Long, Long Trailer, The (Blu-ray Review)
Release Date(s)1954 (January 24, 2023)
Studio(s)MGM/Loew’s, Inc. (Warner Archive Collection)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B-
It’s easy to forget just how popular the sitcom I Love Lucy was. The Last of Us, one of the top-rated TV shows in the U.S. nowadays, peaked at around 8.2 million viewers; at its zenith, I Love Lucy boasted more than five times that figure, around 44 million viewers, more than two-thirds of the nation’s TV sets at the time. It was inevitable, then, that a film would capitalize on this pop culture phenomenon.
The Long, Long Trailer (1954) is mostly a pleasant, slickly-produced comedy with gorgeous scenery—the production’s second unit really earned their keep on this one—and a couple of big laughs. It uncomfortably straddles between trying to not blatantly imitate I Love Lucy while still cashing in on that show’s success. An obvious example are the characters’ names: “Lucy” and “Ricky” on I Love Lucy become “Tacy” and “Nicky” in The Long, Long Trailer, almost but not quite sound-alike impostors.
The film probably would have been better had I Love Lucy scribes Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh, and Bob Carroll, Jr. written the script, with maybe one of that show’s directors, Marc Daniels and William Asher, at the helm. MGM, almost notoriously, had no affinity for this type of comedy, and Vincente Minnelli was the wrong choice to direct it. Better known for his musicals, Minnelli had recently scored a huge hit with Father of the Bride (1950), which cost just over $1 million to make but earned over $6 million at the box office. That film, however, operated under different comic sensibilities, and when it comes to this type of humor, Minnelli is all thumbs.
Tacy (Ball) and Nicky (Arnaz) are newlyweds, and because Nicky’s job as a civil engineer involves a lot of traveling, she talks him into buying a massive 32-foot New Moon trailer (cost: $5,345) instead of a house. Tacy can be close to Nicky wherever he’s assigned, and thinks the trailer will even save them some cash in the long run, but it very quickly turns into a money pit, requiring a more powerful car to pull it (they buy a new Mercury Monterey convertible), super-strong trailer hitch, etc. Soon enough they’re on the road, and the bulk of the film simply follows their adventures struggling to maneuver the intimidating mass of machinery and adapt to their new lives together.
Equal portions of the same-named story by Clinton Twiss, the Disney cartoon Mickey’s Trailer, and I Love Lucy slapstick, the film offers a couple of funny scenes: Lucy—er, Tacy—trying to prepare an elaborate meal in the trailer while Nicky, up front driving the car, leads the trailer over bumpy roads, causing food to fly all over the trailer’s kitchen, much of it landing on Tacy herself. A climatic scene has Nicky nervously ascending a steep, 8,000-foot mountain range, unaware that Tacy has kept a collection of heavy boulders (more about this in a moment) in the trailer, weighing it down. Once again, the film’s second unit, with their footage of the trailer’s precarious climb, generates more laughs than the stars or Minnelli do.
Indeed, Minnelli’s direction is often perversely ineffective. In one sequence, for instance, the couple’s trailer is stuck in the mud, Tacy and Nicky forced to spend the night on a remote side road. The trailer rests at an extreme angle, so that when Tacy climbs into bed, she rolls right off, eventually through a door and into a big mud puddle below. What might have been a funny vignette is all but ruined because Minnelli places the camera at the worst possible angle, shooting everything from the raised side of the bed, which makes it nearly impossible for the audience to even see what Tacy is trying to do.
The screenplay doesn’t help. Newly married, Tacy and Nicky plan to spend their wedding night at a trailer park, but when Nicky picks Tacy up to carry his new bride over the threshold, they unaccountably become so embarrassed by the neighbors looking on, that rather than simply explain, they claim Tacy has inured her ankle. This prompts a flurry of activity involving a dozen or more scurrying neighbors that extends late into the late with the nosy “trailer-ites” imposing themselves and leaving a huge mess for Nicky to clean up. It’s not funny because it’s not plausible—why didn’t they just tell the truth?
The business with Tacy’s magpie ways, collecting 30-pound boulders as keepsakes, canning cases and cases of fruit, exists solely to set up the mountain driving scene, and to add suspense. This is clumsy writing and not credible.
The script emphasizes Tacy’s sincere desire to please her husband, but in a later scene she adamantly insists upon driving the rig and immediately turns into a demon driver, wildly passing cars, driving way too fast, and petulantly dismissing Nicky’s pleas to slow down. This is completely out of character, at odds with the doting, eager-to-please bride Tacy has been defined up to this point.
Ball and Arnaz play their parts less broadly than Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. Neither were natural or career comedians, but Ball was an actress who could do slapstick well, and Arnaz was an undervalued asset on I Love Lucy, his reactions to Lucy’s “hair-brained schemes” often quite hilarious. The Long, Long Trailer, in making Tacy more the earnest bride, throws the comedy off-balance some. Instead of Lucy’s own schemes backfiring on her, here Tacy and Nicky are more like victims of simple inexperience and extreme bad luck. When Nicky tries backing the huge rig into a driveway (the Meet Me in St. Louis house on MGM’s backlot, in fact) with throngs of onlookers yelling suggestions, Nicky’s panic under pressure generates sympathy instead of humor. We don’t laugh when he crashes into a relative’s beloved rose garden and she loses her temper—we feel sorry for him.
Warner Archive presents The Long, Long Trailer on Blu-ray in 1.75:1 widescreen, the aspect ratio favored by MGM (and Disney) during this period. The transfer is spot-on perfect, impressively sharp with especially outstanding color that really makes the cinematography by Robert Surtees shine. (It was filmed in Anscocolor, which MGM flirted with during this period, though original theatrical prints were by Technicolor.) The English DTS-HD Master Audio (2.0 mono) is also above average. The Region “A” disc includes optional English subtitles on the feature presentation, but not on the extra features.
Those extra features are built around the label’s familiar “Night at the Movies,” including the one-reel cartoon Dixieland Droopy (7:47), directed by Tex Avery and remastered in 1.37:1 standard frame; and Ain’t It Aggravatin’ (8:20), an okay Pete Smith Specialty, presented in an odd aspect ratio of about 1.45:1 and derived from an older video master. Also not remastered is the original trailer (3:10), which plays up the I Love Lucy connection, and is narrated by Arnaz who even refers to Tacy as “Lucy.”
As a star vehicle, made for audiences anxious to see the I Love Lucy stars on the big screen and in color, The Long, Long Trailer delivers some funny scenes and great production values, though with better writing and direction it could have been so much better.
- Stuart Galbraith IV