Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

A Song Is Born


To remake a film is not an unusual thing in Hollywood. To remake it with virtually the same script is almost unheard of. Not only that, but this film and its predecessor, Ball of Fire, were made only 6 years apart, and by the same director, Howard Hawks. Both were based loosely on the Snow White story (only there actually are seven professors in this one, not seven plus Gary Cooper, as in the original). The part of Snow White was played by Barbara Stanwyck in the original, by Virginia Mayo here, and Danny Kaye replaces Gary Cooper. I have to say that I think this version is the better idea. In the first, the cloistered professors are making a dictionary of all human knowledge. Here, it is just a musical dictionary. This gives the opportunity to bring in what the first one sorely lacked: Music! The profs come to realize that the musical world has passed them by, and set out to explore jazz: spirituals, gospel, swing, bebop, etc. They are taught by some of the best in the business, including Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet, the Golden Gate Quartet, and Buck and Bubbles. Already in their midst is professor Magenbruch, a clarinet player who looks suspiciously like Benny Goodman with a Hitler mustache and a lot of greasy kid’s stuff in his hair. At one point somebody asks him to play “like Benny Goodman.” “Never heard of him,” says Magenbruch, and then proceeds to wail on that licorice stick like nobody but Goodman (and maybe Artie Shaw) possibly could. I said they worked from the same script, and that’s literally true. Except for the musical parts, most of the dialogue is exactly the same as in the original. We saw them almost back-to-back, so we’re sure of that. The main set of the professors’ home is very much like the original, as if they only had to dust it off, though of course it is unlikely it was still standing six years later. Even many of the camera set-ups are identical. The only thing it lacks is Kaye doing some of his own patented style of patter song, but he was just getting started here. Over the next decade he made some works of true comic genius, such as The Court Jester (with the comic routine “The Pellet With the Poison’s in the Chalice From the Palace,” fit to rank up there with “Who’s on First?”), and The Inspector General. Overall, I’d say this movie is an improvement on the original, and the original wasn’t bad.