This is truly an oddity. Three episodes of the I Love Lucy television program were edited together with additional material added to bridge them, as well as new introductory and closing bits. Desilu studios planned to release the cobbled-together enterprise as a feature film, but Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had another film coming out; Desilu cancelled the release so that the I Love Lucy movie would not compete with The Long, Long Trailer. That was 1953.
I don’t know much about feature film audiences in the 1950s, but it seems unlikely that they were so unsophisticated that they would flock to three situation comedy episodes already aired on television, complete with laugh track. The material added to bring the three episodes together is not subtle—it’s obviously added on, and some of it is illogical (as if logic were a major ingredient in I Love Lucy). If entertainment historians told us that it was not released because the makers feared it would bomb, we would comfortably accept that.
The stories in the three episodes (“The Benefit,” “Breaking the Lease,” and “The Ballet”) are not related, and the scenes tying them together are almost painful. However, if you are an I Love Lucy fan or you are nostalgic for the early days of television, the I Love Lucy movie is not a bad deal. The three episodes represent typical I Love Lucy situations, which are largely built on immaturity. I didn’t catch that the first time I watched episode after episode of I Love Lucy because I was a little girl, and Lucy was my babysitter.
The four central characters—Lucy (Lucille Ball) and Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) and their landlord/friends Ethel (Vivian Vance) and Fred Mertz (William Frawley)—all behave like juveniles at some point. Lucy, of course, is the worst. There are a lot of things she’d like to do, but she doesn’t have the talent to do them. She won’t let that stop her, and she will do just about anything to get her way. Between all the “I love you”s, Lucy and Ricky have a bizarre relationship in which he thinks he’s the boss and is forever putting her down because she lacks talent (other people might say he’s being honest. Honest? Yes. Tactless? Very.).
There are things in these episodes that you have to love. Lucy tries to improve her singing with a how-to book by “F. Alsetto.” Lucy and Ricky wear duplicate (not just matching) pajamas when they retire to their twin beds pushed together under one headboard (yet with separate bed linens). Ethel and Fred’s apartment is tiny and decorated in riotously disagreeing floral patterns. Everyone’s closets should be exploding with all the items that are pulled out of them.
Considering that complete seasons of I Love Lucy, including the first season from which these three episodes were taken, are available on DVD, I Love Lucy—The Movie might not be the best investment of your entertainment dollars. However, it does include a number of extras, including: “Lucy Goes to Scotland,” the only colorized, full-length episode; Lucy and Desi’s first television appearance together (on Ed Wynn’s show); segments of the Sixth Annual Emmy Awards, and an on-set commercial for Phillip Morris (“the less irritating”) cigarettes from the series’ premiere.
Of all the things on the DVD, “Lucy Goes to Scotland” is the most enjoyable. It is a dream sequence/mini-musical that is played so broadly, and with such grand silliness, you can’t help but be entertained. On the other hand, the cigarette commercial is pretty darn funny, too.
Bottom Line, would I buy/rent I Love Lucy: The Movie? Rent, maybe. It’s interesting to compare why I enjoyed I Love Lucy so many years ago to the reasons I outgrew it.