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Viewer Guide: “Yours, Mine and Ours” and “Miles Ahead”

April 26, 2023 | Richard Peña


Yours, Mine and Ours (1968).

This week’s double feature begins with Yours, Mine and Ours, the 1968 family comedy directed by Melville Shavelson. 

Based on Helen Beardsley’s 1965 autobiographical book Who Gets the Drumstick?, Yours, Mine and Ours stars Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda as the cinematic embodiment of Helen and her husband Frank, and recounts the daunting feat of how the two widowed spouses combined their families to create a new super brood of eighteen children. Frank is a senior Navy officer who decides to take a research job at the Naval Air Station in Alameda, California, in order to have more at-home time with his ten children, especially given the family’s increasingly high turnover rate with housekeepers. Helen is a civilian nurse working at the Navy base with eight children of her own, and first encounters Frank at the commissary when their overflowing grocery carts collide. For fear of prematurely sabotaging their mutual attraction, they each strive to keep the awful truth of the size of their families from the other. But after a bit of mischievous reverse matchmaking from friend in common Darrell Harrison, played by Van Johnson, Frank and Helen soon realize they’re perfectly suited for each other: how many people would be brave enough to take on a huge new family—unless they already had a huge family of their own? 

Lucille Ball founded Desilu Productions in 1950 with her then-husband Desi Arnaz for their nightclub act and to develop a little TV series that eventually became the pioneering blockbuster I Love Lucy in 1951. When Desilu acquired the rights to Helen Beardsley’s autobiographical book Who Gets the Drumstick?, there was little doubt who would be playing Helen, but the role of Frank was up for grabs, with stars like Art Carney, Jackie Gleason, Fred MacMurray, James Stewart, John Wayne and even Desi Arnaz discussed for the part. But upon hearing of the film’s production, Henry Fonda volunteered himself for the role, which met with Ball’s rapid approval. Ball was reportedly dissatisfied with the first story outline written by I Love Lucy writers Bob Carroll Jr. and Madelyn Davis as being too similar to her iconic TV persona. Various writers were then hired to work on the script, including director Melville Shavelson. Supposedly, Ball required strenuous coaxing from Shavelson to play the family dinner scene in which Frank’s boys spike Helen’s drink, which Ball transformed into the comic high point of the film. After buying out Desi’s shares and becoming Desilu’s sole owner—and Hollywood’s first woman media mogul—Ball sold the company to Gulf+Western in 1968 for $17 million—roughly $130 million in today’s money. Desilu would eventually be transformed into Paramount Television. 


Miles Ahead (2015).

Tonight’s double feature continues with Miles Ahead, a 2015 biopic of Miles Davis, marking the theatrical film directorial debut of Don Cheadle. 

Don Cheadle also stars as Davis, the legendary trumpeter, bandleader and composer who was one of the most influential figures in the evolution of modern jazz. Off stage, Davis was also a complicated personality with periodic substance abuse issues that contributed to a turbulent personal life. In this fictionalized late career portrait, the year is 1979, and Davis is living in solitude during an unplanned five-year hiatus from making music. Dismissive of his past work yet creatively blocked, underneath his prickly exterior Davis remains haunted by memories of his failed marriage to Frances Taylor, played by Emayatzy Corinealdi, a beautiful dancer who gave up her own career to become Davis’ musical muse for his masterpiece albums “Sketches of Spain” and “Someday My Prince Will Come.” Withdrawn into his memories, Davis’ isolation is abruptly invaded by an aggressive journalist named Dave Braden, played by Ewan McGregor, who claims to be a writer for Rolling Stone Magazine assigned to do a major story on Davis’ comeback. With no such plan in mind, Davis is ready to send Braden packing…until the theft of Davis’ secret new session recording causes Davis and Braden to unexpectedly join forces. Also featured are Michael Stuhlbarg as a predatory record company executive, and Lakeith Stanfield as a gifted young trumpeter. 

Don Cheadle received his first suggestion to play Miles Davis from veteran drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath during production of the 1998 HBO movie The Rat Pack, while Heath was helping Cheadle prepare for his Golden Globe-winning performance as Sammy Davis, Jr. Cheadle thought no more of it until 2006, the year that Miles Davis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and when Davis’ nephew Vince Wilburn was quoted as saying that only Don Cheadle could play his uncle in a movie. Although Cheadle was not particularly interested in pursuing another biopic after his acclaimed performance as Paul Rusesabagina in Hotel Rwanda in 2004, after talking with the Davis family, Cheadle began to warm to the idea. However, none of the various Miles Davis screenplays floating around the industry interested Cheadle; all seemed to dutifully check off a laundry list of well-known events rather than truly capture Davis’ volatile genius. As Cheadle reflected on what he had learned of Davis’ intense involvement with music, women and drugs, he began to envision Davis as a gangster-like character in a crime-caper movie. Receiving the Davis family’s blessing to proceed with this concept in a fictionalized storyline, Cheadle soon realized that he would have to start from scratch. Collaborating with Steven Baigelman, Cheadle devised a screenplay that was as creative, varied and visceral as Davis’ music. Although Cheadle had not directed a feature film before, his focused vision gave him the confidence to proceed, with his friend Wynton Marsalis coaching him on trumpet playing for the performance sequences. Featuring a score by acclaimed jazz composer Robert Glasper, Miles Ahead premiered at the 2015 New York Film Festival, and was released to positive reviews by Sony Pictures Classics in April 2016. 

Richard Peña is a Professor of Film Studies at Columbia University, where he specializes in film theory and international cinema.  

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