Critics' picks: New DVDs

Fun, rarely seen episodes of `I Love Lucy' now available

March 11, 2007|By Chris Kaltenbach

I LOVE LUCY, THE FINAL SEASONS: 7, 8 & 9 -- Paramount Home Video / $39.95

And you thought you had finally collected all the episodes of I Love Lucy last year, with the release of the show's sixth, and final, season.

Well, technically, you had. But I Love Lucy was so popular that Lucy, Ricky and the Mertzes were enticed back the next season (as well as two more seasons after that) for a series of hour-long episodes that would air whenever the CBS schedule allowed. The first Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show (later renamed The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour) aired on Nov. 6, 1957, while the last was on April 1, 1960). Rarely seen since, this two-disc collection offers genuine closure for Ricardo-philes everywhere.

In some ways, The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show is a reflection of I Love Lucy at its best. Spared the relentless grind of having to turn out a show every week, the writers (including Bob Carroll Jr., Madelyn Pugh and Jess Oppenheimer) could take their time. True, there are no moments among these 13 episodes to rival Vitametavegimin, the alcohol-based vitamin supplement Lucy so memorably swilled back in season one. But the laughs are pretty consistent.

Then there's the guest-star lineup, a virtual who's-who of late-'50s Hollywood. The first episode of season seven, "Lucy Takes a Cruise to Havana," presented here in an extended version previously unavailable on DVD, has Lucy and Ricky telling legendary Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (she of the famously outlandish hats) how they first met. Seems Lucille McGillicuddy was taking a cruise to Havana in 1940 with her best friend, Susie MacNamara (Ann Sothern) when she met up with a pair of tour guides, Ricky Ricardo and Carlos Garcia (Cesar Romero). Coincidentally, it was on this same cruise that Lucy first met Fred (William Frawley) and Ethel (Vivian Vance); one of the episode's best bits has a desperate Lucy eyeing Fred as a potential date, telling Susie, "Well, he's better than nothing." And for good measure, there's even a guest appearance by crooner Rudy Vallee, playing himself.

Later episodes include appearances from Danny Thomas, Fred MacMurray, Tallulah Bankhead (a classic), Ernie Kovacs, Maurice Chevalier, Betty Grable, Milton Berle, Tennessee Ernie Ford and others.

Special features

Extras include vintage commercials, backstage footage shot in color, original opening and closing sequences, and a 40-minute backstage visit with Lucy and Desi, filmed at Desilu Studios.

ALSO ANTICIPATED

THE ED WOOD COLLECTION: A SALUTE TO INCOMPETENCE --Passport / $9.98

Ed Wood may have earned his reputation as Hollywood's worst director, but let's be fair: Few awful directors have been as consistently entertaining. (For a Wood-era film that's both awful and unwatchable, try Arthur Nelson's 1964 The Creeping Terror, the tale of an alien carpet sample looking to take over the Earth.) And this two-disc collection is one of the best values ever assembled - for under $10, you get six Wood classics: 1953's Glen or Glenda? (the sad tale of a transsexual obsessed with angora sweaters), 1954's Jail Bait, 1955's Bride of the Monster, 1956's The Violent Years (written, but not directed, by Wood), 1959's Night of the Ghouls and the ne plus ultra of bad films, 1959's Plan Nine From Outer Space, featuring Bela Lugosi in test footage shot just before he died in 1956. In case you're wondering, Wood, an auteur if ever there was one, used a stand-in for Lugosi in later scenes - a stand-in who was considerably taller and sported hair of a different color. Of such stuff is cinematic genius made!

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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