Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Doozy #10: Slapstick in Technicolor: Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz

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It didn't add to the gags if looked at from today's eyes. But in the fifties, people knew Lucy and Desi as little black and white specks inside a box. So to that audience it was probably fun to see it in color and on a giant movie screen.

 

The fact that the trailer was stuck in the mud at an angle provides some laughs. The camera is level but the shot is on an angle and it put the viewer in the scene.

 

Lucy is funny trying to get into bed. She manages it if she stays stiff but when she relaxes, she falls out of bed. Then she gets up and the jack falls and so does the trailer and Lucy right out the door into a huge puddle of mud. Lucy is funny doing the simple everyday things of life. She knows how to exaggerate every muscle in here body in every situation, and she is the queen of make believe. She could make reading the telephone book funny.
 

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In honor of the Three Stooges for the film Have Rocket Will Travel (1959), I present to you this dedication from the artist Cirque Du So What and their take on slapstick comedy.

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1. That it makes the scene stand out with every minute detail to the props and the setting of the scene inside the trailer.

 

2. He makes the scene diagonal in reference to the set, while the camera sits up straight to give the audience some jaggedness. The editing involves the use of an insert shot to describe the action of the trailer and the tool supporting the trailer. Long camera takes without interruption that was incorporated from the I Love Lucy (1951) tv series. The depth of focus is not deep or a combination of flat and deep, but it was flat from the foreground giving it some clarity in the background.

 

3. Lucille Ball's contribution was to prove to other comedians that a woman could be both an actress and the head of a television studio which did not happen before then. She also managed to be the forerunner of the first slapstick comedienne on television as a role model for later comedienne's on television in the future. Vincent Minnelli was able to use the techniques from her television show such as the long takes without editing interruptions as well as allowing the audience see the action from both outside and inside the prop setting.

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Lucy would be funny in black and white or technicolor even in this scene if it was in black and white she would still make this scene a defining moment of slapstick. Only Lucille Ball could fall out of a bed like that and not get angry right away.

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I am going to be a cinematic heretic here as I always felt the simplicity of the short black and white TV format was the ideal setting for Lucy and Ricky. She was a brilliant comic and actress without doubt and I enjoyed her other films a great deal but although viewing this film a number of times, I have never particularly enjoyed it. Many people have stated the technical aspects of color and the flexibility the translation to the big screen afforded Minelli to bring the couple to life and in many ways put TV in it's place. I respect what was done in this film, it just never clicked for me.

 

That said; Lucy is a giant in the industry regardless of format and frankly is a national treasure.

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The shadows and contour of the colors inside the trailer give such a lively feel. You really feel like you were there. Mind you I totally dig black-and-white films. That is the main observation of this brightly colored movie. You truly feel like you were in the trailer with them. Their night snack together, getting ready for bed. Lucy falling off the bed and of course smash into the mud. All Vivid color in your face!

I will say the same with the camera angles. Again it gives you the feeling you're in the trailer with them. And of course that's what makes it so very funny. Great awkward angle camera shots. You can feel their discomfort in the trailer.

What are Lucy's contributions? Are you kidding me? She is the whole ball of comedy funny wax. Brilliant. You can watch and I love Lucy episodes and be shocked at how funny still stands up . By the way Desi was very funny as well. Great straightman expressions. As far as I'm concerned, almost nothing compares to the great Lucille Ball.

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With color it was fun to see the color of her hair and also the color around them. With the angle of the trailer was interesting because you saw mo re of their comedic acts. Especially Lucy. You see how they had to tape down the wine glasses and use straws, how she was trying to get into bed and then falls out of the trailer into the mud. Her facial expressions and how calm she seemed when she couldn't stay in bed was good. Lucy brought a lot with all of the things she did was either how she moved or how she reacted to what was going on.

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I kind of want to open this up to discussing the rest of the film and not just this scene. I am so sad that I don't have TCM and can't watch one of my all-time favorite movies tonight. In this scene, I agree with everyone that color film makes Lucy look really beautiful, and at the table, when she tells "Nicky" about how she fell in love with him, she just glows because she really did love Desi Arnaz. But if you take the movie as a whole, there are a lot of location shots of some beautiful mountain and desert areas, and the colorful trailer-court life, that just really open up vistas that were not possible with television.

 

2. Minnelli plays with the tight sense of scale inside the trailer and later contrasts it with the (for that time) giant length of the trailer (40 feet!) and wide open Western landscapes. There is another scene in this movie where "Nicky" tries to take a shower in this dinky little space with a drooping shower head that is really funny--Desi could do slapstick, too. Then later they maneuver the trailer around some very tight and dangerous curving mountain roads, and the dizzying heights and loose rocks all give the viewer vertigo.

 

3. In this clip, Lucy is showing the sweet relationship she and Desi shared--she's trying to have a nice romantic candlelight moment. But the whole set is slanted and that makes it funny, which she plays into by taping down the wine glasses and getting out straws. It recalls the Keaton "One Week" movie about the crooked house. Then she tries to jump into bed and bounces right onto the floor, then tries again, then the door opens violently and she is thrown out into the mud, which comes as a real shock since the viewer is prepared for a nice comfy, if slanted, bedtime.

 

Actually in this movie, I think her most memorable bit of clowning, besides the "turn right here left" wordplay, is where she tries to cook dinner in the moving trailer. As I recall that scene, it is very physical, or Chaplinesque, and could have been part of a silent film-- like Tillie's Punctured Romance. The use of color makes the food mess look even crazier. Could that be the Daily Dose of Doozy #10A?

 

Lucy and Desi are truly amazing icons of American television AND cinema. I never get tired of watching them. And the more I learn about classic slapstick, the more I realize how they learned from, and paid homage to, the Golden Era slapstick comedians.

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Sigh

Lucy and Desi as newlyweds, heading out in their studio apartment on wheels.  It always reminds me of a cozy post-war apartment complex my (nearly) newlywed wife and I lived in back in the late '80s.  I always used to call "LUUUCY I"M HOME!" whenever I arrived home form work or wherever.  .  .

 

Sorry, couldn't be helped. 

 

1. Even though the FCC approved the first color TV sets about four years before The Long, Long Trailer, the movies maintained their mastery of the color pallet, and this movie was no exception.  As many others have pointed out here, color emphasized the trailer's luxurious pastels, not to mention that mainstay of 1950's design: CHROME.  Watching the clip, what stood out for was the way color accentuated the sense of depth Minnelli successfully created.  Color also improve the textures in the scenes, most particularly that final cut to poor Lucy, mud oozing down her once-cute yellow pajamas.

 

2. The camera follows Lucy as she "exits the kitchen," and "enters the dining rom," and one could almost feel queasy, sliding sideways while the camera slides left.  While the film earned a mere WGA nomination, the Oscar committee unfairly overlooked the tension- (and hilarity-)building editing in this film.  Minnelli's well-timed cuts to that overworked jack is textbook slapstick.

 

3. Lucy did not start out as a comedienne, again as several others have pointed out.  She was "discovered," as I understand, in the other Hollywood tradition--decorating Louis B. Mayer's poolside.

She showed an early eagerness for whatever the role required (though the title escapes me, I can remember watching her square off with Maureen O'Sullivan), and this soon extended to slapstick.  Bouncing around that bedroom scene would have been no trouble for her; I'm surprised she didn't add a couple more bounces (once off of Desi, and another off her bed before careening out the door).  When we cut back from the busted jack to it's consequence, she was exactly where she needed to be--reminiscent of another time, another hapless newlywed and another starter home.
 

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1. Because this scene is so dark, the colors are muted but it sets an intimate mood. I always thought that Lucy was a sexy actress in her own way and this scene shows it.

2. Most of the scene is shot at angle, which reminded me of the Batman TV show. Plot wise that was because the trailer was jacked up. But that accentuated the tipsy-turviness of the situation.

3. As seen on TV, Lucy was a brilliant physical comedian. Minnelli uses her slapstick chops to the fullest in the bit where she tries to flop into the crooked bed and then falls into the mud.

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I have fond memories of this film. It is a favorite of my family. When you first see it, the color is stunning. Of course, it is best to show off color with a lot of scenes of mountains, lakes, forests... outdoor scenes. And the color adds to the visual clarity to all the slapstick gags. As for Lucille Ball in this film, she is classic "Lucy" with all the physical gags, but seeing her do it outside her NY apartment in color, must have been fun to see when it first came out during the height of "I Love Lucy's" popularity.

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1. The primary benefit of color in this scene is that it adds brightness and detail. Visual planning most often uses bright sets for comedy and dark sets for drama. I found it easy to experience the depth and coziness of the surroundings, and that became vey important when Lucy tried to get into bed. The color also offset that it was a dark and rainy night, a scenario much more suited to melodrama. Watching them at the table was funnier because we weren't as aware of the storm until Nicky said he was worried about getting the trailer out in the morning.

 

2. The first thing that caught my eye was the exterior shot of the jack in the mud. That was the set-up for the jack slipping and Taci flying out the door into the mud. The mud also created a very dark contrast to the color of the inside, making the slapstick seem more real and painful. Minnelli used camera angles in both the kitchen and bedroom to accentuate the tilt of the trailer. I also observed that, in the kitchen scenes, Taci always appeared to be taller than Nicky, giving her a dominant presence even when shot from two different angles. The long, steady shot in the bedroom, with the exception of two brief cuts outside to the jack, makes the slapstick of Taci getting into bed and flying out the door more physical and violent.

 

3. I always thought that Lucy had the physical prowess that we saw with Keaton and Chaplin. Her facial expressions were classics, and she demonstrated her athleticism getting into the bed, rolling out of the bed, and flying out the door. She showed her pain by her trademark crying. I think back on her physical skills in doing the candy factory and the vitameatavegamin commercial. Her verbal skills, especially making fun of Rick's accent, were unparalleled. I can't really think of anyone else who pioneered female lipstick like Lucy did.

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Questions:

 

1. What do you think the addition of color adds to this scene and its gags?

I think color, with more brightness and definition, brings out the minutia of the gag; you can see more detail and distinguish the scenery in which the gag is portrayed.

 

2. What are some of the techniques that Vincente Minnelli uses in this scene to make it more cinematic than a TV Show such as I Love Lucy?

The camera angle seemed to be fairly narrow in contrast to TV, to emphasize the lack of space in the trailer - even though it was considered longer and more spacious trailer. In TV, the camera angle probably would have shown Lucy fall through the door and land in the mud, while here it was at an offset angle. I think Minnelli uses just a couple slips off the bed, rather than drawing it out - as repetition, and doesn't spend a lot of time of Lucy in the mud, cutting to a clean trailer and car the next day.

 

3. What are some of Lucille Ball's contributions to the history of slapstick comedy, and how does Minnelli use her physical comedy in this clip?

 

She is one of the greatest, if the greatest, female comedian, with examples including the Vitaminita Vegemine commercial, Lucy and Ethel at the candy factory, and Lucy stomping grapes have to be three of the funniest clips in comedy. Minnelli uses her gift for physical comedy with slipping off the bed, frying eggs, and falling through the camper door into the mud. 

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It's about time the heft of the conversation is centered on a woman's contributions to Slapstick. I've eagerly awaited this specific discussion since the inception of the course. The prevalent adage (yes, even still today), "women aren't funny" is dimwitted, sexist, and WOW did Lucille Ball begin a trailblazing path in efforts of obliterating that narrow-minded view.

 

In addressing The Long, Long Trailer, color adds enhancement to the film, as the play on color provides an attribute to the comedic endeavors of Minnelli. i.e. the large mud hole. If shot in traditional black and white, the mud hole would have appeared as any other dark color in the film. In a sense, it essentially would have blended into every other aspect of the scene. There would be no particular differentiation. The mud hole would not have been too much of a stand out gag. With the addition of color, a heightened comedic level is achieved. The highlight becomes grounded in the filth Ball's character has accidentally plunged into, displaying her drenched, dirt laden clothing.

 

It is important to recognize the camera angles within this scene. The tilted, or Dutch, angles supply the audience with a sense of the characters' points of view. Ball and Arnaz are literally stuck in the mud- to a slanted degree. The accuracy of the tilted camera angles reflects the current situation of the narrative. The likelihood in exhibiting the cinematic camera technique via television (during the 1950s) is entirely slim, if not impossible. These angles impact this scene greatly adding a layer television otherwise could not.

 

Lucille Ball's comedic antics are an utter form of hilarity. Her humorous encounters with an uncompromising bed is the best gag of the entire scene. Ball's timing and execution is so perfect it's difficult to fathom how this woman ever needed direction of any kind. Her approach to this specific gag comes with a natural ease, as though she's comprised of countless abilities regarding comedic routines.

 

Lucille Ball was a commendable comedic revolutionary. I am elated this Slapstick course finally lends focus to her genius, as she spearheaded a new take on comedy. (Incomprehensible as to why and how a notion of inequality ever came to existence but), she provided veracity that women are equals, even in the world of comedy. Ball is often cited as a revered inspiration by a variety of comics, and is still an everlasting force to be reckoned. Brava Lucille, Brava!

 

**The following link is to an interview with Carol Burnett (another comedic revolutionary), discussing Lucille Ball and how she came to be known as Lucille "Balls."

http://www.people.com/people/mobile/article/0,,20981555,00.html

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     At first, I thought that color added little to the scene from “The Long, Long Trailer” (1954).  But upon further reflection, what it did add was subtlety and context. Without it, what was a dark scene would have conveyed a dark mood.  Black & white would have required some more blatant way of establishing this “light” context; with color, it comes across easily. This scene has muted colors and lacks the vibrancy of the daylight scenes, but these muted colors control the mood and aid the comic effect. The color contrast between her pajamas and the mud is especially effective.  Obviously, the color allows the audience to see Lucy’s red hair, but they could have seen it in “Fancy Pants” (1950 -- with Bob Hope) four years earlier.   In terms of competing with television, the primary function of color was to dazzle the audience with something that television could not offer (wide-screen formats were intended to do the same).  It is the National Park scenes (and the trailer park & road scenes) that provided the audience with that something extra that television could not offer.

 

     The director, Vincente Minnelli, used several cinematic techniques that were not possible or practical  in television filming.  Technical limitations, such as picture transmission methods (Kinescope, etc.) and home screen size (very small, especially by the standards of today) constrained what television could do.  In this scene, Minnelli shoots down the line of the trailer -- reinforcing the linear and constricted nature of the living space inside the trailer.  In other scenes, the outside shots of the trailer involve long pan shots that emphasize its great length.  The combination of the two types of shots establish the “Travel Trailer Paradox.”  No matter how large and unwieldy a trailer may be on the outside, it is cramped and claustrophobic on the inside.  At the table, we track and follow Tacy as she gets the wine and sits down with Nicky.  At the table, we get a long shot from behind Tacy (who is slightly out of focus) that focuses on Nicky.  Then the editing cuts to a reverse shot with Taci in focus and Nicky slightly out of focus.  These angles and focus changes reinforce the length of the trailer.  In this scene that has little action (at least once Tacy sits down), it is the camera that is the agent of motion.  This kind of active camera motion would not work in early television.  In the “bedroom,” the camera is relatively stationary, and the actors are in motion.  Nicky falls asleep on the downslope bed, and Tacy must deal with the one that is upslope.  Here, she shows her physical slapstick skills, as she tries to get into, and keeps sliding out of, the bed.  This scene would have worked on TV, at least until she gets up and walks to the door.  The camera follows her as the jack slips and throws her out the door and into the mud.

     Ball’s contribution to slapstick predated both this movie and “I Love Lucy” (and her red hair).  She showed that women were capable of engaging in even the roughest forms of slapstick to great effect.  Minnelli used this ability in the culmination of this clip, when she takes a violent pratfall into the mud.  Though she started in movies as a chorus girl in movies such as “Roman Scandals” (1933 -- with Eddie Cantor), She starred in two fine comedies (as a blonde): “The Affairs of Annabel” and “Annabel Takes a Tour” (both 1938).  This was after playing a comic part in the Three stooges short “Three Little Pigskins” (1934).  Her abilities are reminiscent of Red Skelton.  Like Skelton, she had a natural gift for facial gestures, verbal delivery and physical action.  While there have been many female comics, few have had the longevity and durability of Lucy.  After her moderate success in movies, she became the first female “superstar” of television, reigning supreme from 1952 through the seventies.     

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     At first, I thought that color added little to the scene from “The Long, Long Trailer” (1954).  But upon further reflection, what it did add was subtlety and context. Without it, what was a dark scene would have conveyed a dark mood.  Black & white would have required some more blatant way of establishing this “light” context; with color, it comes across easily. This scene has muted colors and lacks the vibrancy of the daylight scenes, but these muted colors control the mood and aid the comic effect. The color contrast between her pajamas and the mud is especially effective.  Obviously, the color allows the audience to see Lucy’s red hair, but they could have seen it in “Fancy Pants” (1950 -- with Bob Hope) four years earlier.   In terms of competing with television, the primary function of color was to dazzle the audience with something that television could not offer (wide-screen formats were intended to do the same).  It is the National Park scenes (and the trailer park & road scenes) that provided the audience with that something extra that television could not offer.[/size]

 

 

Although there is much to agree with here, think, perhaps, of Capra's It Happened One Night and the many cramped scenes in dark places...

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There really isn't much I can add to this discussion. The combination of Lucy, Desi and Vincente Minnelli makes for a pleasant film with some fine slapstick bits and a genuinely suspenseful climax. Lucy was brilliant but Desi's mounting frustration adds much to the comedy.

 

Minnelli's use of color is always impeccable and he does a fine job of contrasting the vastness of the countryside with the confines of the trailer.

 

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I think the main particular fact is that the addition of color set a clear paralel between the warm, secure and comfortable trailler environment against the outside world and its rainy mood. When Lucille Ball falls on the dirty mood we just see her covered with dirt, almost all "black". If we weren't in a technicolor era, certainly the visual impact of the scene wouldn't be the same.

 

The time "I Love Lucy" was produced almost 100% of its scenes were set on studio, with that perfect scenario and light. On this scene, on contrary, we have some elements that go the other direction. The trailler is almost toppling, so we have assimetric frames compared with television. It is still possible to note shadows and dark areas on cinematography, something that was not common at all on TV. Finally, I still can say that we have wider shots even in a small interior place. Not a single close-up on the face of our cast is presented here.

 

Lucille Ball is one of the first major TV stars that brought her ability on gags to the movies, and high-succesfully! I think one of the most notable of her charcateristics is the ordinary-situation ones, which turn to be stronger and funnier because of her exagegrated reactions (like verbal met). Again, sometimes is hard to recognize some of its important points because "I Love Lucy" was never broadcasted here in Brazil.

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Mr. Minnelli's use of color and experimentation with different camera angles with shadowing and his commitment to the details raises this film away from superficial fluff. The story has some depth in both the characters' relationship with each other, discussing the future and challenges in their current situation, and a social commentary on "modern" conveniences that can wreck havoc on such and on others, as the rose plant and quaint archway being smashed by the hapless Desi. The trailer, while gargantuan with that 1950's the bigger the better American consumer trend it represents, is in marked opposition to the warmth of it's interior scenes and love shown between the actors and folks they meet on the way.  The street scene, in contrast with the bustle and rudeness shown on the modern highway system, shown before the ill-fated visit to Aunt Anastasia's home, reminded me of the neighborhood scenes in "Meet Me in St. Louis," with its references to small town Americana and how out of place this modern trailer is to a passing Americana.  The color Mr. Minnelli employs seems much sharper and well-structured than many of the color films during this era. It adds a warmth to the production and his attention and depth to details and character sympathies removes this from a flat TV style and into a more cinematic, story-telling approach that is quite charming.

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1. What do you think the addition of color adds to this scene and its gags?

Everything in I Love Lucky is flat because its black and white. But in this color films, the color pops out at you. From Lucy's Red hair to the color and style of the 50s and to the color of the mud in that scene.

 

 

2. What are some of the techniques that Vincente Minnelli uses in this scene to make it more cinematic than a TV Show such as I Love Lucy? Consider, for example, camera angles, depth of focus, or editing strategy.

I Love Lucy only was a 3 camera show, Close Up, Medium Shot and Wide.

This was a feature film where they had more budget so everything from the camera angles (the dutch "batman" angles, to the rear projector scenes and more) They really made a point to show how cramped they were in the long trailer and how little space they had for them selves to have dinner in, sleep or even move around in it.
 

 

3. What are some of Lucille Ball's contributions to the history of slapstick comedy, and how does Minnelli use her physical comedy in this clip?

​She learned a lot from her tv show, and she proved to the director that anything she could do on her show she could do it better on this film.  Mostly as we view the clip its just a quiet clip of the two talking then the physical comedy happens when she tries to lay in bed. Then from the rain we see the rig give up and we view Lucy fly out the door backwards and into the mud and Ricky walks up not really paying much attention that she is in the mud.

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1. What do you think the addition of color adds to this scene and its gags?  The addition of color adds more depth, more visual acuteness, as well as clarity to the scene.  If the viewer could only capture the irony that these characters are in, found on an incline between the grips of death and holy matrimony.  Her struggles to find the bright side of life with her making jokes, and one-liners.  If one could capture the frustration of Lucy falling out of the camper and looking "like a pig" into the mud.

 

2. What are some of the techniques that Vincente Minnelli uses in this scene to make it more cinematic than a TV Show such as I Love Lucy? Consider, for example, camera angles, depth of focus, or editing strategy.  He makes use of such camera lengths as focusing on the slant of the trailer, where Lucy finds it difficult not to slide out of bed.  While ironically enough, Desi seems unmoved, nonchalant as he fixes his bed and sleeps with the greatest of ease.  Vincent Minnelli also makes a point of focusing on Lucy's being found in the mud.  As, if it couldn't have been more well timed as to lead up to the laugh, concerning Lucy struggling before falling in the mud.  It was hilarious to say the least.

 

3. What are some of Lucille Ball's contributions to the history of slapstick comedy, and how does Minnelli use her physical comedy in this clip?  Lucy is well known for buffoonery, whooping it up, all in the means of gaining a laugh.  The world of comedy is full of over exaggerations, mishaps, as well as the irony of it all.  Nobody in this lifetime's life could ultimately be this bad.  Lucy proves herself no amateur in the field, where scenes become second nature to her many years of experience on the subject of slapstick comedy.

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Don't know if color added anything. There have been movies based on radio shows. Might be fun to find early films base on TV shows. LLT was not based on "I Love Lucy" but you got to see her red hair. There was a color Munsters movie "Munsters, Go Home".

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1. What do you think the addition of color adds to this scene and its gags?

 

I think it adda a new dimension to the comedy while also adding a modern feel to the genre in presentation and aesthetic.

 

 

2. What are some of the techniques that Vincente Minnelli uses in this scene to make it more cinematic than a TV show such as I Love Luc

 

The  movie is carefully edited 

The movie is carefully edited to maximize the comedy of Ball and Arnez. The shots also help set up the gags in regard to how the shirts are framed. there is more clever framing going on here than in the silent era.

 

3. What are some of Lucille Ball's contributions to the history of slapstick comedy, and how does Minnelli use her physical comedy in this clip?

 

 

She is quite glib and rapid fire at times on her dialogue. She also is a physical comic. She embodies the previous eras of physical slapstick and brings them into a new age. She also opened comedy up for women with her gags. Her jokes also build on each other and are well paced.

 

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