Zoom Salon - Ball of Fire (1941) 111 min | Mechanics' Institute

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Zoom Salon - Ball of Fire (1941) 111 min
November 2020: Comic Relief

Friday, November 20, 2020 - 6:00pm

CinemaLit Popcorn Pop-Up Salon: November -- Comic Relief

Hello Film Lovers,

Welcome back to CinemaLit! We have missed our Friday night gatherings. Laura, Pam, and I are excited to launch this new format for CinemaLit as we Shelter at Home. We will be viewing films on Kanopy and gathering online for a Popcorn Pop-Up Salon!

All you will need is either a Mechanics' Institute library card, or a San Francisco Public Library card, which will give you access to Kanopy and its treasure trove of movies. Make a reservation as usual via Eventbrite and watch the film on Kanopy at your leisure. You will receive a link to the Friday night CinemaLit salon on Zoom two days in advance. On the night of the salon click the Zoom link and join us.

If you do not receive a Zoom Link by the day of the event, contact Pam Troy at [email protected]


Mechanics’ Institute members can now sign up for FREE access to Kanopy, a wonderful film streaming service. To sign up:

1. Click on  THIS LINK.

2. Click on the large orange login button that reads, “Log in to milibrary.”

3. Enter the 14-digit bar code from your MI Library card

4. Set up your account following Kanopy’s instructions, including your email and a password.

5. Kanopy will send verification to your email address.

You’ll be able to choose from a wonderful selection of films, including classics, pre-code, foreign films, and documentaries, including the films we’ve scheduled this month for CinemaLit.

If you are not a Mechanics’ Institute member, consider membership and click  HERE  to join online:

Or, you can check with your public library to see if they are Kanopy members. If so, you may use your public library card to set up a Kanopy account.

 Matthew Kennedy, curator and host

CinemaLit Film Series

November 2020 – "Comic Relief!"

In acknowledging the profound anxieties of our time, we present "Comic Relief!" for November films at CinemaLit. If the selections this month succeed in transporting us to another time and place with laughter, well, isn't that what we could use right now?

"Comic Relief!" features Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928), The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1943), and Ball of Fire (1941). All are sterling products of Hollywood's studio era. Their directors - Buster Keaton, Preston Sturges, and Howard Hawks – loom large in film history. All three films are touchstones in American comedy, with each now inducted into the coveted National Film Registry.

Such high pedigree and dignified honors don't mean these are stuffy old relics. Far from it; they're bubbly delights. Join in the fun. As Ball of Fire's sassy slangy Sugarpuss O'Shea would say, "Hook on!"

November 20 – Ball of Fire (1941) 111 min

If Damon Runyon, George Bernard Shaw, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had cross-pollinated, they might have produced something akin to Ball of Fire.

Gary Cooper is Professor Bertram ("Pottsie") Potts, grammarian and bookworm extraordinaire. He has been commissioned to write an encyclopedia of all human knowledge, and he goes about it with monk-like discipline, assisted by a septet of graying fellow academicians. While on the town researching slang, Pottsie meets nightclub singer and gangster moll Sugarpuss O'Shea, played by the peerless Barbara Stanwyck. She gives him the brush-off until she needs to hide from her underworld boyfriend and his goons. With Sugarpuss shaking the staid household to its foundation, Pottsie gets lessons in slang, the boogie woogie, the hoi toi toi, and love.

Ball of Fire benefits immeasurably from Stanwyck and Cooper's terrific chemistry of opposites, while the film is further buoyed by a cadre of fantastic behind the camera talent. Versatile American master Howard Hawks had already demonstrated his aptitude for screwball comedy in directing Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday. Producer Sam Goldwyn borrowed the ace Paramount writing team of Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett to write a screenplay crackling with word play, wisecracks, and double entendres. (Wilder would direct Stanwyck in the archetypal film noir Double Indemnity three years later.) Cinematographer Glenn Toland was fresh off Citizen Kane, and once again employed that film's distinctive deep focus photography.

They all deliver in service to a funny yarn with serious undercurrents. As film critic Robin Wood observed, Ball of Fire's sympathetic disparate characters enjoy "mutual improvement through interaction." It's an enduring message of the movies – and one to take into life.


Matthew Kennedy, CinemaLit’s curator, has written biographies of Marie Dressler, Joan Blondell, and Edmund Goulding. His book Roadshow! The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s, was the basis of a film series on Turner Classic Movies. 

I don't have a favorite film,” Matthew says. "I find that my relationships to films, actors, genres, and directors change as I change over the years. Some don't hold up. Some look more profound, as though I've caught up with their artistry. I feel that way about Garbo, Cary Grant, director John Cassavetes, and others."

Classic films have historical context, something only time can provide,” Matt observes. “They become these great cultural artifacts, so revealing of tastes, attitudes, and assumptions.”

Register with Eventbrite below.

If the green TICKET button is not immediately visible, scroll down on the right in the Eventbrite window until it appears


CinemaLit Films

Members Free
Public Sliding Scale Free to $10
Register now ›
4th Floor Meeting Room
Pam Troy - 415-393-0116
Register now by using the form below or calling .

Future CinemaLit Films

Oct 23 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon of The Bigamist (1953) 80 min
October 2020: Women of Noir

Oct 30 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon of The Naked Kiss (1964) 90 min
October 2020: Women of Noir

Nov 6 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon - Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) 71 min
November 2020: Comic Relief

Nov 13 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon - The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1943) 99 min
November 2020: Comic Relief

Dec 4 - 6:00pm

Zoom Salon - Charade (1963) 113 min
December 2020: CinemaLit Season Finale