Reviews

I Love Lucy - The Complete Seasons 7-9

General wisdom suggests that all sitcoms run out of creative steam long before season seven. But this set of later-period I Love Lucy episodes proves such a theory wrong.


I Love Lucy - The Complete Seasons 7-9

Distributor: Paramount
Cast: Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, William Frawley, Vivian Vance
Network: CBS
First date: 1951
US Release Date: 2007-03-13
Last date: 1957
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Seasons seven, eight and nine of I Love Lucy mark the tail-end of this pioneering sitcom’s life. Granted, Lucy and Ricky were obviously older adults by then. But even with the aging of the series and its stars, these factors did not prevent the series from remaining fresh and funny 'til the very end.

Also called the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hours, these episodes have not been syndicated to death on television over the years, unlike the earlier shows. So while the characters are familiar, these comedic situations are still relatively new, even for those already familiar with the program’s classic episodes.

As its alternate show title implies, these programs are 60 minutes long. The fact that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez can keep the laughs coming fast and furious for twice the usual length of your typical sitcom is truly laudable. Another advantage these latter programs have over the originals is that they’re not all claustrophobically filmed in Lucy’s small living space stage set.

Much like The Honeymooners, one of the I Love Lucy contemporaries, Ball and Arnez did amazing things with limited stage space. But during these extended stories, the cast gets transported to foreign lands, like Japan and Mexico, and more exotic locales, such as hunting uranium in Las Vegas and skiing in Sun Valley. These are like comedic movie shorts, rather than typical sitcom programs.

It’s obvious the series’ producers intended to fit as many celebrities on-screen as possible. Every show featured one or more guest star. But some of these famous ones were well beyond their prime by the late '50s, when these shows were filmed, namely folks like Rudy Vallee and Maurice Chevalier. But Fernando Lamas still looked good skiing with Lucy during “Lucy Goes to Sun Valley”, and it was still believable when Fred Mertz drooled over Betty Grable’s legs during “Lucy Wins a Racehorse”.

Grable appears along with trumpeter / bandleader / husband Harry James in “Lucy Wins a Racehorse”, also one of this set’s funniest programs. Against Ricky’s wishes, Lucy wins a racehorse for Little Ricky in a breakfast cereal contest. The horse arrives at the house. Lucy is struggling to lead him upstairs as Fred and Ethel push from below, when Ricky catches them. When Ricky asks about it, Lucy answers, “What horse?” And when he restates that there is a horse in the house, she then answers, “What house?”

Although it may not be the funniest episode of them all, “Lucy Takes a Cruise to Havana”, which opens season 7, tells the intriguing story of how Lucy and Ricky met. At that time, Lucy’s character was known as Lucy McGillicuddy. For serious fans of the show, this offers an essential bit of trivia.

Ball engages in plenty of physical comedy, her strongpoint, throughout. For instance, during “Lucy Wins a Racehorse”, she somehow finds herself racing her new horse at the track. During “Lucy Goes to Mexico”, Mrs. Ricardo morphs into a bullfighter. Back on the old show, you never would have spied Lucy in a bullring or a racetrack. Yet here she is navigating zany situations with large animals in the great outdoors.

Ricky's jokes are more verbal than visual, mainly playing upon his Cuban accent for American audiences. For instance, the script has him saying the word “jealous” several times during “Lucy Goes to Sun Valley” because it always comes out “yellous” when he says it. Of course, it’s worth a chuckle every time Ricky’s eyes bug out at one of Lucy’s hair brained ideas.

With all of its star power, Ricky takes full advantage of his many newfound musical opportunities. He sings a duet with Chevalier, giving a song the Cuban treatment as Chevalier makes it French. He also has Harry James blow a wonderfully blasting trumpet solo on “Lucy Wins a Racehorse”. In a couple of places, the extremely young Little Ricky gets to show off his drumming skills. Like (TV) father, like son, I guess.

It would be great to hear what the I Love Lucy producers and writers had to say about making this show, because the writing is topnotch throughout out. Sadly, none of these participants are heard from during the various “Special Features” sections. Instead, the viewer gets deleted scenes, flubs, the original opening and closing, and three original Ford Motor commercials in the extras. None are hardly worth inclusion.

I was skeptical about the quality of these latter-day I Love Lucy episodes. After all, I’ve seen too many other sitcoms run out of original ideas after far fewer seasons than nine. But the entertainment value of this re-released set is a pleasant surprise. Like Muhammad Ali in his twilight years, this show relied on craftiness instead of high energy to make it work. What worked so well at the beginning, with just a bit of adjustment, was still working to perfection so many years later.

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Music

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Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

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(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

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(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

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(Available from Warner Bros.)

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(Available from Warner Bros.)

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(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

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(Available from Warner Bros.)

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