Sunday, November 23, 2008

Rob Klein reviews the final seasons of I love Lucy, which were also the final years that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were together.

I Love Lucy: The Final Seasons 7, 8 and 9.

The last of the I Love Lucy boxed sets are now available, and contain the never-before released Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. These episodes are long awaited by fans, not only because these films are rarely seen, but also because format is unique and provides a different style than that of the half hour show I Love Lucy. Behind the scenes, the personal life of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz added a fascinating element to these last 13 hour-long episodes.

1957 was a big year for Desilu. Motion Picture Center, the facilities where I Love Lucy was produced, were crowded. Desilu, who owned a controlling interest in the small studio, needed more room to expand. One lunch break, Desi Arnaz went out and purchased all of RKO’s studio property. Lucy and Desi now owned the largest amount of real estate in Hollywood. Interestingly, it encompassed the very same studio that Lucy had been under contract to years before when she first arrived in Hollywood. With their new studio, Desilu expanded and grew. Live long and prosper they did, as Desilu was responsible for later producing a show called Star Trek.

Season 6 of I Love Lucy contains several memorable episodes, including “Lucy Meets Orson Welles” and “Lucy Meets Superman” which features a rare appearance of the legendary George Reeves in costume as the “Man of Steel”. I Love Lucy was, as usual, the number one show on television. Oddly, season 6 was the last of the half-hour episodes produced. The change in format to the one-hour Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour may have been in response to the lack of awards that I love Lucy received. It was the number one show, and not a single person involved with the production, including Lucille Ball, had been honored with an award. Desi had even been the host of The Emmy’s that very year! Lucy and Desi decided to change their hectic weekly production schedule of one half-hour show a week to a single one-hour show a month. This change in format did not sit well with fans, not to mention CBS affiliates and sponsors. I Love Lucy’s main sponsor, General Foods, pulled out of the program. Desi consummated a new sponsorship deal with Ford for the first season of the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. Three original Ford Motors commercials are included in this set.

Season 8 saw a new sponsor, Westinghouse, and had five shows produced. Each show was rated within the top five specials broadcast that season by all three networks. The format of the hour-long show continued to have celebrity guest-stars featured heavily in the plot. Fred MacMurray, Ann Southern, Maurice Chevalier and Caesar Romero, to name a few, made appearances on the show. The focus on the guest stars affected the screen time of the Mertzes, played by Vivian Vance and William Frawley. Desi offered Vivian Vance a spin-off series, to placate her upset to the change, but she was not interested. William Frawley, not unlike his character Fred, welcomed the change as it allowed an easier workload.

This set features restored prints and they look fantastic, crisp and clear. The bonus features are exemplary and include deleted scenes, bloopers and original titles sequences. If that was not enough disc 2 features a film made for Westinghouse employees. It is shot like an episode of I Love Lucy but Desi and Lucy play themselves along with Vivian Vance and William Frahley. Desi gives a studio tour of all Desilu’s movie studios documenting the studio property by helicopter. Including priceless footage of Motion Picture Center, where I Love Lucy was done, the old RKO Gower lot recently acquired at the time of the filming, and the old David O. Selznick Studios that had been owned by RKO since the 30s. The footage is incredible. In the fly by of the old Culver back lot … as the helicopter reaches the end of the studio property the last facade is positively Tara from Gone With the Wind, which was shot there 20 years earlier. Unfortunately to an untrained eye most will not notice Tara or the Train Station set as it is not pointed out. This DVD set will become that of legend for containing this rare film. Thank you CBS video.

Season 9 provided only three episodes, each with Desi seated in the directors’ chair. This last season is fascinating to watch, as what was going on behind the scenes adds an intrigue to these episodes. Lucy and Desi’s marriage was coming to an end, and the cracks in their relationship added tension on the set. Desi’s role as director also added fuel to the fire. The last episode ends with Desi and Lucy embracing, and Ricky saying: “Lucy, you help me more when you don’t help me”, then a kiss follows. The scene was shot over and over again; all who watched felt the emotion. It was nine years to the day that the very first I Love Lucy pilot episode was produced, a show that had been originally conceived as a vehicle to bring both Lucy and Desi to work together, in hopes to help strengthen an already troubled marriage. The very next day after the last Lucy –Desi Comedy Hour was filmed (“Lucy Meets the Moustache”), Lucy filed for divorce.
The end of The Lucy –Desi Comedy Hour was also the end of Lucy and Desi, and a milestone in television history came to a close.

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