Friday, April 30, 2010

For the Weekend: The Love of Lucy

I don't know about the rest of you, but Friday could not have gotten here fast enough this week.  So when I noticed there were a few movies from my all-time favorite actress on this weekend, it helped ease the long, long wait for my days off.  So, I present to you today, a few gems from the movie collection of Lucille Ball.

First up is a movie Lucy made long before her television success, "Annabel Takes a Tour" (on at 6am EST, Saturday on TCM).  Released by RKO in 1938, it is the second of two films starring Ms. Ball as Annabel Allison, a movie star with an outrageous publicity agent (Jack Oakie).  In "Tour," Ball goes on (what else) a publicity tour during which Oakie keeps thinking up crazy publicity schemes that get her into hilarious trouble, one after another.   Ball had become a contract player at RKO back in 1933, but the "Annabel" movies were the first films to really show Ball's comedic talent in a starring role.  The studio was hoping to make more "Annabel" movies, but unfortunately, Oakie asked too much money for the B-movie budget to continue.  It obviously didn't hurt Lucy's career.  Years later, her success allowed her to buy RKO with husband Desi Arnaz to create Desilu Productions.

Next, we have a film made long after Lucy's success had been solidified, "Yours, Mine and Ours" (on at 2pm EST, Sunday on TCM).  Produced by Desilu Productions in 1968, Lucy stars alongside one of her buddies from those early days at RKO, Henry Fonda.  (They even dated for a bit back when they were both unknowns.)  Lucy plays Helen North, a widow with eight kids, who falls in love and marries Fonda, a widower with ten kids.  It's a lighthearted family comedy based on a real-life couple, though the writers took liberties in creating tension and comedic situations that didn't exist in the real story, such as Frank and Helen hiding the number of children each had from the other when they first start dating.  It was a big hit, making over $17 million at the box office (the film only cost $2.5 million to make).  Unfortunately, Ball did not expect it to be such a success, and therefore never made a tax shelter for her profits, causing her to have to give most of it to the government.  (Also, thanks to this film's success, we got "The Brady Bunch.")

Finally, to see some drama from Lucy, I recommend "The Dark Corner" from 1946.  It's a gem of a film noir about a detective's secretary (Ball) who helps her boss hunt for the man trying to kill him.  This was produced by Twentieth Century Fox during Ball's contract fight with MGM.  She had moved over to MGM when she married Arnaz, but she was not at all happy there.  She sued MGM to break her contract, but during that process, MGM retaliated by reducing her pay and loaning her out to other companies.  Lucy said she hated filming this movie, because of director Henry Hathaway.  Hathaway bullied Ball so much during filming that she would sometimes stutter her lines, which caused Hathaway to berate her more, accusing her of being drunk.  "Corner" is worth seeing though, because Lucy gives a beautiful performance, even through all the off-screen torture.  "The Dark Corner" is now available on DVD and for instant viewing on Netflix.

So, enjoy the queen of comedy this weekend, in comedy or drama.  I'm sure you'll enjoy watching her either way.  Have a wonderful, relaxing weekend, and I'll see you Monday!

(Post-tidbit:  A young Tim Matheson plays one of Lucy's stepsons in "Yours, Mine and Ours."  Thanks to this, if you ever play "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," you can link Bacon and Ball together in two steps, because Matheson and Bacon were both in "Animal House" together.)

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