Lucille Ball, Big Screen and Small

When I first visited Los Angeles in 1991, I enjoyed many of the attractions that draw people to Southern California—the beaches, Disneyland, Hollywood, Dodger Stadium.

It was all fun, but one thing emotionally touched me more than these superficially pleasant entertainments. Universal Studios was hosting a poignant exhibit for Lucille Ball, who had died two years earlier. This wasn’t Mickey Mouse, this wasn’t a surfer hanging ten, this wasn’t the Jaws shark leaping out of the water.

This was more real, and surprisingly moving. Maybe because of the contrast with the other attractions, but mostly because of something special about Lucy.

On January 5, 2007, the Redford Theatre helped its patrons re-connect with the special appeal of Lucille Ball in the 1954 move The Long, Long Trailer. In this first Redford movie of 2007, the audience delighted to Lucy and her real-life husband Desi Arnaz in a widescreen, Anscocolor comedy.

Flash back to 1954. What did audiences enjoy about this movie, starring an entertaining couple whose comedic images had flickered on their black-and-white television screens since 1951? At the Redford in 2007, what did moviegoers appreciate about Lucy and Desi that they couldn’t see on the current TV Land showings of I Love Lucy?

Moviegoers probably first noticed the sensational physical appearance of Lucy—the red-yellow hair, the rosy facial coloring, the bright red lips. It added to the dynamics of Lucy’s comedic talents.

And there on the big screen, in settings not possible for television, were Lucy and Desi in their familiar routines. As always, Desi alternated between singing, romantic adoration of Lucy, and slow burns over Lucy’s antics. And of course, Lucy gave us her trademark crying, slapstick, and humorous moodiness.

Probably the best use of the movie format was the couple’s climactic journey through Yosemite National Park. The skillful mixture of humor and suspense by director Vincente Minnelli left the crowd laughing on the edge of its seats.

Redford 2007

And the theater itself was in fine form as it nears the 79th anniversary of its opening. The first Barton organ song of the year was that upbeat anthem of anticipation, “Tonight,” from West Side Story. At the end of both the pre-movie concert and intermission, organist John Lauter delighted the audience with the theme song of I Love Lucy.

From my perch in the balcony, I saw people continuously mill towards the miniature train set at the front of the auditorium. This fascinating display included a tiny village, bridge, and shimmering waterfall. It gave patrons one last chance to enjoy Christmas At The Redford before the display is dismantled after this weekend. Also, Warner Brothers cartoons returned to the Redford screen with Fox Pop (1942).

And once again, the intermission was timed for maximum effect. Lucy’s most memorable pratfall in the movie was followed by an explosion of laughter that seemed to hang in the air like small clouds. The curtains closed, and a happy mood accompanied patrons as they headed towards the concession stand, 50/50 raffle counter, or another favorite intermission gathering spot.

So began the January-April 2007 season at the Redford, which includes the 1924 silent film Peter Pan (March 10) and finishes with the 1939 romantic epic Gone with the Wind (April 27-28).

Detroit Movie Palaces Home Page

Copyright © 2007 by Robert Hollberg Smith, Jr.

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    2 Responses to Lucille Ball, Big Screen and Small

    1. Laura Barnes says:

      I love Lucille Ball. I’ve seen the movie “Too Many Girls” where she met Desi, fell in love with him and rather quickly got married to him. I’ve always admired their work. I was at the Redford on January 6 to see the “Long, Long Trailer”. I loved it!

      I love how the Redford Theatre always plays a cartoon before the film. That cartoon they showed before “The Long, Long Trailer” with the fox in it was so funny.

      The Redford Theatre is always a fun treat. The organ concert before the show and at intermission is always wondeful and it is great that they still had the train up.

      One last thing, I haven’t been to the Redford Theatre in a while and I love the new seats they installed. Anyone that hasn’t been there before (or hasn’t been there in a while) should head out for a movie sometime.

    2. Administrator says:

      This movie was especially fun following the monthlong tribute to Lucille Ball on Turner Classic Movies a few months ago. Many people probably don’t realize that Lucy had a long, semi-successful career in movies before finding her greatest fame in the early days of television.

      That was a good weekend for old Warner Brothers cartoons. After enjoying “Fox Pop” and the Lucy movie on Friday, January 5 at the Redford, the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor presented a feature-length collection of WB cartoons on the afternoon of Saturday, January 6. It was great fun to see all the great WB characters one after another – Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny, Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner, Daffy Duck.

      The Redford, like the Michigan, has done an outstanding job of re-capturing its original splendor. A similar effort is underway at the Detroit Film Theatre, where new seats are currently being installed.

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