her body while slinking into a room, how to purr at a man with just the right amount of sexual overtones ("now...come here."), how to present herself to us in such a way that it's hard to keep our eyes from gravitating towards her (I just love how she walks into the library in her tight, sparkly dress, and turns around ever-so-slightly to allow us to look ather). It's hard not to be taken by Stanwyck, as many of the men in her films tend to be. Simply put, she's exciting to watch, which is something that's painfully lacking in 1941's acting nominees. And as the brash, fun-loving, unsophisticated wild child Sugarpuss, Stanwyck looks like she's having loads of fun while being completely in her element. I liked that Stanwyck gave Sugarpuss an intrinsic calculative nature to her as she schemes to get out of the house, and I loved watching Sugarpuss slowly but surely change her opinion on Gary Cooper's "Pottsie" (and her tramp line was particularly well acted). The role itself isn't quite the best offering from Stanwyck that year--for me The Lady Eve hands down should have been her nomination instead--but Stanwyck still shines brightly with this lesser, more cardboard role. She makes a great enough impact for the first two-thirds of the film and when she's gone for most of the third act, the movie is rather dull without her around. It's a striking performance that ends a little standardly, but I adored watching her nonetheless.


  1. She wasn't the most beautiful actress back then, but she could be sexy as hell, Double Indemnity proves it. Probably the most versatile actress I know.

    I think she's delightful here, but a bit messy. I prefer The Lady Eve.

    Ah, can wait for de Havilland's review...

    1. She is very delightful! But I agree, I much prefer The Lady Eve and I so wish she'd have been nominated for that one instead.

  2. Absolutely agree. I didn't get to see this till I was almost 40, but it's a certain favorite ever since. Stanwyck is another, that the Academy had to, red-faced, settle with an honorary Oscar later in life. She was aced out of all four competitive tries: Stella Dallas, Ball Of Fire, Double Indemnity and Sorry Wrong Number.