Lucille Ball, known most famously for her role as Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy, has one of the most recognizable faces in entertainment. But this talented redhead also starred in more than 80 movies, first as an uncredited extra early in her career to mastering multiple leading lady roles.
We called ourselves a Lucille Ball fan for years until we realized how many of these movies we hadn't seen. My goal this year was to change that, and I did. Check out our pics for the must-see Lucille Ball movies.
The Long, Long Trailer (1953, directed by Vincente Minnelli)
For anyone who hasn't watched Lucille Ball in anything other than I Love Lucy, start a Lucille Ball film festival with The Long, Long Trailer, a 1953 comedy directed by Vincente Minnelli (Liza's father). The opening credits even promote the movie “With the Stars of I Love Lucy.” It’s not the couple’s only movie they did together, but it's the closest to watching them as characters who seem to act just like Lucy and Ricky.
In The Long, Long Trailer, newlyweds Nicky and Tacy want to buy a trailer to travel around the United States. The idea is simple – the couple will visit the locations where Nicky is working on projects and, as a result, save money on buying a home. Unfortunately, everything that can go wrong will, repair costs escalate, and their brand-new marriage starts to suffer. Will they survive their disastrous road trip?
The Long, Long Trailer is based on a book of the same name. It's funny and filled with slapstick humor.
Forever Darling (1956, directed by Alexander Hall)
Forever Darling features both Ball and Arnaz, but it also includes a popular actor of the 1950s: James Mason. One website describes Forever Darling as a madcap comedy about a research chemist whose dedicated pursuit of a new pesticide wreaks havoc on his marriage. Another explains that Susan (Ball) sees a guardian angel (Mason plays himself) who tells her to go on a research trip with her husband, Lorenzo (Arnaz).
Now, combine these two descriptions for a more accurate depiction of what this movie is about. When Susan first sees her Angel, she thinks she's being stalked. When Susan realizes she's the only one who can see him, she thinks she's going crazy. In the meantime, her marriage disintegrates because of Lorenzo's work, and the Angel pushes her to go on the trip to save her marriage. Why is James Mason her guardian angel? No spoilers here.
Susan and Lorenzo have funny arguments, and there is some Twilight Zone-esque eerieness about the guardian angel. Still, Forever Darling shows a combo of Ball’s comedic and dramatic skills and is a fun watch.
Easy to Wed (1946, directed by Edward Buzzell)
Lucille Ball said that Easy to Wed was her favorite movie to shoot because it showed her comedy chops. She's right about that, but we loved this movie because Lucy's colorful outfits in the movie's technicolor also make it a beautiful film to watch. Also, we get to enjoy Lucille dancing – and not have to ask Ricky to be in the show to do it – and that's an absolute delight.
The plot focuses on a newspaper that runs a story accusing Connie (Esther Williams) of being a homewrecker. Connie's father threatens a lawsuit with the owner, Warren Haggerty. If Haggerty can prove that Connie is a homewrecker, he can countersue. He pulls his fiancee (Ball) and a reporter (Van Johnson) into his scheme. Fans will remember that Ball dances with Johnson in an episode of I Love Lucy; she doesn't dance with him here. And, for the record, Ball's voice is dubbed when she sings here, too.
Watch the movie closely because viewers need to remember who loves who, and who is trying to fake out who, but it's still worthwhile among Lucille Ball movies.
Du Barry Was a Lady (1943, directed by Roy Del Ruth)
We got excited to learn about Du Barry Was a Lady because we never knew Lucille starred in a movie with Gene Kelly. Also in this film is the comedy genius Red Skelton. Skelton plays Louis, a nightclub coatroom attendant who's in love with May, the club's singer (Ball, whose vocals are dubbed for all but one of the songs). Alec (Kelly) and May (Ball) fall in love, but May doesn't want to get married because she sees how bad her parent's marriage was and doesn't want that.
To get Alec out of the picture temporarily so he can spend time with May, Louis attempts to slip Alec a Mickey (named after Mickey Finn, a gangster who would drug his victims before robbing them). Unfortunately, thanks to a bumbling waiter, Louis ends up drinking it and then has a vivid, albeit very strange, dream about being King Louis XV. Watching the legendary Ball and Kelly together will melt the hearts of viewers. Red Skelton sings and dances in his typical goofy manner.
Dance, Girl, Dance (1940, directed by Dorothy Arzner and Roy Del Ruth)
Lucille Ball plays Bubbles, a dancer who knows how to woo and use her personality to get gigs. Her friend, Judy, is a ballerina dedicated to her craft, but she has difficulty succeeding. When Bubbles decides to take a lucrative job as a burlesque dancer, she pulls Judy into the act…as comic relief. When Judy finds out how she's being used and that the women are chasing the same man, chaos ensues between the friends.
This is one of Ball's earliest feature films as a lead, and it's a joy watching her sass instead of the typical bumbling slapstick from Lucy Ricardo. The movie is funny, and here, she comes into her own as a leading lady.
You Can’t Fool Your Wife (1940, Ray McCarey)
You Can’t Fool Your Wife came out in 1940. Ball portrays Clara, who is married to her college sweetheart Andrew. The couple lives with his mother, and Andrew works hard, but his boss requires that he entertain a client who likes to party. Clara throws him out because he's never home anymore. Clara, who is somewhat timid, ends up getting a beauty treatment and, at a costume party, looks precisely like another beautiful woman.
Press promotes this movie as a comedy, but it came across as a little darker than that. Lucille doesn't seem funny in this role. However, she does show off more of her serious side and her versatility when she is mistaken for the other woman at the party and plays it off, accent and all.
Yours, Mine and Ours (1968, Melville Shavelson)
A little later in her career, Yours, Mine, and Ours ranks as one of Lucy's best movies. It stars the incomparable Henry Fonda and Van Johnson. The plot is about a widower (Fonda) with ten kids who falls for a widow (Ball) with eight kids and how they decide to make it work – or do they? Eighteen children almost guarantee a movie filled with comedy chaos, and Yours, Mine, and Ours delivers.
A Guide for the Married Man (1967, Gene Kelly)
Directed by the legend Gene Kelly, A Guide for the Married Man pairs Lucille Ball and Walter Matthau, who would later star in The Bad News Bears. The movie focuses on a man who teaches his friend how to cheat on his wife without being caught.
While watching for Lucille Ball, viewers may also enjoy the many cameos of these A-listers from that generation – Jack Benny, Terry-Thomas, Jayne Mansfield, Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Joey Bishop, and Art Carney. It's a funny, easy-to-watch movie, so pop some popcorn and sit back for some light-hearted – and perhaps controversial – fun.
Mame (1974, Gene Saks)
Mame stands among Lucille Ball movies…for all the wrong reasons. Directed by Gene Saks, Mame is a musical based on the 1966 Broadway musical of the same name. This film would be Ball's last theatrical performance (although she would appear in another made-for-television movie in 1985). Ball won a Golden Globe nomination for this role, but endured scathing reviews.
The cast also stars the Golden Girl legend Bea Arthur, as well as Bruce Davison and Robert Preston. The plot is about Mame Dennis (Ball), who becomes the guardian of her deceased brother's son, and she goes on to marry a wealthy Southern plantation owner (Preston). Ball did do her own singing here…and it shows.
Stone Pillow (1985, George Schaefer)
Stone Pillow is so drastically different than any role in other Lucille Ball movies. In interviews, that's precisely what Lucille Ball said was why she wanted to play Flora, a homeless woman. Ball was 74 when she did this movie; it would be her last. Seeing Ball dressed in rags and reduced to street living shocked viewers at the time.
The Big Street (1942, Irving Reis)
Ball always referred to her work in The Big Street as some of the best of her career, and never forgave the Academy for not tossing her a Best Actress Oscar nomination.
The movie follows Augustus Pinkerton II, known as Little Pinks (Henry Fonda), a nightclub busboy in love with the club's singer, Gloria (Ball). Gloria treats Pinks with contempt, preferring the company of her club owner boyfriend (Barton MacLane). A fall down the stairs leaves Gloria paralyzed and alone, though Pinks refuses to abandon her. His selflessness leads Gloria to warm to him, in typical melodramatic fashion.
The Big Street doesn't quite live up to its reputation–or the one Ball gave it, anyway. The melodramatic plot also hasn't aged well over time. Still, Ball and Fonda have great chemistry, and Lucy does prove her dramatic skills here.
Room Service (1938, William A. Seiter)
Mix Lucy with the Marx Brothers for slapstick comedy at its wildest…in theory, anyway. Room Service started as a Broadway play, and unlike their other movies, the Marx Brothers didn't have creative input to the script. The result doesn't have the usual manic, laugh-a-second feeling as most of their big screen outings (or other Lucille Ball movies, for that matter), and Ball's role as a stage starlet doesn't afford her the opportunity to show off her comic talents, either. Still, the movie has its moments, and Lucy never looked so statuesque on screen before.