Alice Oscura, Featured Writer
Plot: Actress/comedian Amy Poehler directs this touching, insightful documentary covering the relationship of one of Hollywood’s most powerful couples Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
“If you don’t have anything to do tonight, how would you like to learn how to do the Rumba?”Desi Arnaz
“I don’t and I’d love to!Lucille Ball
Review: It is with those words began one of Hollywood’s most powerful and tumultuous love matches. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz fell head over heels in love with each other. However, they were from two different worlds. Actress/comedian Amy Poehler (SNL, Parks and Recreation) showcases her directorial chops in this heartfelt documentary that pays a glowing tribute to Lucy and Desi. The inspiration behind the film came from the discovery of a set of never before heard audiotapes that were recorded by Ball and Arnaz in their later years. They both end up disclosing some of their most intimate, inner thoughts about their personal as well as business relationship.
Ball humbly recalls how she began as a showgirl in the business but couldn’t hold down a job for more than two weeks at a time because whoever hired her would soon begin to realise that she possessed no talent for dancing nor singing at the time. She then decided to become a model which she became very good at until she was noticed in the street and became a Goldwyn Girl (musical stock company of female dancers employed by Samuel Goldwyn). This led her to her first uncredited acting stint in the 1933 musical comedy Roman Sandals that starred the iconic comedian Eddie Cantor. It was from Cantor that Ball learned about the art of physical comedy as well as the importance of facial expressions.
After her career seemed to stabilize as a leading actress in low-budget studio films, she came to be known as “The Queen of the B’s”. This is what would lead her to be cast as the ingenue in the 1940’s musical comedy Too Many Girls opposite Desi Arnaz who was newly contracted to RKO Pictures. Thus blossomed their romance after an invitation from Desi to teach Lucille how to Rumba! After six months, the lovers decided to get married. It was noted, however, that not everyone was okay with an American girl getting hitched to a person they deemed of colour, far less for him being a Cuban.
The film is supported by interviews from Lucy and Desi’s daughter Lucie Arnaz-Luckinbill, Gregg Oppenheimer, the son of Jess Oppenheimer (Executive Producer of I Love Lucy), and Madelyn Pugh, one of the head writers for the I Love Lucy series , as well as fellow female comedian Carol Burnett who admits that she learned a great deal from Lucille when she was still an up-and-coming actress in the comedic field.
Through Arnaz’s tapes, archival footage, pictures and interviews with daughter Lucie the audience learned that Desi’s childhood in Cuba was more than comfortable. His family was descended from the professions of paramilitary and medical practitioners. They owned several ranches, boats, and houses and his grandparents were one of the founders of Bacardi Rum. His father was the Mayor of Santiago while his uncle was the Chief of Police. As the only child, he stood to gain a large inheritance and was almost certainly destined to become a lawyer after going to Notre Dame University in the US.
However, his idyllic life was shattered at the age of 14 after the 1933 Cuban Revolution. It took less than 48 hours for the Arnaz family to lose everything. He struggled at first to make America his new home after fleeing Cuba as a refugee with nothing to his name. Arnaz started out cleaning canary cages to performing with a band under the guidance of renowned Cuban bandleader Xavier Cugat. Eventually, Arnaz would break away to form his band after learning much from Cugat about the music business. Arnaz’s daughter recalls how her father would never speak much of his home country Cuba because it always was a source of a secret heartbreak for him that he very rarely ever showed. No matter how hard he worked and how much Arnaz was able to achieve in his life it would never be enough to replace what he lost in Cuba and the fact that he would never be able to return ever again. Arnaz would reveal on a live recording of a special Ed Sullivan show that if it hadn’t been for Lucy, he would have given up a long time ago because he always felt like a sort of a misfit wherever he went. Desi became very emotional at this moment as he proceeded to thank America for giving him so many opportunities and the joy of success that he was currently feeling. It is a heartbreaking thing to think about the many displaced refugees that worked so hard to build with their families over the years only for them to lose everything just because somebody got a bright idea in their head to start a war or revolution for the wrong reasons.
Although Lucy and Desi’s marriage was almost continuously struggling due to Arnaz’s infidelity and drinking, their business relationship thrived. They would eventually become so successful from the I Love Lucy series that they would open their studio known as Desilu Productions which was responsible for bringing us other iconic television series like Star Trek and Mission: Impossible. While they worked magic together in business, their marriage was still slowly falling apart behind the scenes. To hear Ball tell her version of the story is to listen to a woman who was willing to do anything for the sake of love to keep her marriage and family together. But, by March of 1960, Ball would file for divorce after 20 years of marriage to the Cuban bandleader. Lucie Arnaz-Luckinbill said that her parents got along even better when they weren’t married, but they never stopped loving each other.
Arnaz-Luckinbill, who took care of her ailing father in his last years, mentions the last time that Lucy and Desi spoke to each other was over the phone in 1986. Lucy’s and Desi’s last words to each other were, “I Love You”. Desi would fall into a coma and die two days later at the age of 69 from a battle with lung cancer. It was only after her father’s death that Lucie realised that her parents had their last conversation on the date of their wedding anniversary, the 30th of November. Lucie states that as she grew older, she gained a better understanding of her parents and learned a lot about forgiveness as well as unconditional love because that is what they had despite all their challenges during their marriage.
Poehler’s film will leave you teary-eyed so be sure to have the obligatory box of tissues nearby because your heart will break. Lucy and Desi is a great way to celebrate the lives and careers of this power couple minus the sensationalism of whatever had been published by the tabloids and press. And though these two stars are no longer with us, their contribution to the film and television industry had been immortalized and we will never forget that I Love Lucy was never just a title.
Alice’s Score: 8 out of 10
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Dark Alice has an old soul and a curious mind. I believe that anyone can be a hero and that the good guys should always win! I dislike cruelty to animals and think that they have far superior qualities to humans. My motto is there is no future without the past. I also have a weird penchant for Paranormal TV shows even though the slightest sound makes me jump. I enjoy writing reviews and throwing in fun facts to pique the readers’ curiosity. My ultimate goal in life would be to become a published writer one day. Read More