Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A Scene From Ball of Fire (1941)

Professor Bertram Potts (Gary Cooper) sits at a table with his peers and roommates, a group of amiable old scientists. It is a bachelor party of sorts. Potts is to marry Sugarpuss (Barbara Stanwyck) over the weekend. They all start yelling banal advice until one shouts them down, one Prof. Oddly (Richard Haydn)- the only one who has been married before. He tells the story of his honeymoon, he took her to the Catskills so she could paint, he was amazed at the bold way in which he kissed the palm of her hand every night. He pulls out a lock of her hair from his pocket. He remembers a tune. One of the friends starts humming it. He tells him to sing. He does. The rest of the group picks it up, with Potts looking on. The song is "Genevieve", about remembering her. It is a lilting melody. She died 24 years earlier. The widow stands up, thanks the group, and leaves, and tells them to continue. He is moved beyond words, happy to simply remember her palm - it is not a mournful scene - but absolutely joyful, which is what makes it extraordinary. A ringing affirmation of life. Of a life long past.

The scene moves organically, motivated by the impending wedding and Potts' uncertainty - due to his lack of experience with women. The widow's experience is tied to Potts' gracefully. As he shows the lock of hair, he remembers how it once shined, chiming with Potts' first encounter with Sugarpuss, as he's stunned by her hair as she poses under a window.

Then Stanwyck's eyes blaze in shadow as Cooper unburdens his feelings of sexlove to whom he thinks is Oddly. This declaration, which modesty would shackle him from doing to her in person seals their fate as she jumps out of shadow for furtive kisses. A series of events spurred by a decades old love revitalized in song.

Which is why we need popular music. And love. And Howard Hawks. And hair. And palms.


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