When I Love Lucy debuted on American television in 1951, nobody could
have suspected that it would become one of the most beloved shows of all time.
Across six seasons Lucille Ball and her real-life husband, Cuban band leader
Desi Arnaz, shared their lives with millions. At the time it was the most
watched show in the United States, and undoubtedly helped fuel TV set sales
during the decade. It has also been repeated constantly since, and sold around
the world. Now, almost sixty years since the final episode, it is possible to
go back and view it all from the beginning.
Keeping their own names helped further
blur the line between the show and reality in the minds of the audience, and
watching Desi and Lucy every week felt like you were spending time with real
friends. For the most part the situations played out in I Love Lucy were relatable (despite the occasional flights of
fancy, such as a visit from Superman to her son’s birthday party), and
reflected the new booming post-war economy in the States, when homes were new
and filled with the latest labour-saving devices. Lucy was the perfect
housewife and foil to Desi’s rather serious-minded band leader. She was always
involved in schemes to manipulate or get around him, but would always end up
being put back in her place. In many ways Lucille Ball was a proto-feminist,
becoming one of the first powerful women in Hollywood, but the message of the
show was not always quite so advanced. Despite this she was adored by both male
and female viewers.
I Love Lucy
was, in part, an attempt to hold their marriage together. Lucille had insisted
Desi play her husband in the show to enable them to spend more time together,
but it clearly didn’t work. She filed for divorce in 1960, one day after
filming the final episode, claiming their marriage had not been like it was on
TV. She bought out ownership of their production company Desilu Productions and
became important and powerful force in Hollywood at the time. The Twilight Zone had first aired as an
unofficial pilot show as part of the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse in 1958, and
Desilu went on to produce Star Trek, Mission Impossible and many more.
If you have watched a lot of early
television, particularly that made in the UK, the first thing to strike you
when viewing I Love Lucy on DVD is
the quality of the production. Eschewing early, cheaper video formats, the show
pioneered the technique of using a multi-camera studio arrangement and recorded
straight onto 35mm film. Therefore, watching it now I Love Lucy looks as good, most likely better, than it did at the
time. This image quality occasionally works to I Love Lucy’s detriment now, as it is easy to spot the occasional
painted backdrops and hastily-created sets, something which would have been
lost in the low resolution broadcasts of the 1950s. The high production value
is owed almost entirely to Karl Freund, director of the Peter Lorre-starring Mad Love (1935) and one of the most
important cinematographers to come out of Germany: The Golem (1920) and Metropolis
(1927) are amongst his credits, and one of the first Hollywod movies he shot
was Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931). He
was invited to be the Director of Photography on I Love Lucy and effectively invented the multi-camera format that
is still used for studio sitcoms and dramas today.
This box set includes dozens of bonus
features alongside the hours and hours of actual episodes. They have found
original openings and trails from the archives, which provide an interesting
glimpse into early 1950s television viewing. Also included are episodes of
Lucille Ball’s earlier radio sitcom My
Favourite Husband, the show that inspired I Love Lucy, deleted footage, home movie footage from the set, interviews
and much more.
If you Love Lucy, pick up this box set from 30th May.