I’m generally not a fan of colorized versions of vintage black and white TV shows and movies. The faux colors tend to look garish and cheesy and usually flatten the rich contrast found in their original black and white counterparts. That said, I have to tip my hat to the team responsible for colorizing the I Love Lucy Christmas Special set to air on CBS tonight, Friday, December 20 (8:00-9:00 p.m., ET/PT).
The I Love Lucy Christmas Special not only piggybacks as holiday fare two quite lovely and immensely entertaining colorized episodes from the landmark I Love Lucy CBS-TV series, but manages (thanks to the sensible use of color) to inject a timeless, modern-day quality to the episodes without sacrificing the vintage framing music, titles and commercial breaks. I highly recommend that even the most stubborn foes of colorization give this show a chance, especially since it features the rarely seen 1956 Christmas Episode and the much-loved 1956 “Grape-Stomping” escapade, Lucy’s Italian Movie.
Originally aired on CBS in December 1956 and thought to be “lost,” The Christmas Episode is a nostalgic Christmas eve visit to the Ricardos’ Manhattan apartment where Lucy and Ricky trim their tree and prep gifts to surprise Little Ricky, their Santa-obsessed five-year-old.
Fred and Ethel join the fun as Lucy and Ricky wistfully recall Lucy’s unexpected pregnancy announcement at Ricky’s club and Ricky, Fred and Ethel’s subsequent foiled effort, months later, to get Lucy to the delivery room on time. Black and white flashbacks are intercut from these classic episodes. The latter, still hilarious after all these years, continues to serve as the classic benchmark for all the memorable, if derivative, sit-com “birthing” episodes that followed.
Finally, in a musical interlude, Lucy’s attempt to sing “Jingle Bells” reminds Ricky and the Mertzes of the time tone-deaf Lucy crashed their barbershop quartet with disastrous results. A flashback of their sabotaged performance in original black and white is included.
Overall, colorization works well in The Christmas Episode as it enhances quite naturally Lucy’s red hair, the Ricardos’ Christmas tree decorations, Little Ricky’s pricey gifts and the red suits worn by the five adult Santas who make Little Ricky’s Christmas dreams come true. However, in tandem with the colorized sequences, the “memories” recalled in black and white flashbacks make perfect sense as well.
Of course, who can forget Lucy’s Italian Movie? The episode originally aired in March 1956, became an instant classic and is included in its entirety in Part 2 of this I Love Lucy Christmas Special. While in Rome, in an effort to prepare for a role in an Italian movie, Lucy sets out to absorb some local color and ends up, instead, soaking up a purple hue in a tub of grapes. Lucy’s tangled red hair and grape-stained face, arms and legs look great colorized, but not to the Italian movie producer who hires Ethel for the part instead.
If Holiday prep has you frazzled, sit back and relax with a cup of tea or a glass of wine and catch the I Love Lucy Christmas Special, airing tonight on CBS, Friday, December 20, from 8:00-9:00 p.m.(ET/PT). You’ll laugh; you’ll remember how much you loved and miss Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel; and you’ll forget that you ever hated colorization.–Judith Trojan
(The I Love Lucy Christmas Special is also now available on DVD. Colorized and black and white versions of both episodes are reportedly included on the DVD as well as an additional episode featuring Lucy’s Scottish adventure.)