A debate rages as to whether The Long, Long Trailer is just a 90-minute episode of I Love Lucy, and I would answer that it is and it isn’t. The various comic pratfalls of a couple bonding whilst owning a mobile home are extremely sitcomish, but it’s all delightful in that 1950s kitschy way. It also isn’t necessarily about Lucille Ball as you would expect in an episode of I Love Lucy. Nope, this movie is about shining a spotlight on Desi Arnaz whose always been a game comedian, but a less than flawless actor. He is complimented by Ball who is in perfect 1950s housewife mode although there’s a marked tension between the couple (their marriage was less than strong at the time). It’s also surprising that this was directed by my love/hate director Vincente Minnelli, especially as this feels very un-Minnelli.
Tracy and Nicky Collini (Ball and Arnaz) are a newlywed couple who get the idea to start their lives together in a mobile home. Unfortunately, neither one knows what they’re truly getting into, providing a test on wheels for their burgeoning marriage.
It’s rare to see Lucy and Ricky in Technicolor, and that’s the novelty within The Long, Long Trailer. The entire movie is kitschy in a pure 1950s sort of way. It could actually be less subversive than I Love Lucy, and subversive is relative in this case. Director Vincente Minnelli usually goes overboard with his cloying brand of sweetness, but it’s what works well with the two leads he has. Fans of I Love Lucy will go into this expecting much of the same, and that’s already been the director’s bread and butter with past films; it’s a perfect match with Lucy and Desi being the peanut butter to Minnelli’s jelly making one delicious sandwich (I’m kind of hungry now).
The sitcom quality of the film can create a somewhat repetitive series of events. The couple buys the mobile home and from there it becomes Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House on wheels; the characters squabble over driving with the mobile home; Tracy tries to cook dinner while the home is moving; the mobile home ends up breaking down. Each event is a beat wherein the couple has to overcome their issues. The dissolution of their marriage is the only real element at stake, although that’s never a serious consideration in looking at the trajectory of their series. If anything the mythos of “Lucy and Ricky” is what prevents any type of suspense from building; that and the obvious fan service the movie is playing up to. The Long, Long Trailer isn’t exactly subtle about wanting to appease Lucy fans such as naming Desi’s character Nicky = Ricky and having him be some type of performer that moves around. I’m spitballing on the performer bit because there’s no character development other than the characters’ names. You don’t truly get a firm grasp on what Nicky does to keep them going; the only reason I stuck with performer is because the character is so obviously Ricky Ricardo and there’s a musical sequence. Yes, Lucy and Desi sing and it’s pretty out-of-place, but a Minnelli staple.
All of this might sound like I’m attacking the movie, but I’m not. It plays to its strengths and knows exactly what it wants to be. There are a lot of funny moments that work because Lucy and Desi work. There’s some strong dialogue such as Tracy fawning over the home while Nicky hits his head on the door:
Tracy: “What happened, darling?”
Nicky: “Nothing, I just cracked my skull is all.”
The majority of the film is made up of physical comedy, and you feel every slip and fall; from Tracy slipping all around – shades of Sullivan’s Travels – in order to make dinner, to her extensive rock collection. All are moments that would work perfectly on episodes of Lucy. My personal favorite sequences are the ones that explore their relationship; smaller moments like Tracy screaming at her relatives to give Nicky “absolute silence” while he backs up the house, or Nicky’s increasing paranoia of Tracy driving the car only to have the audience laugh because she’s a far better driver than him.
You do have guest appearances by Marjorie Main and Keenan Wynn, but this is Lucy and Desi’s film through and through. I’d go so far as to say The Long, Long Trailer is more a vehicle (pun intended) for Arnaz to show off his talents. The first hour of the movie has Tracy taking a back-seat as the flighty wife who like the idea of a mobile home, but can’t fathom the complications. Arnaz is the straight man, but in the vein of Cary Grant. He narrates the film (the one part where Arnaz’s Spanish accent is a detriment and sounds as if he’s slowly reading a piece of paper) and is given all the comic moments in the beginning. Even when Tracy and him go on the road, the camera and script focus on Nicky’s growing frustration. It’s a dynamic unseen by audiences of I Love Lucy and sadly it highlights why Arnaz wasn’t a leading man without Lucy, he’s too blah without her. Thankfully, he shines next to her and the two emphasize why they’re an immortal couple on-screen.
The Long, Long Trailer presents a sweet, romantic view of a couple everyone adores to this day. It’s an unofficial continuation of the adventures of Lucy and Ricky, uninterested in reinventing the wheel; filled with hilarity and heart, be sure to seek it out!