Ball of Fire is, quite simply, a strong contender for the title of funniest movie ever made.
Sam Goldwyn replaced Hawks with Wyler during the filming of Come and Get It, assuring its legacy as an auteurist zombie curiosity. Programmed as part of LACMA's divine Hawksian Heroines series (a whole series devoted to my cinematic feminine ideal!), the obviously Hawksian first half is a treat. Frances Farmer's Lotta is an archetypal Hawksian woman, the kinda dame who can tell jokes so dirty it'd make all the boys blush. Tough, sassy, somewhat well-tread but at heart a romantic, the legendary and tragic Farmer, whom I had never seen on screen before, is a knock out, playing dual roles with aplomb (Hawks called her the most talented actress he'd ever worked with). But the raucous first part ends rather abruptly. It gives way to a strange and strangely moving story about a Big Daddy-type (Edward Anrold) trying desperately to replay a choice that'd been made long ago, going so far as to beat down his own son to do it. Much of this part has that stately air and ornate visual style one associates with Wyler, and it's pitched in that Victorian Heiress-like frequency, but Wyler's approach actually suits this melodramatic material (though the father/son rivalry was a riot). Not especially coherent tone-wise and I wish we saw a lot more of the first Lotta, but this is a fine salvage job.
Bonus! Grades for all the Howard Hawks (the greatest American director ever) playing in the LACMA series.
His Girl Friday (1941) A+
Twentieth Century (1934) A
Only Angels Have Wings (1939) A+
To Have and Have Not (1944) A-
Bringing Up Baby (1938) A-/B+
Monkey Business (1952) B+
Rio Bravo (1959) A-
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) B+
I Was a Male War Bride (1949) A-/B+