In the 1950’s, the era of Red hunter Joe McCarthy, careers were being destroyed

Lee Heidhues 12.21.2021

Most people don’t know or want to forget that the early 1950’s was a horrific paranoid era in America.

It was the time of the Red Scare when paranoia ran amok. The careers of people regardless of their status or income were being destroyed. Why? Because of their political beliefs genuine and imagined by the Red hunters of the day.

The just released film “Being the Ricardos” tells one such story. Lucille Ball was America’s sweetheart through her television role in the “I Love Lucy” show. Her career was nearly derailed because of the allegation promoted by a gossip columnist of the day that Lucy was a “Communist”. She was able to quickly fend off this allegation and move on with her professional life.

Many others were not so fortunate. The film is now availabe on Amazon Prime and in selected theaters.

Excerpted from The Chronicle – Mick LaSalle 12.21.2021

The bottom line on “Being the Ricardos” is that it’s irresistible. It’s an invitation to go behind the scenes of the “I Love Lucy” show and to see what Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were really like. It’s also an invitation to travel back to the 1950s, with writer-director Aaron Sorkin as your guide.

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Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz

To succeed here, Sorkin first had to solve one big challenge before all the other elements would fall into place. He had to come up with a story. Fortunately for Sorkin, he knows something that other screenwriters and would-be screenwriters don’t know: the difference between what’s a story and what’s merely interesting.

It’s the week that began with gossip columnist and red-baiter Walter Winchell obliquely accusing Ball — the most popular TV personality in America — of being a communist. That charge was untrue, but not baseless.

When she was very young, Ball checked a box to join the Communist Party as a favor to a leftist relative. Beyond that, she never did anything — no meetings, no secret handshakes, no speeches extolling the U.S.S.R. as a worker’s paradise. But in the early 1950s, the era of Joe McCarthy, careers were being destroyed for less.

Sorkin uses this crisis as the spine for “Being the Ricardos,” and with that in place, he can go anywhere he wants to go. He can do a flashback to show Lucy and Desi’s courtship. He can introduce the network’s reaction to Lucy’s pregnancy. He can concentrate on the stress point of the Lucy-Desi marriage, namely Desi’s infidelity.

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Lucille Ball and her counterpart Nicole Kidman

For example, it’s interesting that William Frawley and Vivian Vance, who played Fred and Ethel Mertz on the sitcom, detested each other. It’s interesting that Ball insisted that Vance remain slightly overweight and never look glamorous. It’s interesting how Lucy and Desi met, and how her movie career was only so-so, and how radio became her launching pad for a career in television.

Sorkin finds ways to include and dramatize all those interesting elements. But he doesn’t try to locate his story in any of them, either because they’re not consequential enough, or they’re not compressed enough (that is, they take place over too long a stretch of time). Instead, Sorkin finds his story in a series of events that took place over the course of about a week, in which the futures of Lucy, Desi and “I Love Lucy” hung in the balance.

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Javier Bardem and his counterpart Desi Arnaz

Javier Bardem captures Desi’s macho aura and magnetism, but he lacks his humor. When he sings “Babaloo” and “Cuban Pete,” it’s impossible not to miss Arnaz’s distinct tenor voice. Still, acting isn’t impersonation, and Bardem functions well as Desi within the world that Sorkin creates.

As for Sorkin, he is establishing himself as a major filmmaker of Americana. He did the 1990s with “The American President” and “West Wing,” the Vietnam era with “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” and now he’s done the ’50s. I’d like to see what he could do with the ’30s or ’40s.

Review: ‘Being the Ricardos’ is an irresistible film about Lucy and Desi