Love Is a Ball (MGM MOD)
Directed by David Swift
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 112 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English
MSRP: $ 19.98
Release Date: June 2011
Review Date: July 3. 2011
Producing dud romantic comedies is not a 21st century phenomenon. Take, for instance, David Swift’s Love Is a Ball. It’s meant to be bubble-light and an effervescent French-tinged delight, but it lumbers instead of lilts, and despite a sterling cast of actors playing the rather stock roles, chemistry is missing, and sparks simply don’t fly. One need only look at Lover, Come Back, the witty Rock Hudson-Doris Day romantic comedy made around the same time, to see the way romantic comedies can be done right. Love Is a Ball is a romantic comedy missing both romance and comedy.
Etienne Pimm (Charles Boyer) makes his living setting up penniless playboys with wealthy heiresses, and with his latest discovery, the dashingly handsome Gaspard Ducluzeau (Ricardo Montalban), Pimm feels sure he can dangle him as bait for his richest heiress yet, the spoiled, willful Millie Mehaffey (Hope Lange) worth $40 million. Gaspard has some lapses in his cultural resume, so Pimm hires three men to teach him English language fluency, dancing, and efficiency with horses and sports cars. The latter two jobs are assigned to John Davis (Glenn Ford), a champion racer and polo player but who now runs a boat for hire on the Riviera which is temporarily out of commission until he can raise the funds to repair it. He takes the job grudgingly but is delighted to find he’s attracted to Millie and she to him though he must curb his interest in the hopes that she falls for Gaspard instead.
While Boyer is basically playing a high class pimp, the David Swift-Tom and Frank Waldman screenplay (adapted from Lindsay Hardy's novel) would rather that we don’t look at it that way. So with this rather sour set-up, the characters need to be thoroughly charming to win us over to this somewhat disreputable agenda. Unfortunately, apart from Montalban’s naïve, hard-working but ultimately klutzy pupil, the characters are too headstrong and unlikable, and everyone is pushing for effects, attempting through overemphasis to make this sodden material bright and funny. It just doesn’t work (a last reel romantic tiff when Millie learns the truth of the operation is the film’s nadir), and it isn’t helped by Swift’s pedestrian direction which offers the superficially attractive scenic delights of the Riviera but in scenes that never engage us in the comedy or romance. What does stand out are Frank Thompson’s outrageous costume designs for Hope Lange. She arrives in a sea of pink, and before the film is over, she dons an evening gown with a bare midriff, a backless racing suit done in pink velvet (to take part in the International Grand Prix!), and a black leotard worn to a cocktail party. And her climactic wedding dress is one of the most elaborate ever designed for films. Renee Zellweger’s outrageous costumes for Down with Love were obviously inspired by the clothes in this movie. Something is obviously lacking with the comedy material when the costumes draw one’s attention more than the stories being imparted.
Glenn Ford and Hope Lange were an item at the time of this film’s production, but their off screen chemistry doesn’t translate well on screen. He’s not quite right for romantic comedy (when he dresses up in his jeans and boots and jumps on the back of a horse to teach riding, he does seem right at home) though he did score well with the domestic comedy The Courtship of Eddie’s Father the same year as this movie. Lange’s comic gifts hadn’t risen to the fore yet (she’d win two Emmys later in the decade for her TV work on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir), but the material she’s been given emphasizes her spoiled nature rather than her innate charm and vulnerability (which she had showed well in other films like Bus Stop). Ricardo Montalban is by far the best thing in the movie as the bumbling playboy. A running gag of his constantly driving in reverse when he means to go forward is one of the few gags that consistently works. And as he was an accomplished horseman and dancer (as proven in scores of his MGM films), his befuddlement at both skills here is amazingly adroit. Charles Boyer oozes the continental charm he was known for but doesn’t explore anything we haven’t seen countless times before. Telly Savalas as Lange’s uncle, an effete gourmand who’s eager for his niece to marry a “Duke,” plays superbly against type and steals most of his scenes. The always delightful Ruth McDevitt is on hand playing her usual scatty role, but Ulla Jacobsson, introduced in this picture and playing Boyer’s secretary who has her own crush with Montalban to deal with, doesn’t distinguish herself.
The Panavision 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented in an anamorphically-enhanced transfer. The first two reels feature bland color and are a bit dark, but things pick up picture-wise as the film plays. Clarity is adequate and occasionally even very good, but sharpness is rather inconsistent. There are dust specks here and there and some debris on occasion, but aliasing and moiré are fairly persistent problems. There’s a thin black scratch that appears during the credits, but otherwise, scratches aren’t a problem. The film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes so there are 12 chapters present.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound mix is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. The sound design is very typical for its era with dialogue, music, and sound effects blended in a single track. Though the dialogue is usually clear, there are a couple of occasions where Michel Legrand’s score overpowers what people are saying. There is low level hiss and some rather discernible crackle throughout with occasional pops as well.
There are no bonus features on this made-on-demand disc.
2.5/5 (not an average)
There is quite a starry cast on display in Love Is a Ball, but you won’t find the wit or sophistication nearly up to the levels of the best romantic comedies of the era. This one will be for fans only.