Minnelli was finishing up The Band Wagon, when producer Pandro Berman approached him with an idea for a new comedy, The Long, Long Trailer, starring Lucille Ball and Dasi Arnaz. Two years after Father's Little Dividend, Minnelli was offered another Frances Goodrich-Alfred Hackett script, adapted from yet another book that satirized middle-class America.
Screenwriters Goodrich and Hackett center the comedy on a housewife who almost drives her hubby crazy. Like the Father of the Bride, Long, Long Trailer has a dark quality to it, dealing with middle-class anxieties, both material and emotional. However, because of its star, Long, Long Trailer has a more anarchic tone and sharper satiric edge than the two Father movies.
At this phase of his career, Minnelli was enamored of the flashback structure, which he had used to great advantage in Father of the Bride and The Bad and the Beautiful, and will continue to use in other comedies, such as Designing Woman. The film begins on a dark, rainy night, with Dazi Arnaz, wearing a trench coat and a snap-brim hat, narrating the events in a flashback to the manager of a trailer park.
On the surface, this cozy fantasy about marriage depicts American life on the road as fun. All of Minnelli's comedies, as James Naremore has suggested, follow the same pattern. The narratives first deflate or criticize the American Dream, then embrace and honor it, and finally reestablish the old order with slight revision. This is in essence the classic Hollywood paradigm of balance, imbalance, and balance again.
The difference between the Father of the Bride films and Long, LongTrailer reflect the shifting relationship between Hollywood and television as competing entertainment industries in the early 1950s. If the Father films featured legit movie stars in a story that led to small-screen imitations, Long Trailer tried to lure the growing TV audiences back to the movie theaters with TVs most beloved star, Lucille Ball.
“The Long, Long Trailer” unfolds as a collection of anecdotes about the wacky misadventures of a middle-aged couple during a long trek across the country. The “trailerites,” Tracy and Nicky Collini, are like Mr. and Mrs. Thoreau on wheels, gypsies who accessorize their caravan with hanging copper planters called “ferneries.”
The couple is less cartoonish than their respective TV sitcom personas. Lucys mad-housewife notions lead to one domestic disaster after another. Lucy's “feminine” schemes clash with Nicky's bullish masculine commonsense. He explodes in Spanish, while she has a lot of “splaining” to do.
The trick was to keep the trailer moving forward, while giving the movie some tension and momentum. Like the Father movies, Long, Long Trailer starts at the end of the saga, with a dismayed Nicky relating in flashback all of the miseries he's endured on the road with his wife. The screenwriters used a plot structure similar to that of Minnelli's previous comedies. Under his helm, Long, Long Trailer became a slapstick tribute to male passivity, in which the breadwinner is entrapped by the caprices of his energetic wife, like Spencer Tracy's.
In real life, Lucy and Dasi were not much younger than the book's author and his wife, but the script casts them as newlyweds, which was not exactly creditable. As a character, Nicky is a Latin amalgam of Father of the Bride and luckless bridegroom, surrounded by nuptial revelry. Lucy likes life on the open road, while Nicky is more earthbound. In the end, their very marriage is threatened by their slapstick honeymoon.
Minnelli goes for a breezy, bumpy ride with the couple, but the movie is basically one long gimmick that lacks the appeal of the Father films, or the more nuanced characterization of Minnelli's other comedies. As a result, Minnelli crams the movie with visual gags, allowing his actors to play tug-of-war with the decor.
By design, the films biggest prop is the 40-foot trailer, a farcically malevolent force that literally dwarfs its owners. Minnelli turns its interior into the setting for a Marx brothers riff on claustrophobia, as evident in Night at the Opera.
Before the trip begins, Minnelli suffocates the heaps of the bride's nuptial booty. Like Spencer Tracy's engagement party stint at the bar in Father, Arnaz spends his wedding night shoved into a corner, mixing drinks for mobile-home aficionados. The movie contains many of Lucys classic slapstick routines. A night in the forest ends with a mud bath for her. While a cheery Arnaz navigates the road, she prepares the evening's “gourmet” meal, a culinary catastrophe with flying utensils and flowing flour.
Usually, in Minnelli's movies, the movement spells magic, but here, his camera's full-tilt diagonals cant conceal the material's low-farce nature. Rather consciously, Minnelli pays tribute to his own work. Always loyal to character actors, Minnelli cast Moroni Olsen (the grooms father in the Father movies) as a trailer-park manager who reunites the bickering Collinis. The Clock's Keenan Wynn plays a stoic traffic cop, and Marjorie Main, Meet Me In St Louis's bumptious housekeeper, was cast as the intrusive neighbor who turns their wedding night into a wild party.
Halting traffic in a town square, the trailer poses in front of marquee for The Band Wagon. Later on, Lucy tells Arnaz a gloomy movie plot that sounds a lot like the noir melodrama Undercurrent. Minnelli also recycles some of the sets of his old movies. The trailer's no-contest tussle with a rickety Victorian house recalls Meet Me in St. Louis.
The film is an affectionate yet caustic take on the pursuit of material happiness in 1950s America. While the Father films satirizes the rituals of suburban life, Long, Long Trailer ridicules mobile technology, underlining the newer, and more rootless middle-class existence. Both products and victims of the new automation age, the newly weds meet at the christening of a new freeway, then again at a mobile home fair that advertises industrial American products. Though the Collinis muse about the freedom of the open road, they are crashed by it. Gradually, their trip becomes a less pleasant experience than the humdrum life they were trying to escape from.
For a refined aesthete like Minnelli, the new technological world is crass and tacky. He views the highway utopias as a subversively kitsch version of modern industrial life. Against turquoise skies, the trailer haven has a swimming pool for transient homesteaders, and there is also an upholstered built-in sofa and gleaming appliances.
The weight of the Collins goods almost causes their trailer to trip off over a mountain cliff; the overstuffed trailer literally threatens to collapse. This chrome-and-yellow (Minnellis favorite color) rig serves as a conspicuous emblem for a theme Minnelli understands well.
As usual, detachment lends some wit to Minnelli's style, and he benefits from treating the story as a farce. Despite these touches, however, Long, Long Trailer is one of Minnelli's lowest concoctions, one of his few escapist comedies that's a concession to the mass publics vulgar taste.
Tacy Collini (Lucille Ball)
Nicholas Carlos Collini (Desi Arnaz)
Mrs. Hittway (Marjorie Main)
Policeman (Keenan Wynn)
Mrs. Bolton (Gladys Hurlbut)
Mr. Tewitt (Moroni Olsen)
Foreman (Bert Freed)
Aunt Anastacia (Madge Blake)
Mr. Judlow (Oliver Blake)
Bridesmaid (Perry Sheehan)
Produced by Pandro S. Berman
Assistant Director: Jerry Thorpe
Screenplay: Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, based on the novel by Clinton Twiss
Cinematography: Robert Surtees
Art Direction: Cedric Gibson, Edward Carfagno
Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis, associate Keogh Gleason
Music: Adolph Deutsch
Editing: Ferris Webster
Special Effects: A. Arnold Gillsepie, Warren Newcombe
Costumes: Helen Rose
Color consultant: Alvord Eiseman
Print Process: Ansco Color
Recording engineer: Douglas Shearer
Makeup: William Tuttle
Hair stylist: Sydney Guilaroff
Running Time: 96 Minutes