Lucille Ball was originally a radio personality starring in a popular comedy, My Favorite Husband. It was here that she began to develop the character she would continue to play for decades in television through several shows, all bearing her name in one form or another: I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, Here’s Lucy, and Life With Lucy. See the pattern? Anyone who was a fan of the radio show would instantly recognize the red-haired actress even though they had never actually seen her on the radio. That exaggerated cry was already a staple of her physical comedy, even when she couldn’t be seen. She had also toured for many years with her real-life husband Desi Arnaz. When they could not convince a network to film a pilot of a show featuring both of them, they made it on their own dime. CBS was so impressed with the pilot they reimbursed the couple, and in 1951 I Love Lucy hit the airwaves.
Lucy played the character she had already perfected on radio and on the stage. Desi played her husband, a Cuban bandleader who headlined at the Tropicana. Lucy was always trying to find a way to get into Ricky’s act. She had no talent, but that never stopped her, usually embarrassing Ricky along the way. The couple lived in an apartment owned by the Mertzes, Fred (Frawley) and Ethel (Vance). They were not only the Ricardo’s landlords but also their closest friends. Ethel would often find herself talked into one of Lucy’s crazy schemes. The show also found comedy fodder in Ricky’s thick Cuban accent. Sometimes his mispronunciations caused hilarious misunderstandings. William Frawley as Fred had the job of playing straight man most of the time. It was a thankless job, to be sure, but he was perfect at it. He didn’t talk as much as the others, but he had some golden moments over the show’s very successful six year run. During that time the series never once fell below number three for the entire year in ratings.
I Love Lucy: The Movie was an attempt to cash in on the popularity with an inexpensively made motion picture. It combined three episodes from the first year of the series. There were a couple of bridging scenes filmed that were mostly simple exposition. There was an introduction that found a couple arriving for a taping of an episode of the series. This segment also features a Desi Arnaz warmup of the audience and a stage bow for the rest of the cast.
Here are the three episodes and their stories, which were combined for the movie:
The Benefit: Ethel wants Ricky to perform at a benefit for her women’s club. Lucy refuses to even ask him unless Ethel agrees to put her in the show with him. Ethel reluctantly agrees, and after Lucy’s trademark crying, Ricky agrees to find an act for them both. It’s Rickey’s plan to find an act that involves Lucy as little as possible, but it’s Lucy who gets the last laugh once they’re on the stage.
Breaking The Lease: The Ricardos and Mertzes spend a late evening singing and having fun together. They regale in their friendship and part early in the morning. When the Ricardos decide to do a bit more singing, the Mertzes suddenly don’t find the good times so amusing. The feud ends with the Ricardos deciding to try to break their lease. They resort to noise, including bringing Ricky’s entire orchestra over in the middle of the night to rehearse. But as moving day arrives, will the close friends be able to stand going their separate ways? In the movie we are led to believe this occurred the night of the benefit. They were celebrating the successful night.
The Ballet: Ricky needs a ballet dancer and a burlesque comedian for his act. Lucy decides this is her chance to finally get in on his show. She tries both paths and ends up tying them together for her appearance on the stage with hysterical results.
I Love Lucy: The Movie is presented in its original full frame format. Of course, the show is also black and white. The contrast is a bit impressive for footage this old. There’s plenty of dirt and quite a few print specks. Black levels are unfortunately almost nonexistent. Still, the restoration effort is obvious and appreciated.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track that is basically the original mono. Remember that these episodes are very old, and you might not mind the ever-present hiss and crackle. The music is often ruined with plenty of high-end distortion. Dialog is clear enough, and perhaps that’s all that matters.
Lucy Goes To Scotland In Color: (26:27) This is a 5th season episode that has been colorized, using publicity stills as a reference. In the episode Lucy has a dream that she visits the Scottish town of her ancestors, only to find she’s the last known surviving McGillicuddy. There’s a good reason for this. Every 30 years a member of the clan is fed to a two-headed dragon to pacify the beast. Now Lucy is next.
Lucy And Desi’s First Joint TV Appearance: (2:59) From Christmas Eve 1949 this is a segment of The Ed Wynn Show.
I Love Lucy At The 6th Annual Emmy Awards: (5:34) In this footage from the Emmy Awards, Vivian Vance takes a Best Supporting Actress statue and Lucy and Desi take one for Best Situation Comedy. They put in a plug for writers to be recognized, which at that time was not the case at the Emmy Awards.
On-Set Commercial From The Series Premier: (2:17) Before the very first episode aired, there was a Phillip Morris commercial.
I Love Lucy changed the fledgling television industry in the 1950’s. This was a time when network television was less than a decade old. Most folks had never heard of television just 15 years earlier. I Love Lucy defined the concept of a sitcom. The show was driven by the very strong personalities of the cast. Desi Arnaz was considered a charismatic Latin lover by American women. Lucy played the perfect foil and found a mountain of gold to mine in strong physical comedy. So many modern shows owe their roots to this classic that it would be impossible to mention them all here. I’ve got my copy, but I suggest you get one of you’re own. And no, you can’t borrow mine, “Well, I’d be very glad to help them out, but I’m not through with him yet.”