After being pleasantly surprised at Lucille Ball’s dramatic acting skills in The Dark Corner yesterday, I decided to finally get around to watching The Long, Long Trailer, a film I have known about for decades. Since this film was made at the height of Lucy and Desi Arnaz’s television popularity, I always assumed this was a long, long episode of “I Love Lucy.” Even the names of the characters are only slightly changed, from Ricky and Lucy Ricardo to Nicky and Tacy Collini. MGM executives were reportedly worried that no one would pay go to a movie theater and see the couple they could watch for free at home. The fact that the film was in color probably wouldn’t be enough of a draw. Desi Arnaz was so certain that teaming up himself and Lucy with director Vincente Minnelli would make for hit, that he bet the MGM producers $25,000 that the film would outperform the studio’s current top box office comedy, Father of the Bride. A few weeks after The Long, Long Trailer opened, Desi had 25 grand in his pocket.
The plot does seem a bit like something that could happen in the world of “I Love Lucy”—a couple just about to get married decide to buy a trailer rather than a house as a way to save money and to be together. Everything that can go wrong does, and the stress of living on the road tears the couple apart until a tearful reconciliation at the end. But the comedy is much less broad, less slapstick, more subtle under Minnelli’s direction. There is, of course, no laughter from a live studio audience and no Fred and Ethel Mertz dropping in every five minutes. The overdone fashion expressions that were a trademark for both Lucy and Desi were very funny on TV, but would have been overpowering on 40-foot cinema screens and are kept to a minimum. Some of the situations are quite funny, such as Nicky wanting to carry his bride over the threshold of their trailer home on their wedding night, and their neighbors at the trailer camp thinking she has a sprained ankle as they invite themselves in with the intention of helping. Arnaz’s heavy Cuban accent was constantly the butt of jokes in the TV show, but it is not even referred to here. Where he is from is not explained, and as his is supposed to be a contractor on civil works projects, it is a bit odd that he occasionally bursts into song. But the simple charm of the story, and of seeing Desi and Lucy in full Technicolor, was probably reason enough for audiences in 1955 to overlook any shortcomings. It was reason enough for me today.