Why ‘I Love Lucy: The Movie’ Remained Unreleased for Decades

I Love Lucy was a huge hit so a movie spin-off was a logical next step — or was it? I Love Lucy: The Movie was completed in 1953. Here’s why MGM decided not to release the movie in the ‘50s and why no one was able to relocate the film for some time.

Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance in front of a wall in an episode of 'I Love Lucy'
Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

What separates ‘I Love Lucy: The Movie’ from most movies

1953’s I Love Lucy: The Movie was not a conventional movie. According to DVD Talk, it was composed of three episodes of the first season of I Love Lucy edited together. Those episodes were “The Benefit,” “Breaking the Lease,” and “The Ballet.” Of course, simply putting together three episodes of a television show with no changes would create something very disjointed, so the art of editing made the movie more cohesive. The opening credits of the episodes were edited out. In addition, the creators of the film added a few minutes of linking material to tie the episodes together. 

According to the Los Angeles Times, a test audience responded well to the film. So why didn’t it get released back in the ‘50s?

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz near a brick wall
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

RELATED: ‘I Love Lucy’: Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Had a ‘Horrible’ Divorce Because She Never Accepted His Mistress, Daughter Claims

Why the film stayed on the shelf for so long

The film’s editor, Dan Cann, said MGM didn’t think releasing the movie was “smart exploitation.” DVD Talk says it’s also possible — though far from certain — MGM didn’t want to release the film since they were planning on releasing another film starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz: The Long, Long Trailer. Ultimately, MGM shelved I Love Lucy: The Movie. Perhaps this was a good idea considering The Long, Long Trailer broke a box office record for MGM, becoming their highest-grossing comedy.

However, Cann told the Los Angeles Times he never forgot about the film. He said he looked in every vault in Hollywood to find it. Eventually, he found it in a Paramount Pictures vault.

Someone had incorrectly labeled I Love Lucy: The Movie a Desilu Playhouse movie. Finally, members of the public got to see the film at a California convention called Loving Lucy in 2001. Six years later, the film was finally released on DVD — a full 54 years after its completion. The near-release of the movie was to theaters was the closest the world got to seeing I Love Lucy on the big screen until the 2010s.

Lucille Ball wearing a hat in an episode of I Love Lucy
Lucille Ball | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

RELATED: ‘I Love Lucy’: Scripts for This Storyline Had To Be Approved by a Minister, Priest or Rabbi

When ‘I Love Lucy’ did make it to the big screen

According to Entertainment Weekly, Fathom Events released five episodes of I Love Lucy in theaters in 2019 to mark what would have been Ball’s 108th birthday. The classic episodes included “Lucy Does a TV Commercial,” (the episode about Vitameatavegemin) and “Job Switching” (where Lucy had to wrap chocolates). Fans didn’t get to see Lucy Ricardo’s shenanigans on the big screen in 1953. However, they finally got to see them in the 2010s.