Years in the making, the Dutton Encyclopedia, written by eight myopic scholars, is hitting the skids just as it's hitting the "S" words. Professor Bertram Potts (Cooper) has just finished a 26 page treatise on "Slang," when a garbage-man walks in with some fancy (and utterly incomprehensible) patter that puts his research to shame. Potts determines that he will leave his ivory tower and venture forth into the world to see what all the...what's the word? *flip/flip*..."rhubarb" is about. He stumbles upon a nightclub (where Gene Krupa happens to be playing) and taking on the lead vocals is "Sugarpuss" O'Shea (Stanwyck, in full "bad-girl" mode), mob-girl to Joe Lilac (Dana Andrews) who's being investigated by the New York cops. The focus of their investigation is Sugarpuss, who can give them a lot of inside information, so she has to go on the lam, and the professor's invitation to her to be a part of his slang symposium, gives her the perfect hideout, going "to the mattresses" with the eight encyclopediacs, but under the distrusting baleful eye of Miss Bragg, the housekeeper.
This is one of the great unsung Hawks movies, slightly different from his formula, thanks to Brackett and Wilder's script, but it still falls under the category where a team of different skilled people—in this case scholars—come together under circumstance to form a like-minded unit, even if, as here, it happens a little late in the proceedings. It was Hawks' version of making a film about film-making, but obliquely, showing that any group of gypsies can unite under a common goal despite their differences. It's part of the charm that makes Hawks one of the most American-minded of film-makers, those films being a reflection of the melting pot of the Great National Experiment.