Koch Vision // 1985 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Pope (Retired) // April 28th, 2006
Before you judge her, walk a mile in her shoes.
CBS first aired this Lucille Ball vehicle in 1985, and I'm sad to report that it's an unfortunate finish to a legendary television career.
Wet-behind-the-ears social worker Carrie Lang (Daphne Zuniga) takes a job at a Manhattan homeless shelter, where she tries to help aging bag lady Florabelle (Lucille Ball) get off the streets.
I find myself caught in the horns of a dilemma. Do I wag my finger at the late, great Lucille Ball -- revered Queen of Television -- for involving herself with this distressingly miscalculated "drama" about the homeless? Or do I let her slide because she is, after all, the late, great Lucille Ball -- revered Queen of Television -- and this was her final film?
After reviewing my notes, I would say a good finger wagging is in order.
Stone Pillow was made for network television, which might explain why the plight of the homeless has been sanitized and scrubbed squeaky clean, and why the ending feels like such a cheat. I imagine Ball was attracted to the opportunity to unglam herself and play against type, but the script is a messy bundle of clichés (for once, I'd like to see a social worker who's something other than well-meaning but exasperated). Rather than getting down to the nitty gritty realities of street life, the screenplay (by Rose Leiman Goldemberg, who penned the infinitely better The Burning Bed a year earlier) gives us kindly, sympathetic shopkeepers who don't mind people sleeping on the warm grates outside their stores and chatty delivery men who cheerfully hand out produce off the backs of their trucks.
Goldemberg also pelts us with a lecture or two (or three or four). "A few bad breaks, a few checks that don't come, we could all be sleeping on stone pillows," says one character, Max, also known as the Census Taker, or something like that. And then there's the main attraction: Florabelle.
Right down to her name, Ball's vegetable-loving Florabelle is an annoyingly precious creation. Dressed in a blue stocking cap and frumpy overcoat, Ball putters around with her beloved shopping cart, barking her lines and bugging her eyes. She doesn't smoke. She doesn't drink. She does, however, dole out spoons and babble endlessly about her estranged "Sonny" and the home and garden she used to have, although it's never clear whether these were real or imagined. She cackles at hoodlums and tries desperately to make us forget she's Lucille Ball, a feat that might be possible if she were playing against an actress of greater skill than Zuniga.
As Carrie Lang, a green social worker who wants to Make a Difference, Zuniga whines her way through a role that makes very little sense in the first place. How could a college-educated person accept a position with a Manhattan shelter without being prepared to at least talk to the people whom she's hoping to help? When she defensively protests, "I didn't lie to her; I just didn't tell the truth!" you want to slap yourself in the forehead. By the time she complains, "I ripped my jeans, got lice and almost got raped for this job!" you're ready to slap her and put her on the next bus to Melrose Place.
Stone Pillow doesn't take off until its final minutes, when Vivian Vance pops out from behind a trash can and douses Florabelle with a bottle of Vitameatavegamin. Okay, so that doesn't happen. Would have been fun, though.
Koch Vision dumps Stone Pillow on DVD in its original full-screen format with what sounds like a Dolby Digital mono soundtrack (the packaging doesn't state). The image is dark and grainy, and the sound is serviceable but unspectactular. No subtitles or extras, unless you count a couple of trailers for other Koch titles before the feature.
Even the most devoted Ball fans will find little to love about Lucy here. Avoid.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Not Rated