An encore for the Ricardos

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Blame it on MGM.

Back in 1953, Paramount was holding a test screening in Bakersfield for “I Love Lucy: The Movie.” It featured three episodes — “The Benefit,” “Breaking the Lease” and “The Ballet” — from the first season of the classic CBS sitcom starring Lucille Ball and her husband, Desi Arnaz, as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, as well as 12 minutes of new footage to bridge the episodes.

“I Love Lucy”: A story in Tuesday’s Calendar section about “I Love Lucy: The Movie” said the film had been shown publicly in 2001 at the Loving Lucy convention in Long Beach. The convention was in Burbank. —

Arnaz, who not only produced the series but also ran Desilu Productions, had invited executives from MGM. They had signed the couple to star in a big new Technicolor comedy, “The Long, Long Trailer,” which was to be released in 1954 and directed by Vincente Minnelli.

The preview went gangbusters, but supposedly MGM got nervous and thought that putting that little picture out “was not smart exploitation,” says the film’s editor, Dann Cahn, who worked for Desilu for 10 years. So the film was put into the vaults and forgotten.

But Cahn never forgot about it. “I was determined to find it,” he says.

And he did, “I looked at every vault in Hollywood,” Cahn says, and he finally found it in a Paramount vault in the San Fernando Valley. Part of the problem was that it was mislabeled as a “Desilu Playhouse movie.” The film was in bits and pieces, but Cahn reassembled the footage.

It was shown publicly in 2001 at the Loving Lucy convention in Long Beach, and CBS Home Entertainment put it on the complete “I Love Lucy” series DVD set three years ago. On Tuesday, it’s finally coming out as a single disc.

“Desi was quite the entrepreneur,” says Ken Ross, executive vice president and general manager of CBS Home Entertainment. “He said, ‘I don’t understand why we can’t have an “I Love Lucy” movie.’ He got with Jess Oppenheimer, the show’s producer and head writer.”

Veteran director Edward Sedgwick, who had worked with Buster Keaton and had been a mentor to Ball, was brought in to direct the new footage.

Because the series was filmed before a live audience, Oppenheimer worried about how the laughter would play with audiences. So the movie is basically a show within a show, with a married couple ( Ann Doran and Benny Baker) attending the filming of “I Love Lucy.”

“I have been told people laughed so hard at Bakersfield at the screening, they didn’t even hear” the audience’s laughs, says Ross.

The new footage features a gregarious Arnaz greeting the audience on the sound stage where he introduces the entire cast. There’s a bit of new footage involving Ethel and Fred (Vivian Vance, William Frawley) between one of the episodes, and the movie ends with Arnaz stepping out of character and thanking the audience for coming, and the cast takes a bow.

“What is revelatory of all the new footage,” says Ron Simon, programmer for the Paley Center for Media, “is that you get a sense of being in the audience and what it looked like when it was being filmed live. I think it’s really eye opening. You really get to see Arnaz as the catalyst of the series — you get the sense he was the auteur of the series.”

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