Dr. Rich Edwards

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

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The addition of color enhanced the beauty and realism of the scenes including magnificent outdoor locations and the more intimate locales such as outdoor markets and flower laden neighborhoods.  The actors, costumes, retro furnishings, candlelight suppers, and shots in the car/on the road are more “dramatic”/ life like.  Luminous, contrasting colors convey the “high end” quality of the trailer/props and evoke feelings of warmth/ nostalgia/ romance as these two innocents embark on their “adventure”.   

Panoramic views/ camera positions and movements (“angled shots”) capture the beauty, vastness, and elevation of the outdoor locations and emphasize the fear/tension/animosity related to the overwhelming task of hauling and manipulating the trailer in this environment.   These same camera techniques are applied to fully capitalize on and capture the physical comedy. Lucille Ball’s slapstick skills shine through as her dream of the ideal home and honeymoon disintegrates through a series of mishaps. 

Lucille Ball performed with and was trained by the masters of slapstick.  She had the skills to generate/originate unique and precise routines and they were captured by a director who was reputed to have an “artist’s eye” and “flair for color”. 

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1. What do you think the addition of color adds to this scene and its gags? Color helps to make the scene seem so idyllic. Even though they are stuck in the mud , the trailer is jacked up to delay its further sinking into the mud and it is a terrible thunder storm, Lucy has tried to make it home sweet home. The color makes the inside of the trailer seem cozy, warm and a love nest. Color makes the candle flames dance and the wine sparkle and then in the end color really makes it all turn into a dark oozing quagmire for Lucy in the puddle of mud. Gotta love Technicolor! In a black and white version of the scene the storm, rain and mud ooze would all just blend together and not provide the stark contrast of perky Lucy suddenly devoured by 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? I like his use of cuts. We go from one shot to another in a way live TV of the 50's couldn't. We are in the trailer and suddenly we are looking at the jack holding up the trailer outside. Or Lucy walking near the outside door, cut to the jack and then boom Lucy is sucked out of the trailer into the mud hole.The camera angles used would be very difficult for TV to duplicate in the 1950s. Many times some TV shows were just filmed with 2 or 3 cameras rolling and the director would use the best of the film. The cinematic use of sound is very evident. The storm's thunder and  the ripping sounds as the jack flies loose are just a few. My favorite is that unlike the I Love Lucy Show there is no laugh track just the film moving on.. I have a brain I will decide what is funny and when I will laugh.

 

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?

 

 To me the big one is that Lucy was a woman in starring roles. It isn't the I Love Ricky Show. When you look at the numbers of slapstick stars we have examined in the course so far... Lucy is the one woman who through her physical comedy prowess, her creativity and genius was on a total paar with the male slapstick comedians we have looked at. In a 1960 interview conducted by Herbert Feinstein, Buster Keaton when asked about female comedy stars said: "Lucille Ball is my top.The greatest character comedienne, Marie Dressler. Light comedienne, Lucille Ball." Lucy's pioneer efforts on TV made her show so popular the 1950s big name stars lined up to appear. Stars ranging from John Wayne and William Holden to "Superman" and Harpo Marx. That is Lucy's "star power"

Minnelli uses her physical comedy to make the scene of her being sucked out of the trailer into the mud hole a perfectly timed and executed comedy gag in this clip.

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I don't know if it's my subconscious, knowing that the topic at hand is "color", but I keep imagining the scene in black&white and it just doesn't feel the same. Not sure what it is, if it's the way Lucille seems more radiant, or how the color of their clothes highlight the scene, or the light of the candles. To be honest, I really can't put my finger on it but the scene looks very colorful.

 

Aside of the color, I liked how Minelli played with the angle in the first scene, with the angled glasses of wine, and how casually Desi taped it to the table. Not sure if them using straws (straight line) was also another way to accentuate the angles, or even their clothes (plaid shirt on Lucille, straight cuffed sleeves on Desi). In the first scene, their conversation is very romantic, although not necessarily Desi's mood, but most of the comedy relies on visuals, and reactions.

 

As they go to bed, you can see how comfortably Desi manages to fall asleep, while Lucille struggles with. Obviously, the angle of the bed is in the foreground, but I liked the way she tries to adjust herself to the position and the movement of her legs as she lies in bed. The final moment works well with her falling away from the camera, which I think made it seem more "impactful", than if it was a sideshot.

 

As for Lucille's contributions, like with the previous stars of the DDoD's, I'm not very familiar with her comedy (again, part of the reason why I decided to take the course) but I can see the appeal. She's very charming and playful, loved the way she played with the straw in her mouth, made her feel like a likable girl. And like I said above, the final scene is all on her physical comedy.

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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?

 

Hopefully I'll be educated more but did she have a vaudeville background?

It's a good question. I read Lucille Ball's biography some years back and do not recall reading that she ever performed in vaudeville as stated in one of posts. So now I'm thinking, could it have been a poorly researched book or was it mentioned briefly but left no impression. Now I'm curious too.

 

Hoping a member can share light on this question- Did Lucille Ball ever play Vaudeville?

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My mother-in-law introduced me to this movie years ago, and I must have seen it a thousand times... timeless.... it still makes me laugh!  Looking at it through the eyes of slapstick, however, allows me to see the genius behind the era of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

 

1)  Color adds a completely different realm to the slapstick.  In this scene, Lucy's red hair, the bright pink blankets, the neatness of the inside of the trailer shows just how cozy of a life it could be inside that trailer.  When you combine that with the pouring rain and mud outside, the viewer gets a true contrast of how messy life is for this couple.

 

2)  To make the cinematic experience different than the television show of the infamous I Love Lucy couple, Minnelli can make the time to show the intimacy of the couple as she explains to "Nicky" how much she loves him and how they first met.  The cameras can quickly go from a quiet scene inside the bedroom as she tries to figure out how to get into the bed to a quick outside shot of the jack beginning to fail.  I think the absence of a live audience would also make this a completely different experience for moviegoers.  

 

3)  Lucy's slapstick abilities are evident in this clip.  She bounces right off of the bed onto the floor in true Lucy style.  Rolling right out of the trailer into the mud in truly exaggerated and over-the-top slapstick forms is undeniably a scene meant for Lucille Ball.

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

 

We can see much better everything in the table because they have different colors. If they were all in black and white, we’d have a harder time setting all the things apart. Of course, what first draws our attention is Lucy’s red hair, so all the main fun action must be conducted by her, who is also wearing a red checkered shirt in the beginning of the clip.

 

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 see that Minnelli’s camera is not static, and he moves it to follow Lucy. I can imagine he was inside the scenario, very close to the actors, with the camera in hand to capture the images of them chatting in the table.

 

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?

 

I see physical comedy (yet with objects) when Desi sticks his glass with a tape in order to keep it from falling from the table, and then he proceeds to drink from a straw. He is drinking something alcoholic, much probably wine, in a fancy glass, with a straw!

Later I see physical comedy when Lucy tries to get into bed, but gravity prevents her from doing so. Since the trailer is inclined, she keeps falling from the bed. This is also a mostly silent sequence, in which Lucy does her famous comic facial expressions.

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1. The color brings this world to life, especially when Lucy's red hair and pink pajamas are soaked in gallons of brown mud. 

2. The dutch angles sell the tilted trailer gag that would have never played on TV. Plus, shot-reverse shots, inserts, and POV reveals weren't really possible with a three camera setup and a live audience. This gave Minnelli fertile ground to play with that you couldn't do with the old, almost-all dialogue comedies of early TV.

3. "I Love Lucy" is a slapstick goldmine that farmed every day life for madcap schemes and zany antics (I'd suggest you watch the candy conveyor belt scene, but by now, every person on earth has seen it). The simple gag of taping a champagne glass to the table is effective and funny as is Lucy trying to hop into a tilted bed only to be rolled right onto the floor.

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The color brings the movie to its lifeness and fullness. The color brings a little "pop" to it, especially seeing Ball's red hair come to life. Minnelli uses the POV angles plus the side angles to the cinematic sense. These angles would never be used in I Love Lucy ​since it was a sitcom. Lucille Ball contributed a lot to the slapstick sense of comedy. She was the first female comedian to open doors for many females. The champagne part of the clip is something we would have seen in I Love Lucy. She used so many gags in the show and in this movie.

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1.  Pertaining to color in this scene, it really doesn't add much to the gags, except for the mud on Lucy's pink pyjamas and red hair.  It's not as if there was a joke about say, "Turn the red knob!"  "Which knob?"  "The red knob!"  Then the knobturner doesn't hear and turns the blue knob where fun ensues.

 

The whole discussion of color versus black and white was best summed up by Roger Ebert on Siskel and Ebert when they were discussing colorizing old movies.  Ebert said that you had to be more beautiful in black and white because the colour wasn't obscuring anything.  Same here, I think.  Does colour mute somewhat our perception of what we see on the screen?  Are we more observant when we watch a black and white movie?

 

2.  In the 50s, Lucy's show was shot with five cameras on a set, stuck in a location like a stage play.  With this clip we cut outside to the jack.  Lucy is able to fly out the door.  We see the mud puddle and rain.  It was shot in a tight set.  Minnelli was able to shoot as many takes as was necessary to get the performances he wanted and he had the ability to edit.  Even in modern television shows like Big Bang, they usually do two performances in front of an audience and the best parts of each are edited into the show that goes to air.

 

3.  Lucy's most famous contribution to comedy is the chocolate factory scene. 

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These old Technicolor movies -- this one in particular -- always remind me of my grandparents' house. Their home is like a 50s time-capsule. Once you cross their threshold, it's as if time in that place has frozen. Carpet, plastic sofa covers, countertops, curtains, everything you see is pure vintage. And the color of everything! I'm not sure if Technicolor became the industry standard because it was best able to render the color palette of the day OR if the color palette of the day gained popularity because it made real life look like life in a Technicolor movie.

 

I also loved the way this tilted trailer sort of gives a kooky 50s update to the tilted cabin gag from Chaplin's Goldrush

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

I think what it really adds, is the mood and personality of the characters, not to mention how well the combine together. Most of all, it helps us also appreciate Lucille’s vibrant red hair, because it brings out and reminds us just how fiery Lucille Ball is.

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 was able to show a deeper view of scenes, like the mud scene, we are able to actually see Lucy inside the puddle of mud, while in I Love Lucy, scenes like that can only be caught so nicely. (In a way the mud puddle scene reminds me of the Vineyard scene Lucy has) You also feel, that you are able to get inside the minds of both Lucy and Desi separately and together. While the story is mostly told in Desi (Nicky’s) POV, you can feel and see just what Lucy is feeling throughout the movie as if she herself was telling the story as well.

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?

Lucille’s greatest contribution is opening a new door for women in comedy, proving that women are just as equally as funny as men, and that they can be just as bold and daring as they are, she proves that there are no boundaries as well to physical comedy. Minnelli used her physical comedy brilliantly first off, in the bedroom scene, her failed attempted to get into bed and stay there, are beyond perfection, and wonderfully wrapped up when she falls onto the door and into the mud puddle.

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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?

 

The Fuller Brush Girl is really funny. The scene where they are hanging from the bananas on the boat and a big spider is there is classic. Also her getting stuck between two life preservers and rolling back and forth on the deck is hilarious.

 

Lucy loved performing in front of audiences. So Desi had a set built with bleachers so the audience could see. He also filmed using 3 cameras. This is still the format used for situation comedies today.

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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?

The Fuller Brush Girl is really funny. The scene where they are hanging from the bananas on the boat and a big spider is there is classic. Also her getting stuck between two life preservers and rolling back and forth on the deck is hilarious.

Lucy loved performing in front of audiences. So Desi had a set built with bleachers so the audience could see. He also filmed using 3 cameras. This is still the format used for situation comedies today.

One thing the Long Long Trailer gave us was a view of Lucy and Desi in color and the same costumes she wore on the I Love Lucy set. Also her actions in the movie (hiding all the things they picked up) while they climbed up that steep grade and Desi's reaction is believable.

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One thing the Long Long Trailer gave us was a view of Lucy and Desi in color and the same costumes she wore on the I Love Lucy set. Also her actions in the movie (hiding all the things they picked up) while they climbed up that steep grade and Desi's reaction is believable.

The color was really nice. The lighting looked like you are in a trailer with only candlelight. When she falls out of the trailer into the mud, it gave the impression they put some type of bungee cord on her to make her fly backwards.

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I enjoyed seeing Lucy display a more subtle, yet comedic version of herself. While I adore her zany performances, seeing her be more emotive was a gift. I think Minnelli did a great job with this.

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The use of color in this scene brought a rainbow effect to the actions of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

The film was shot in Ansco technique and he used Technicolor in order to create a colorful movie.

Here in this scene, they have a dinner with a light conversation and goes to sleep amidst the raging storm. The camera focuses more on Miss Ball and Mr. Arnaz is shown very less in this scene. I have to admire Lucille Ball not only as a good actress but also as a wonderful comedian. I liked her comic antics in which she performed along with Harpo Marx and the result was hilarious. The comic element comes when Lucille tries to get in her bed but her attempts are foiled (thanks to Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation). While with her attempt to get on bed, the jack stand of their trailer displaces which in turn throws Lucille from the wagon to the mud puddle with a heavy splash. I find that Minnelli did a great job in bringing Miss Ball to do this comedy film.

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