Friday, February 06, 2009

Forever Darling

Forever Darling posterForever Darling (1956), a typical Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz comedy, begins with the blissful wedding of Lorenzo or "Larry" and Susan Vega (Arnaz and Ball, respectively). Susan happens to be from a wealthy family, while Larry (although it is never said outright) appears to be middle-class, as is first brought to our attention when Susan’s cousin Millie (Natalie Scafer) scoffs, "He’ll never fit into our set." Larry isn’t blind to these comments, but lets them slide, while lobbing back subtle remarks about why he wouldn’t want to be in their set anyways. The wedding guests discreetly wonder how long the couple will last. The film then fast forwards to five years later, with the predicted outcome of their marriage slowly going to ruin. Larry has become an esteemed chemist working on a new insecticide called "383," while Susan has followed in Millie’s footsteps to become a stuck-up socialite. The two barely speak, and one night Larry loses all restraint and tells Millie and her husband Henry what he really thinks of them. Susan is enraged that on top of all this, Larry wants to travel the world to do research on his insecticide. A domestic argument ensues in which they realize that their marriage is on its last legs, and separate sleeping quarters are arranged.

Suddenly the film takes a mystical turn as Susan is visited by a guardian angel, played by actor James Mason (as per Susan’s fantasies). At first she is frightened; but after discovering from her father that both visions and guardian angels run in the family, she promptly listens to the angel’s advice. He lectures her on love and stresses that she and Larry were destined to be together. On hearing this, Susan tries her best to see Larry in a different light and even volunteers to go on a camping trip to Washington with him to gather research on mosquitoes and his insecticide.

This turn of events induces the tried-and-true Lucille and Desi slapstick comedy. Susan’s lack of outdoors know-how tests the limits of Larry’s patience. Yet, despite some unfortunate incidents, Larry still manages to serenade his love to Susan while they sit by the campfire. But this all comes crashing down in the grand finale when Susan accidentally cuts a hole in their inflatable boat, which promptly puts them in the swampy river like drowned rats. This is the last straw for both of them until two officials from Washington arrive to see the insecticide in action. Here is where the guardian angel again intervenes so that "383" fails to work and Larry becomes devastated. Seeing Larry in this state, Susan rushes to his side and spouts everything she’s learned about love and that she will be with him no matter what, even to travel the world and look at insects. No sooner said than done, the officials interrupt to tell them that they tried "383" again and it worked, meaning a contract and some world-traveling for Larry. He looks dubiously at Susan who assures him that this is the life she wants and that she doesn’t "care if [they] never see Millie and Henry again." Larry replies incredulously in his Spanish lilt, "You dunt?" Susan smiles back before embracing him: "No, I dunt!"

It’s impossible to take in this film without realizing its relevance to the successful Ball and Arnaz TV show, I Love Lucy; it even replicates a silk sheet backdrop behind the opening credits. However, although Forever Darling and the couple's other feature film The Long Long Trailer, may have protagonists analogous to the couple on the show, it lacks the cultural nuances which made I Love Lucy such a hit. For instance, Larry is clearly of Hispanic descent in Forever Darling, but it is not clear where exactly he is from. In fact, the only Latin American country mentioned in the film is Puerto Rico, where Larry will have to go to research the effects of "383" on roaches . . . how charming! It appears that this typical "American couple" has truly been assimilated. As Gustavo Peréz Firmat observes, "Just as Vegas [Larry and Susan’s last name] is a Spanish name that has become an American city, Larry is a Hispanic man who has become a dyed-in-the-wool American" (Life on the Hyphen 68-69).

This is not to say that Larry has lost all traces of hispanidad. For instance, whenever he is emotional he uses his native language. This can be when he is angry with Susan, when he is incredulous, or when he is laughing at someone; but the similarity among these instances is that Larry is always talking to himself, thus creating a link between his culture and the isolation of being the only Hispanic-American in the film. This characteristic is reiterated when Millie points out that Larry will never belong. This remark may be interpreted in terms of wealth, as is Millie's suggestion, but this is unconvincing, as Larry has provided Susan with a luxurious home complete with hired help. Larry invites Susan into his culture as he serenades her in Spanish; however, she then asks him to sing the song again, this time in English. The only scene where Larry’s culture is acknowledged in any way is in the last few lines of the film when his pronunciation of "don't" as "dunt" becomes a comical connection between husband and wife. It appears as though Hollywood has made an icon of Arnaz and plans to keep him this way: petrified in film as the token Hispanic character, he maintains his difference from his counterpart, Lucille Ball, who is the icon of the American house-wife.

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