We love Lucy (and Desi) for many reasons. We love them for being a glamorous interracial couple in a time when the struggle for civil rights was at a fever pitch. We love them for running a successful television studio that created and distributed some of the finest and most enduring series of all time. Mostly, we love them for the many hours of laughter and entertainment they gave us, together and separately. But not everything they made was golden.
Forever, Darling was one of two movies Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz made during their reign on television, the other being The Long Long Trailer. I was pretty disappointed with it. The biggest problem is its tonal shifts. It begins as this half-comedic, half-dramatic portrait of a marriage in decline. Then James Mason appears as Lucy's "guardian angel," and it strays into Twilight Zone territory. Lucy can see him but no one else can. Is she going nuts? Then the final third is basically I Love Lucy The Movie. Darling doesn't know what kind of film it wants to be, and the result is less than the sum of its parts. I wanna talk about it anyway, because it still made me think about a few things.
When Lucy & Desi fight in the first act, it's almost painful to watch because it's played straight, not for laughs. Technically, they're portraying different characters, but we can't help seeing them as the Ricardos, and their fights were never this serious! Also, on another level, they're still Lucy & Desi, and we know as happy as they were together for a time, they would eventually divorce - four years after this movie, in fact. Looking at them fight this seriously in a movie, one wonders how often they fought in real life.
I had expected Mason's role to be similar to that of Cary Grant in The Bishop's Wife, but his is a more passive presence. He doesn't even speak for his first ten minutes or so of screen time. When you see James Mason in a movie, you long to hear that rich, cultured, elegant voice of his, and to not get it right away is frustrating!
There's a scene where Lucy and her father try to convince Desi she's seen an angel. Desi's character is a scientist, so he's naturally skeptical of such things. I almost thought a full-fledged theological debate would break out. Darling doesn't run with the guardian angel concept as far as it could. The advice Mason gives Lucy could just as easily come from her father. And the less said about Mason's embarrassing movie-within-a-movie scene, the better.
Then, it's as if Lucy & Desi realize they're losing the audience and they essentially become Lucy & Ricky again, taking advantage of the bigger screen to go camping (on location) and get into assorted Lucyesque hijinks that somehow lead to a reconciliation (with an assist from Mason). Desi even gets a musical number! While it's fun to watch on a certain level, it's also jarring because the characters they're supposed to portray weren't slapstick-y. They certainly don't seem like the same couple who were at each other's throats in the beginning! It was simply too big a turnaround.
If these were any two other actors, I might have given up on this movie by this point. Because they're Lucy & Desi though, watching Darling is like looking through a kaleidoscope. Its image changes slightly when you view it from different angles, and that makes it a semi-interesting curio at best. Also, future Mrs. Howell from Gilligan's Island in a small role (and she actually looks pretty good!).