DVD Review: Lucille Ball: First Lady of Comedy @ 9 October 2014 07:02 PM


Who doesn't love Lucy, or just needs use a laugh? How about just an "I can't believe what I'm watching" reaction as you watch?

The four Lucille Ball feature films in this 2-disc Mill Creek set run the gamut of pretty good, kind of weird, so-bad-it's-delightful and best of the bunch. All four are nicely restored, so if you've been trying to find decent copies of them on various budget DVDs, you'll have them here.

THE MAGIC CARPET (1951)
Co-starring John Agar and Patricia Medina


This infamous so-bad-it's-delightful "sort of color, sort of spectacular" adventure/fantasy/comedy is notable for several reasons. Check out this history from everythinglucy.com:

"Hoping to force Lucille Ball into breaking her contract, Columbia Pictures chieftain Harry Cohn assigned her to the low-budget Arabian Nights escapade The Magic Carpet. Much to Cohn's amazement, the plucky Ball agreed to appear in the film, forcing Columbia to pay her salary until her option ran out. While Lucille Ball is quite attractive in her harem duds, the viewer cannot help but notice that her bare midriff is often obscured by props and furniture; that's because she was pregnant with her daughter Lucie Arnaz during the filming of The Magic Carpet."



The Magic Carpet
also co-stars (and what old movie did NOT co-star?) George Tobias and the comic relief sidekick--and Raymond Burr as the scheming villain. Imagine Abner Kravitz and Perry Mason in the The Arabian Nights and there's even more to chortle about.

HER HUSBAND'S AFFAIRS (1947)
Co-starring Franchot Tone


A lower-echelon Adam's Rib crossed with a kind of weird Son of Flubber, Her Husband's Affairs is not about infidelity, but about a wife who is (GASP!) more talented and savvy than her pompous, egomaniacal husband. Those who cringe at the pre-feminist aspects of films of a long ago mindset might want to skip Franchot Tone's insufferable whining and fuming about how Lucille Ball bails him out time after time. To be positive, it might be interpreted as a statement about how women should have been treated and were not.



Anyway, it goes from a husband-and-wife conflict story to a very odd fantasy sitcom about wacky inventions and their consequences. Ball is fine as ever, but Tone is probably miscast because his overall disaffected, cool style makes his character unlikable, while a more genial actor might have pulled off the role of this dolt at least a little better.

MISS GRANT TAKES RICHMOND (1949)
Co-Starring William Holden


Ball and Holden play masterfully against each other in this pretty good, Damon Runyonesque tale of "a lovable bunch of bookies and their dashing leader who would reform if only the right woman could change him."



Lovers of I Love Lucy can revel in the comparisons between Holden and Ball in this film and Holden and Lucy Ricardo in the famous "nose-lighting" episode of the classic series. What makes this extra special for classic TV fans is the appearance of Gloria Henry--Dennis the Menace's mom--as one of the young postwar newlyweds. She looks a little different, but there is no mistaking that lovely voice.

THE FULLER BRUSH GIRL (1950)
Co-Starring Eddie Albert


Like Miss Grant Takes Richmond, this is one of the most widely played of Ball's film comedies. Of all four in this set, it's the best of the bunch for its snappy pace, beautifully timed slapstick, engaging story and the chemistry between Ball and Arnold, who play the postwar couple this time around.

If you watch this with young people, you might have to start by explaining that Fuller Brush people were like Avon or Mary Kay sales people who went door-to-door with household gadgets or, in this case, beauty products. Ball and Anold's characters are as hapless as can be and you can see each successive catastrophe mounting a mile away, but that's part of the fun and part of the filmmaker's craft.

It was also scripted by Looney Tunes director turned Hollywood movie director Frank Tashlin, so like his Jerry Lewis hits, the action is very cartoony and was very likely storyboarded in the same way as animation.



Only one year away from becoming Lucy Ricardo, The Fuller Brush Girl is a prelude to I Love Lucy for Lucille Ball as well for her fans. You can imagine see how Ethel, Fred and Ricky might have reacted to all the zany hijinks.




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