Title: The Lucille Ball Film Collection
Silent or Talkie: Talkie
Warner Brothers has released The Lucille Ball Film Collection. This set is a nod to one of the greatest comediennes the world has ever seen. Ball was known widely for her film work with one-time husband Desi Arnaz, the other half of the timeless I Love Lucy sitcom. Here, we get to see her outside of that realm, and it’s a welcomed romp through her career. This 5-Disc collection shows Lucy at her best, not only in comedic situations but also in dramatic early roles such as The Big Street with Henry Fonda. She’d done nearly 80 films before the world knew her as a Ricardo, and close to 30 afterwards. Now, with the help of Warner Brothers, those highlights can shine once again.
The Big Street (1942)
The Movie: Written by Damon Runyan and directed by Irving Reis, The Big Street stars Lucille Ball as Gloria Lyons, a nightclub singer who prides herself on being a member of high society. Her attitude is condescending, and she has no reservations about verbally bashing anyone who dares to question her superiority. During a local eating contest, Lyons strolls through the crowd with her small dog in hand. In the blink of an eye, the dog escapes her grip and runs into the street outside. Agustus ‘Pinks’ Pinkerton (Henry Fonda), is completely taken with Gloria. He considers her a goddess, incapable of wrong-doing. He is the only one to witness to the dog running and grabs it out of harm’s way in the nick of time. Gloria is grateful to Pinks and secures a job for him at an upscale club to show her appreciation. Before long, Pinks can’t take his mind off her. He sends her flowers and lovingly refers to her as “your highness”, a term which she obviously believes she deserves. An altercation soon arises between Gloria and the owner of a club that she frequents. She belittles him in typical Gloria Lyons fashion and tries to leave when he strikes her in the face, sending her tumbling down a flight of steps. She sustains an injury that leaves her a mere shadow of her former self. “Pinks” assumes the role of caretaker, even spending his own money to keep Gloria as comfortable as possible. However, with her cold and callous demeanor comes expectation. Nothing seems good enough. She is a star, a spectacle, a sight to behold, in her own mind. Does Pinks’ unending devotion have the strength to overcome Gloria’s perpetual need for adoration? After all, she defines love as that which gives you “one room, two chins and three kids.” Special features include: Vintage musical short – Calling All Girls and Classic cartoon – The Hep Cat.
Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)
The Movie: Lucille Ball is “Bubbles”, a dancer in a troupe of girls who are trying to find a big break. Bubbles and Judy O’Brien (Maureen O’Hara), a naive ballerina, meet Jimmy Harris (Louis Hayward). Jimmy has a lot of money but is strangely sensitive to blue eyes and a stuffed animal bull. Both women are attracted to Jimmy, though he can’t seem to let go of his last marriage. Bubbles gets a job in a burlesque club and begins to climb the ladder of success. Madame Basilova (Maria Ouspenskaya), the troupe’s teacher, takes Judy to audition for Steve Adams (Ralph Bellamy), a businessman with an affinity for ballet. On the way to the audition, Madame Basilova is hit and killed by a car. Judy goes to the audition despite the tragedy but is intimidated by the other dancers with more skill. Bubbles has become known as “Tiger Lily the Burlesque Queen”, and offers Judy a job as a stooge in her show. Though she is somewhat insulted, Judy’s monetary needs prompt her to accept the job. One night, Jimmy and Steve attend the performance, and Judy leaves with Jimmy after the final act. The next night, Judy and Jimmy are at a nightclub when Jimmy gets in a fight with his ex-wife’s new husband. Their pictures appear in the newspaper the following day and Bubbles is enraged that Judy has “stolen” Jimmy. Steve’s secretary also sees Judy’s picture in the paper and identifies her as the dancer who had come to audition. At Bubbles’ and Judy’s next show, Judy launches into a monologue about the public’s inclination towards viewing women as objects. The speech wins the audience over and steals the spotlight from Bubbles. Steve finally confronts Judy and promises to make her a star. Special features include: Vintage comedy short – Just A Cute Kid and Classic cartoon – Malibu Beach Party.
Dubarry Was A Lady (1943)
The Movie: Dual roles! Two different time periods! Lucille ball is May Daly, a singer pursued by both Louis Blore (Red Skelton) and Alec Howe (Gene Kelly). Neither has very much money, and May is more interested in a fellow with financial comfort. An admirer named Willie (Douglass Dumbrille) is one such guy. Alec is the emcee, and when he writes a song for May, she admits that she’s head over heels in love with him. This excites Alec to no end, until May stubbornly confirms that she’ll still marry a rich man (Willie) over a poor man. May and Willie go out on the town; but, when Willie is hit with a bowl of salad (by one of Alec’s friends), May is forced to send him home. Louis now joins May. He swoons over her but she is too wrapped up in her own romantic affairs to pay him any real attention. Suddenly, Louis receives a telegram informing him that he has won $150,000 in a sweepstakes. This causes him to spend widely and the word of his good fortune spreads by way of the newspapers. May reads the news and is shocked but obviously considering a “change of heart”. Louis announces that he will marry “DuBarry”, the character May portrays in her stage show. Alec defies May to accept Louis’ proposal, which she does with a disclaimer that she’s only marrying him for wealth. Louis’ old job as a cloak room clerk is no longer necessary and is taken over by Charlie (Rags Ragland). Alec has become more enraged over May and Louis’ engagement, so Charlie suggests that Louis slip Alec a ‘mickey’ to put him out of commission for a few days. Reluctant, Louis agrees but instead drinks the “enhanced” cocktail himself and passes out. Once knocked out, Louis dreams that he is Louis XV, a French king of the 1600s. Everyone takes on a 17th century personality in the dream. When Louis comes to, he has a new outlook on May, Alec and life in general. Special features include: Oscar-nominated Pete Smith specialty short “Seeing Hands”, Classic cartoon “Bah Wilderness” and the Theatrical trailer.
The Movie: Thought to be a remake of 1958’s Auntie Mame with Rosalind Russell, Mame is actually based on the 1966 Broadway musical with Angela Lansbury. Mame tells the story of Mame Dennis (Ball), an eccentric woman who treats life as her own personal playground. When her brother dies suddenly, Mame becomes the caretaker of her young nephew Patrick (first played by Kirby Furlong and then by Bruce Davison). She is clearly out of her element in regards to parenting, but her fun wit allows her to bluff her way through the motions. During the Depression-ravaged 1930s, Mame sends Patrick to a private school and takes a crack at show business with help from Vera (Beatrice Arthur). Though she is a fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants gal, Mame is forced to shock herself back into reality after marrying Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside (Robert Preston). In the wake of her husband’s death, she becomes a much different woman who appears to have a better understanding of life. There have been varying opinions that Lucille Ball was miscast in this musical. Lucy had eclipsed 60 years of age when Mame was filmed, yet portrayed a much younger character. There was also talk that she should not have been cast in a singing role, seeing as how she was far from a songbird. Perhaps the opposing parties are more accustomed to the grandiose of The Sound of Music, and are looking for a replication. Mame being the woman that she was, Ball was very fitting to portray her as a raspy-voiced spitfire. It’s obvious the casting gripe has done little damage to the reputation of this 1974 spectacle. Special features include: Vintage Featurette – Lucky Mame and the Theatrical trailer.
Critic’s Choice (1963)
The Movie: Lucille Ball is Angela Ballantine, the wife of Broadway critic Parker Ballantine (Bob Hope). Angela decides to write a play about her family, her mother and sisters to be exact. Parker hates the idea and finds the script to be an abomination. Despite her husband’s dissuasion, Angela finds a producer and a director to take on the play. Knowing that her husband is a critic who would lack complete objectivity, Angela asks Parker to separate himself from reviewing her work. Parker seems to frown upon his wife having anything to do with the stage. They fight over the director’s obvious “over-attentiveness” towards Angela, after which Parker goes on a bender with his ex-wife Ivy (Marilyn Maxwell). Angela’s play reviews are horrific, but more upsetting is Parker’s review which lays into her viciously. Fed up, Angela turns away from Parker and vows to leave with Dion Kapakos (the play’s director, played by Rip Torn). Parker finally comes around and apologizes for his drastic behavior (though he stands by his review of her play). This Lucille Ball-Bob Hope film was really a spotlight on the both of them. Both were already legends and needed no grand performance to cement their careers into history. However, the two were good friends in real life and it certainly comes across on the screen in this early 1960’s comedy directed by Don Weis. Special features include: Vintage comedy short “Calling All Tars” with Bob Hope, Oscar-nominated cartoon “Now Hear This” and the Theatrical trailer.
There is little to be said in the interest of persuasion. Lucy paved the way for many comedians and entertainers alike. Her original mix of wit, sarcasm and slapstick is the recipe for greatness. This collection serves not only to remember her, but to introduce her to a new generation of fans. She continues to transcend the boundaries of changing fads. Whether you’re a Lucy aficionado, an admirer or unfamiliar with her film work, this is a set that should be added to your list immediately!
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