Lucille Ball in film noir? Who knew?!

Quintessential Lucy
Quintessential Lucy

I grew up cringing through the few episodes of I Love Lucy I watched when absolutely nothing else was on, wondering how others could bear to see Lucy (Lucille Ball) embarrass herself so horribly, over and over.

Media and women’s studies education brought me to new, feminist awareness of Ball’s comedic talents. She challenged social norms by distorting her body, speaking her mind, being married to a man of color and a foreigner to boot, and generally failing in every way to perform “proper” white, middle-class femininity.

My appreciation also grew when I had opportunity to see Ball perform different roles in earlier films, mostly determined, sassy young women.

In Arzner's Dance Girl Dance
As Bubbles in Dorothy Arzner’s Dance Girl Dance
In Stage Door (with K. Hepburn and G. Rogers)
In Stage Door with Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers

But not until recently did I learn that Lucille Ball played central roles in two well-received noir films in 1946-1947. The first of these is The Dark Corner (1946, dir. Henry Hathaway), co-starring Clifton Webb, William Bendix, and Mark Stevens. It’s this film that we’ll screen on Sunday.

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Ball plays a devoted secretary who is determined to help her boss, a private eye, discover who is following him and might want to kill him. She’s energetic, smart, and plucky, the good girl of noir.

Ball as the tough good girl
Ball as the tough noir good girl

In the strangely cast Lured (1947, dir. Douglas Sirk), a serial killer in London is murdering young women through personal ads for artist models. Ball plays the friend of one of the 180px-LuredPostermurdered girls and is convinced by police to pose as a model and lure the killer out. George Sanders, Charles Coburn, and Boris Karloff (!) co-star. I find it less noir and less cohesively plotted than The Dark Corner, but worth a viewing.

This brief discussion of Lucille Ball in noir shouldn’t end before noting that she never did get to play a femme fatale, though she badly wanted to. After she read a script for a film to be titled Too Late for Tears in 1947, she coveted the role of a hard-boiled bad girl. When the film was finally made in 1949, it was Lizabeth Scott who got the part.

Though brief, I hope this overview tempts you to tune in Sunday at 9p ET for the #BNoirDetour live tweet of The Dark Corner.

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That’s all, folks!
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