Friday, August 5, 2011

Friday Dance Party: I Like Lucy

...but I don't LOVE her, as (ahem) some people do. I certainly appreciate her expertise with physical comedy, and her signature TV programs speak for themselves. It is often said that Lucille Ball was one of the few comic actresses of her generation who could maintain her femininity while performing the most outrageous stunts. Well, I would hedge that statement a bit; I don't see a whole lot of femininity popping out when Lucy was stomping grapes or shoving chocolates down her blouse. But not to be a complete naysayer, she was certainly a glamorous star for so many decades that nothing contrary should be said about her these days.

Well, except for her dismal performance as Mame in the film musical of the same name. The powers who granted her that opportunity, and thus robbed posterity of Angela Lansbury's iconic portrayal, were rightfully skewered once the film was released; there is really almost nothing redeemable about Mame, even the bouncy score (Jerry Herman's best, I think) slowed to a crawl whenever Lucy was trying to sing. Ah, well.

Lucy's birthday is tomorrow, and I was planning to present a clip of that film failure, but I have reconsidered. I'm sure Mame will pop up here one of these weeks, it's too deliciously bad to ignore forever, but instead, here is a swell picture of Ball's earlier career, when she was bopping around Hollywood as a supporting player, trying to find her niche. We all know that niche very well, thanks to TV reruns, but we are not as familiar with some of her film work in those early years. She is certainly wearing her glamour and femininity well in this clip, from the 1940 film Dance, Girl, Dance. The movie did not receive much praise when it was released, but, in addition to Lucy, it had another great artist attached. Robert Wise, who was to win Oscars for directing West Side Story and The Sound of Music, was the editor of the film (he also edited Citizen Kane, so he knew what he was doing).

But back to our star. While I am not a slavish devotee, I have a hearty respect for Lucy's contribution to American comedy. Everything has already been said about her television endeavors (and I encourage you, if you have a mo', to check out this early Dance Party, which comes from the last incarnation of I Love Lucy. It may be the sweetest, and most melancholy, of the clips ever to appear in these pages, sung by Edie Adams in the last TV pairing of Lucy and Desi). Though Ball had the long legs and proper rhythm for a dancer, she was never much good as a vocalist, a fact which can be seen in this clip, which she speak/sings. But she's got the glamour, that's for sure, and her comic timing is never far away. Happy Birthday, Lucy.