So, I had 5 people complain about there not being enough I Love Lucy on the list, and specifically bringing up this episode. What’s weird is that this wouldn’t even be the episode I would consider to be the third best episode of the show. I actually rate it fourth. But, I will concede that everyone loves this episode, including me. It’s considered to have the third most memorable scene in the show (the other two are on the list), was picked as the episode that CBS liked enough to later “colorize,” and it was Lucille Ball’s favorite episode. Apparently, not considering this third makes me the minority. Well, I’ll accept that.
What’s odd is that, up until researching this entry, I actually thought the title of this episode was “Bitter Grapes,” the title of the movie that Lucy is making during the episode. And, really, I think that’s a better title, but I suppose they didn’t care that much back then, since the re-run was a new concept.
Season 5 of I Love Lucy would probably now be considered when the show jumped the shark, but it’s I Love Lucy, so it’s also still beloved. This season, as well as the sixth, were notable for having a ton of guest stars, as well as exotic locations (which were, for the most part, in California), which now are considered obvious signs that the show is running out of ideas. But, again, beloved.
Here’s a recap of the show: The show had a pretty general premise. Lucille “Lucy” Esmeralda McGillicuddy Ricardo and Enrique “Ricky” Alberto Fernando y de Acha Ricardo III (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) are married and they live in an apartment in New York with their son Little Ricky (Desi Arnaz, Jr.), where they frequently interact with their friends and landlords Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance). Ricky is a popular bandleader and singer at a club. Lucy is a housewife who dreams of stardom, despite her complete lack of talent, leading her to do things that usually are described with “Hi-jinks Ensue.” Also, credit to her, Lucille Ball’s greatest talent is her incredible ability to play someone without any talent.
In the season, prior to this episode, Ricky had obtained a European tour booking for his band, and Lucy, as well as Fred and Ethel, follow after him. This let the show film throughout multiple famous locations. The episode before this had the four arrive in Italy. And we’re off to the races.
The episode starts with the four heading towards Rome via a very cramped train ride (Fred wanted to save money). During the trip, Lucy encounters film auteur Vittoria Felipe (or Phillipi, both seem to be used by different sites) (Franco Corsaro), who is looking to cast people for his new film. Lucy first tries to impress him with her acting, which somehow doesn’t drive him off. Instead, she gets offered a role as an American tourist in his new film, which he says would be called “Bitter Grapes” in English.
Once again, it’s amazing how good Lucille Ball is at playing someone who cannot act at all. I didn’t know until now that the line she delivers, “the calla lilies are in bloom again,” are a reference to the movie Stage Door in which Lucille Ball got her big break. In that movie, Katharine Hepburn delivers the line repeatedly, and Ball was a huge fan of hers. Fun facts, people. They keep me going.
Lucy, believing from the title that the movie will be about winemaking, decides that she needs to know firsthand about the wine industry in Italy. Ricky warns her that it’s a bad idea, for multiple reasons, including that she’s supposed to be an American tourist. She asks a bellboy where they make wine, and heads to the nearby town of Turo, which does not exist. Also, this entire episode was filmed in California.
When Lucy gets to Turo, they allow her to work in the vats, stomping grapes, because her feet are “as big as large pizzas.” Lucy gets sent into the vat with an Italian woman (Teresa Tirelli) and begins to stomp the grapes. At first, she loves stomping on them, and has a lot of fun playing around in the grapes, goofing around. Then, after a little bit, she starts to get tired, and decides to leave the vat. Since they have a quota, and she needs the help, Teresa tries to grab Lucy’s arm to get her to keep working. Lucy shakes her off and ends up pushing Teresa into the grapes in the vat. Thus, the great Grape War starts.
As with many parts of I Love Lucy, nothing can truly describe this scene. You just need to watch it below. But, I will say the following:
IT WAS REAL.
Yeah, see, the woman Lucy is fighting is an actual Italian Opera Singer/Actress. She didn’t speak English. They were able to explain that she was supposed to fight Lucy, but they didn’t explain to her that it was just supposed to be an act. Instead, they just got across the basics that she and Lucy were going to fight. Then, Ball pushed her harder than she expected, which angered her, so… she pushed Lucy back harder, and everything just kind of escalated. It’s not like Tirelli was ever really trying to kill Ball, but she definitely wasn’t pulling punches. The fight actually went on longer than made it into the episode because of it.
What’s really interesting is that Lucy had already done this a few times on the show with other actresses who she thought wouldn’t really make the hits look real, including the famous fly scene in the chocolate factory episode, where one of the actresses wouldn’t hit Ball solidly in the face, so Ball just slapped her. That woman suffered for her art.
Lucy returns to Rome now covered in grape juice and stained purple. The director sees her and tells her A) the title was metaphorical, and there is nothing about winemaking in the film, and B) she can’t have the role since he thinks she’s going to be stained purple. He ends up giving the role to Ethel, which makes Lucy make some remarks in Italian that have to be censored by the editors.
Okay, this episode is just comedy gold. I’m not going to say it’s highly sophisticated, even to the extent of the other episodes that actually made the list, but it’s still brilliant. It’s mostly expressed through looks and pantomime, which makes it all the more impressive. The fact that the fight is real doesn’t make it any less hilarious (because no one was hurt), and, in traditional Lucy fashion, it’s turning something tragic (like Lucy losing her role in the movie) into something funny. The only reason I think this is less impressive than the other episodes is that Lucy is actively disregarding good advice when she decides to go grape stomping, which makes it a little more karmic when she loses the role. That makes it a little more of a tragedy than just tragic, because the end is derived from a fatal flaw, and I think that’s easier to turn into a comic moment, since the audience already feels justified in watching the tragically-flawed protagonist suffer.
I do kinda regret not putting this on the list proper, but since I rated it fourth among Lucy episodes, I’d have to put the one I rated third on there, and this one is basically funny for the same reason as the two episodes already on here: BECAUSE LUCY IS HILARIOUS. So… whatever, what’s done is done. I’m glad I added this, though.
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