Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Hawks and Jazz

from L: Dorsey, Goodman, Barnet, Hawks, Hampton
In 1941 one of the most commercially successful and artistically enduring comedies of all time was released: Ball of Fire. The story was set against a mansion in which a bunch of old professors (with one young chap among them for the pleasure of the audience) are collaborating on an encyclopedia. The problems arise when they reach the "slang entry" of the encyclopedia, and learn that their knowledge for writing that section is so narrow that a volunteer is needed to leave the secluded mansion and explore the changes in the street jargon.

Only seven years passed since the completion of the Ball, producers thought that the very successful idea can be used again, and this time the professors should search for a new word, JAZZ!

Howard Hawks, the same director who made Ball of Fire, was hired again for the job. Unlike professors of the story, Hawks had a great understanding of American modern popular music and even has incorporated them into his film. (see Hoagy Carmichael's glowing presence in To Have and have Not) The script, written and rewritten by an army of writers, based on an original idea by Billy Wilder and Thomas Monroe, was considered too messy to be credited to anyone, therefore the whole weight was put on jazz and jazz musicians, and rightly so.

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