It’s the 1950s and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz are the most popular and powerful couple in Hollywood. Their TV show I Love Lucy is a phenomenon with millions of fans tuning in every week, making it one of the most watched and beloved shows in television history.
With all the success has come movie offers. In 1954 Ball and Arnaz made the leap to the big-screen with the road comedy The Long, Long Trailer. The home on wheels comedy was a big box office hit. They would then sign with MGM for a two-picture deal. The first film they’d make for MGM would be the romantic comedy Forever Darling and wouldn’t reach anywhere near the success of Trailer or be one of their well loved projects audiences would continue to watch for decades after. In fact, Forever Darling is more of a forgotten black mark in the careers of Ball and Arnaz.
Filmed during the shows hiatus, when it was released Forever Darling received a very chilly reception from audiences and critics. It was just the opposite results of The Long, Long Trailer. The negative reaction to it was so bad, that their second film in their MGM deal was scrapped altogether. Forever Darling would be the last time Ball and Arnez appeared on the big-screen together.
Forever Darling has an odd premise, but an even more lifeless execution of it. After five years of marriage, the spark of Lorenzo’s and Susan’s (played by Desi and Lucy) marriage is starting to flicker out. Susan wishes she could do something to save it. Lo and behold her guardian angel in the form of James Mason (played by Mason) arrives and suggests she goes along on Lorenzo’s work trip to Yosemite National Park. Lorenzo is a chemical engineer and is working on a new state of the art insecticide and needs to test it out in the field.
See, I told you it’s odd, but we’ll just go along with it.
So the two go camping at Yosemite. Susan does some patented ‘Lucy antics’, whining, messing things up, causing Lorenzo to lose his mind. After some comedic mishaps, Lorenzo’s insecticide works, the couple embrace and their marriage is saved!
Cue the end credits, fade out as the audience is left wondering – ‘Why on Earth would Lucy and Desi do this movie???’
Forever Darling was a script that was floating around Hollywood for a very long a time. William Powell and Myrna Loy were close to doing it. Then it was an ‘almost’ project for Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn. Finally, it settled into Lucy and Desi’s lap.
They would’ve been smart to have followed the trend and passed on it too.
At the time, I Love Lucy was gradually coming to a close and would end its run in 1957. I’ve read Lucy agreed to do the film because she had hoped the time together making it would help save her marriage to Desi. The couple even spent time together doing a cross country promotion via train for the film.
Nothing in the film and behind the scenes worked out the way anyone hoped. The time the Arnez’s spent working on it didn’t strengthen their marriage. Ball and Arnaz would later divorce in 1960. The film itself didn’t give fans of theirs an entertaining film to watch and it certainly wasn’t a momentous ‘feather in the cap’ of the Ball/Arnez brand.
In fact, Forever Darling was so disliked when it was released, that according to wikipedia “programmers at Radio City Music Hall, where The Long, Long Trailer had premiered, refused to let the film open there because they found it ‘sub-standard’.” Ouch!
And it is bad.
It seems the big hook in the movie is the ‘stunt casting of James Mason playing Susan’s guardian angel, who Lucy is shocked looks like James Mason. She asks why her guardian angel looks like James Mason. Even Mason looks in a mirror and says, “So, I look like James Mason do I?”
If you don’t think Mason playing a guardian angel doing fourth wall breaking with his casting is a hysterical idea, then you probably won’t be laughing at a lot of the jokes. The film desperately tries to milk his casting of being Lucy’s guardian angel and looking like James Mason for all it is worth. It doesn’t get any funnier than the first joke about it.
So, why is ‘Angel Mason’ visiting Lucy….I mean Susan. He explains he’s there to help save her marriage. Lorenzo has been neglecting Susan being too focused on his work. Susan wishes she could do something about it and – poof – James Mason arrives.
Lucy acts panicky when she see Mason appear. There ar long tedious, unfunny scenes where she tries to convince people she sees her guardian angel. Of course no one believes her and thinks she’s crazy. This goes on for pretty much the first half of the movie. You have to wait a long time for the ‘story’ to actually get started! Then Mason suggests in order to save her marriage she should go along on his work trip with Desi…I mean Lorenzo. Ta da!
I suppose this is where fans of the couple would find the bulk of their unique style of comedy within the film – Lucy goofing things up on their camping trip at Yellowstone Park. But it’s all very awkward, poorly telegraphed gags and nothing here that would be worthwhile to include into a highlight reel of Lucy’s career.
It is a very odd movie. It’s almost like they forgot to put in a story. There’s the bare bones of an idea of a guardian angel helping this troubled married couple and saving their marriage, but absolutely nothing interesting or funny results from any of it. If this was the script that Powell, Loy, Tracey and Hepburn read, it’s no wonder they declined doing it.
The film plods slowly along, scenes drag with jokes that don’t hit and the script is just a mess. Mason stands around and has really nothing to do other than be himself as an angel. There’s a very long, unfunny scene of Lucy at a movie theater watching a James Mason movie and she becomes his co-star within the film. It has nothing to do with the marriage story or anything involving the plot. I guess it’s just to remind us again that they got James Mason to be in this. You know, just in case we forgot.
Maybe they thought all these ‘meta James Mason jokes’ were hysterical at the time, but it becomes very dull, very quickly. And the movie relies on Mason’s casting for a whole lot of the comedy and none it is worthy of a chuckle.
The star power of Lucy and Desi couldn’t save this dud and breathe any life into the awful script. The script doesn’t highlight either of the couple’s strengths or comedic talents. The final camping excursion looks like it was the only part of the film that was tailor-made to showcase the royal TV couple’s gifts – Ball’s physical comedy and Arnaz’s singing that fans loved, but it doesn’t make a ripple. It’s such a long haul to get to the camping third act, it’s too late to breathe any life into this tedious romantic comedy.
The co-stars don’t offer much support. Natalie Schafer plays Susan’s annoying friend and has a few good reactionary moments as Lorenzo slides in subtle insults at her. But really most of the comedic support comes from Mason.
One good notable thing that came from the film was the title song written by Sammy Cahn, that once again according to wikipedia, became a tradition for Arnaz to sing at special family events for the rest of his life.
Even though I’m not a big fan of The Long, Long Trailer, at least that had some clever ideas, funny gags and amusing scenes. It did something with its premise and was a stage for Lucy and Desi to display their talents. Forever Darling (even going down to it’s forgettable title) just slowly plays, you wait for something to kick it, nothing ever does and then it slowly fades out. I sat watching this and kept thinking that there’s just nothing here!
According to IMDB, Mason considered Forever Darling the worst film he ever made. That’s quite a bold statement, considering Mason did make some stinkers in his career. He even went so far to do commercials for Thunderbird! But it’s hard to argue with him that there is not much redeemable about Forever Darling.
I’m sure hardcore Lucy and Desi fans can find some fun moments in it, but Forever Darling is not one of those projects from Ball and Arnaz that is highly regarded, remembered or much talked about. It’s a footnote during that time in the 1950s when it appeared they could do no wrong and audiences were religiously tuning in to see them on television and buying tickets to see them on the big-screen. But not this time.
Audiences were shrewd to avoid it. This was a low point for Lucy and Desi. AND Mason! Hopefully he got a nice paycheck for appearing in this. Watch The Long, Long Trailer instead.