Being handed a Lucille Ball TV. show DVD for a review can be a little scary. What do you say about one of the funniest women of all time? What can you say about one of the funniest shows of all time? Lucy was funny, not every show was a classic but every show had the elements of a classic and that holds true in the 4 episodes selected by Catcom in their TV Classics line.
The DVD The Lucy Show features 4 episodes, two good ones, one great one and one - which while good - was clearly the start of a story arc that leaves you wanting at the end of it all. There is little to fault about the Catcom presentation. The DVD's start off with a cute television set screen and an announcer telling you what you are about to watch in a vintage television announcers voice. As with most of these older prints the quality of the video is frequently grainy and there are some audio issues, but nothing which would ruin the enjoyment of the shows.
The first episode the viewer is treated to is "Lucy Meets John Wayne!" (episode 120 of the original series) with Lucille Ball at her wacky best opposite one of the giants of the silver screen. Ball's flawless timing and physical humor combined with the Duke's surprising skill at double takes and pratfalls give the viewer plenty to watch and laugh at but the script is very predictable and some of the gags you see coming a mile away.
Between the first episode and second we are treated to two classic television commercials. The first commercial is of John Wayne riding out in the open range doing a spokesman bit for Great Western Savings followed by The Beverly Hillbilly's doing a Kellog's Cornflakes commercial.
The second episode (episode 130 of the original series) on this television comedy DVD is called "Lucy, The Queen Of Boxing!" but is alsk known by Lucy fans as "Lucy The Fight Manager" and guest stars Don Rickles as Eddie a washed up prize fighter and erstwhile florist who needs to make a quick buck to buy a flower shop. Lucy convinces him to go back into the ring to make the money fighting the current top ranked fighter. Needless to say even the simplest idea can turn into mayhem in Lucy's hands. Rickles is an amazingly restrained presence in this episode and really plays the support roll well. There cannot be any other piece of television celluloid out there which features Lucille Ball and Don Rickles jumping rope together. As with the Wayne episode this isn't what you could call a classic Lucy episode, but it certainly has its moments.
The commercials which separate this episode from the next are classics as well. Anyone growing up in the 60's and 70's will remember the Charmin commercials. Mr. Whipple is featured with an opera singer in this one. The second commercial is for Pet-Ritz frozen pies - imagine custard pies made with real eggs and coconut.. Pet-Ritz long ago disappeared into Pillsbury and General Mills, but it is a blast to see their old commercials.
Episode three is one of the all time great Lucy Show episodes featuring the immortal Paul Winchell as himself (episode 114 of the original series). After Lucy convinces Winchell to entertain at a bank function she then loses all his ventriloquist dummies, what follows is one of the most classic bits in television history. Once again the writing and direction is a little weak here, but the strength of Ball and Winchell together just outshines the obvious lack in script. Once again the episode is known by some fans as "Lucy Meets Paul Winchell" but here is called "Lucy's No Dummy!".
Glo-Coat floor polish is a featured commercial at this point, but aside from the fractured fairytale animation there isn't anything of particular note about it. The second commercial though features Red Skelton doing a lead in for Pet - Instant milk with a special bonus of different Skelton character masks. If I could I would go out to buy the milk just to get the masks.
The final episode of this series of 4 episodes is "Lucy Flies High" A.K.A. "Lucy Flies To London" on this DVD (episode 116 of the original series). This is by far the weakest of the four episodes featured on this DVD. The setup is simple, Lucy wins a trip to London and has never been on a plane before. The episode would be easy to dismiss were it not for the presence of Gale Gordon who gives an outstanding supporting performance as Mr. Mooney. One of the great joys of this small collection is the opportunity to see Gale Gordon in all his blustering fury dealing with the addle brained Lucy Carmichael - it is sometimes easy to forget that supporting players are responsible for at least half the laughs.
The icing on the cake to this series are the last two commercials. The commercial for Lionel scale model trains is almost too bizarre for words. A child's toy being shilled for Christmas by a fighter pilot talking about the cool new missile launch features of the train set. It is almost surreal. What is absolutely surreal though is the last commercial featuring Lucy and Desi pitching Philip Morris cigarettes. To generations raised with tobacco as a taboo the idea of making a commercial pitching it must seem bizarre and in retrospect featuring this commercial on the same DVD with John Wayne is either a message or a strange coincidence.
For Lucille Ball fans this is a good addition to your television comedy DVD collection if you don't already have these episodes on VHS - all of them have been released by several different distributors over the years. There is no quality advantage of DVD over VHS in this case the video and sound quality is of less than stellar television rebroadcast level - often blurry and occasionally annoying. On the other hand you don't get to see Lucy on television these days and this is as close as you are likely to get.