top of page

THE LONG, LONG TRAILER Warner Archive Blu-Ray

Updated: Feb 20, 2023

Review by Mark Gross

Fans can purchase titles at the Warner Archive Amazon Store or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold

Directed by Vincente Minnelli.

Produced by Pandro S. Berman.

Screenplay by Albert Hackett and Francis Goodrich, from the novel by Clinton Twiss. Cinematography by Robert Surtees.

Edited by Ferris Webster.

Art Direction by Edward C. Carfagno.

Costume Design by Helen Rose. M

music by Adolph Deutsch.

With Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Marjorie Main, Keenan Wynn, Gladys Hurlbut, Moroni Olsen, Burt Freed.

Extras: Vintage Pete Smith Specialty short “Ain’t It Aggravatin’?” (HD) Classic cartoon “Dixieland Droopy” (HD) Trailer.

Whether you’re a fan of THE LONG, LONG TRAILER or feel lukewarm about it, believe me, you’ve never actually seen the film until you take a gander at the new Warner Archive Blu-Ray in all its hallucinatory, as well as iridescent, Ansco color glory. It’s quite an experience, to my mind, a completely different film than what we were lead to believe, not a minor Minnelli at all, but a major statement, innovative and influential in its own way, just as original and chimerical, as pie in the sky crazy and candy-cane delightful, as YOLANDA AND THE THIEF or THE PIRATE, and like those films, in need of major critical reevaluation. Though this is only February, for this viewer, it’s shaping up as one of the must own discs of the year.

Presenting Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as newlyweds Tacy and Nicholas Collini whose marriage goes south in the midst of mechanical—and automotive--mishaps, THE LONG, LONG TRAILER was produced in the summer of 1953, when I Love Lucy was in its second season as the top television show in the nation. Surprisingly, that success gave executives at MGM cold feet when it came to casting Lucy and Desi—they originally wanted William Holden and an ingénue—for Pandro S. Berman, the producer of the Astaire-Rogers films as well as FATHER OF THE BRIDE, felt customers “wouldn’t pay to see what they got at home for free”. And though Vincente Minnelli convinced him that the characters were different, Desi Arnaz had a bet with an MGM executive for $50,000 that THE LONG, LONG TRAILER would outgross FATHER OF THE BRIDE which it did.

While THE LONG, LONG TRAILER is usually pigeonholed with FATHER OF THE BRIDE as a typical Vincente Minnelli comedy, I’ve always considered it the first horror musical, beating out THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH by a decade. Though there’s only one song—Haven, Gillespie and Whiting’s “Breezin’ Along With the Breeze” in various iterations—THE LONG, LONG TRAILER has the painterly palate and visual élan typical of the director of THE PIRATE AND THE BAND WAGON. You expect the cars and trailers that dot the highways and byways in this film to burst into song and fling their chassis in jubilation at any moment, and though they never do, the mise-en-scene certainly does, weaving an exhilarating flight with some of the brightest colors—bubblegum pink, sanguinary scarlet, otherworldly chartreuse—and production design known to humankind, that swirls before your startled eyes in delight. Oh, you may find this description a bit fanciful on my part, but once you watch the new Blu-Ray, you’ll understand exactly what I mean.

In other words, there’s more here than at first meets the eye, or for that matter genre classification. Of course, Minnelli referred to his non-musicals as comedies or dramas, so I guess I should respect that. While in a way I’m being a bit factitious by calling THE LONG, LONG TRAILER a horror musical when it’s clearly a comedy in the manner of FATHER OF THE BRIDE having a kind of ironic choreography that details domestic strife and confusion, there’s something deeper going on which I want to underline. It’s the same style, the same aesthetic, the same use of crane shots and color, the same melding of foreground and background in terms of unity of color and design—after all, this is the director who made a film, THE COBWEB, about an existential crisis brought on by a choice of wallpaper—found in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS and LUST FOR LIFE the same dancing camera, the same eye for beauty, the same focus on a dreamer whose life turns into a nightmare. So though I don’t have a leg to stand on technically, as it’s clearly a comedy, it feels like a horror musical to me, and I’ll try to explain why.

For me, THE LONG, LONG TRAILER is one of the scariest movies ever made about marriage. It’s as if the nightmare sequence in a Minnelli film, for instance, the Halloween scene in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS had been extended to feature length. Almost the whole film is a flashback, framed and narrated by Nicholas Collini, Desi Arnaz’ character, who discovers that his wife Tacy has absconded in the middle of the night with their trailer and placed it for sale at a trailer park in the middle of nowhere—“It’s a fine thing when you come home and your home is gone”, he says. THE LONG, LONG TRAILER is an ode to magical thinking, the kind of narrative in which you discover those ruby heels don’t take you back after all, but you keep tapping them anyway, which is where the film’s mix of comedy and horror lies.

What I find especially scary is Lucille Ball, an unmovable force in her pursuit of ever more challenging luxury items and objects like boulders wrapped in inane forget-me-not prose, to document her great, obsessive love. (Whereas on I Love Lucy Desi played the straight man, here the roles are reversed.) But this is no parody of consumerism. It goes much deeper; into the heart of darkness of the American Dream and the heterosexual couple, presenting an unusual deviation from the typical Hollywood romantic comedy triangle—a man, a woman and a machine. In this case, it’s a gleaming, bright yellow, 32 foot long New Moon trailer weighing 3 tons, that visually dominates every scene. In a way, THE LONG, LONG TRAILER is kind of a G rated DEMON SEED.

The weirdest thing is, Nicholas and Tacy, the characters Lucy and Desi play, have almost no chemistry on screen, which is purposeful. Look at the stills on IMDB of them driving together and you’ll see what I mean. They have that same look of alienation, of detachment, slightly bored and confused, found in Gabriele Ferzetti and Lea Masari at the beginning of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L'AVVENTURA. In prior viewings, I’ve projected the love struck playfulness of “Lucy and Ricky” from I Love Lucy onto them, but as Vincente Minnelli pointed out, these characters are quite different. They don’t really talk to each other, or rather; they exist in separate universes, though they spend most of the movie sitting next to each other in the front seat of the car. Nicholas and Tacy have different assumptions; about the trailer, the marriage and each other. It’s watching those separate realities conflict as epitomized in the body language of the leads, and their radically different attitudes to things—Nicholas accepts the limitations of time and space, for instance, the fact that an immense trailer going up a steep mountain can’t be filled with tchotchkes and keepsakes—as well as the aforementioned boulders--whereas Tacy refuses to acknowledge this, certain it will turn out all right--which is how the comedy, as well as the fright, of the film plays out.

While there are all kind of mishaps and pratfalls, the precision of those performances keep the action and laughter on a psychological plane, which is deeper than the more superficial laughs present in FATHER OF THE BRIDE, though the basic situations are similar. Add those delirious color settings, which make the whole thing resemble a particularly gruesome psychedelic nightmare, with that gleaming trailer a mechanical cupid, and a precursor of HAL in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY with much more of a defined personality than either of the leads— though visually it reminds me of the monolith, mysterious and unknowable--makes for one strange movie.

Desi Arnaz is very impressive here, especially in his movements and gestures, something I think Minnelli helped him with. At times he's more like a dancer, similar in some ways to Valentino, but a Valentino that manages to incorporate the verbal tics and moans, and also the comic timing, of a Chief Inspector Dreyfus. Not only are his movements and motions unbridled, emphasizing elegance with a maniacal edge, a jittery yet breathtaking artistry, but Desi also makes these strange sounds in reaction to what Lucy does, an ongoing mnemonic commentary, grunts and groans possessing the formal rigor of a Miles Davis trumpet solo crossed with Robbie the Robot’s electronic tonalities; or of you prefer, symmetry and spaciousness along with craziness. This is one of the great performances of the early 1950’s that has been hiding in plain sight.

Of course, those scenes "on the road"—other than a smattering of shots taken at Yosemite National Park—were mostly done in the studio, and with those matching color patterns that are found in both the foreground and background, especially the way everything gleams, they become two-dimensional and take on a science fiction aspect, not just formally but thematically, for in the film Desi and Lucy interact with each other by mediating with the machines that surround them—in addition to the various cars and trailers, there are toasters, ovens, dish washers and other devices that seem to overtake the frame—so again, it's not just a "critique" of 1950's consumerism, but a view of a modern world that is beginning to be transformed by machines, and in which these machines seem to define human relationships, rather than the reverse, a world that we now all live in; and, as previously stated, a definite precursor of Kubrick's 2001.

For the record, the extras are ported over from the DVD—a short from the long running Pete Smith Specialty series, focusing on various destructive impulses, including the automotive kind, which fits the feature, and a strange Tex Avery Droopy in which the title dog gets infested by Dixieland playing fleas--but this time, instead of being clumped together, bringing out all kinds of electronic abnormalities, they’re presented in HD.

This disc is a revelation, especially considering it gives you a stunning look at what Ansco color was all about, and why it was Minnelli’s favorite stock. Taken from the original negative—and for the first time on home video in the proper 1:78:1 aspect ratio, so you’re seeing it the way Minnelli intended—the images have a translucent, almost transparent quality. The colors remind me of Degas late pastels, with a freshness of tint, and an accuracy that is surprising. This disc belongs in the collection of everyone interested in classic Hollywood film. Highly recommended.


bottom of page