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Howard Hawks: The Measure of Man

Sunday, March 4, 2012
2:00 p.m. Ball of Fire
Howard Hawks (U.S., 1941)

Restored Print!

Within the wooded walls and fusty halls of the home graciously provided them by the Totten Foundation live and work eight mossy professors, researching and “updating” an encyclopedia that becomes obsolete faster than the doddering pedants can down their morning prunes. Among them, Professor Potts (Gary Cooper) stands out as the youngest, although perhaps the more priggish for his youth. At S for Slang, a field trip turns up a gold mine of information in the form of Sugarpuss O’Shea (Barbara Stanwyck), a nightclub singer and gangster’s moll, whom the gentlemen adopt as their own Snow White. The sparks lit by this long-legged ball of fire under Cooper’s hilariously demure Potts make for a belated coming-of-age. The script is by Wilder and Brackett, but as Andrew Sarris put it, “The regression of intellectual man to the level of caveman is accomplished here in the fast raucous style which is invariably the Hawksian trademark.”

—Judy Bloch

• Written by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, from the story “From A to Z” by Wilder, Thomas Monroe. Photographed by Gregg Toland. With Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Richard Haydn, Oscar Homolka. (111 mins, B&W, 35mm, Print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, permission Samuel Goldwyn Trust)