Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 5, 2023)
After almost 20 years in movies, Lucille Ball moved to the small screen in 1951 and quickly became a legend. I Love Lucy didn’t end her cinematic aspirations, though, so she and husband/TV partner Desi Arnaz became the stars of 1954’s The Long, Long Trailer.
As Nicky (Arnaz) and Tacy (Ball) prepare to marry, they debate living arrangements. While he wants to own a house, she persuades him to purchase a mobile trailer home so they can go together when he hits the road for his work.
As they embark on their honeymoon, Nicky and Tacy face severe adjustment pains. Many complications come with their roadworthy domicile and wacky shenanigans ensue.
Which probably doesn’t come as a surprise given the lead actors. In theory, it would’ve made sense for Ball and Arnaz to star in a more dramatic movie to contrast with their sitcom fame.
However, I suspect they figured giving audiences “more of the same” would act as an easier ticket to cinematic success. Indeed, the movie’s promo actively reminds prospective viewers of I Love Lucy.
Apparently some involved feared Trailer would flop since audiences could already see Lucy and Desi at home for free. Instead, the movie turned into a pretty big hit, one that led to another Ball/Arnaz feature via 1956’s Forever, Darling.
That one lost money and ended Lucy and Desi as a cinematic couple. Still, it seems impressive that crowds went for Trailer given the ubiquity of I Love Lucy in the culture even back then.
Should one expect anything to substantially differentiate Trailer opposed to I Love Lucy. Maybe – sort of?
No one should expect Ball and Arnaz to stretch their legs as actors. It doesn’t take much to see Tacy and Nicky as fairly similar to Lucy and Ricky – down to the similar names.
That said, Trailer tames the characters to a substantial degree. I Love Lucy played for more exaggerated and broader situations, whereas Trailer leans closer to the real world.
Again: maybe – sort of. Trailer acts as a satire and comment on society mixed with semi-wacky shenanigans, so it’d be a mistake to imply it offers an affair played straight.
It simply focuses on a more realistic scenario than I Love Lucy, one that reverses roles to a degree. To my surprise, Arnaz takes the true lead here, as Nicky becomes our narrator and protagonist.
Of course Tacy plays a prominent part as well, but we see the story and events from Nicky’s POV. While the movie doesn’t paint him as a buffoon, it provokes laughs at his expense via the misadventures in the trailer.
I won’t say Ball plays Tacy straight, but she clearly tones down her Lucy Ricardo act. Indeed, Ball may underplay too much, as she seems so eager to avoid Lucy Ricardo that she makes Tacy semi-devoid of personality.
As someone who grew up with exposure to Arnaz and Ball mainly via I Love Lucy, it can feel odd to see them play roles so similar to their iconic parts and yet so different. Again, Trailer doesn’t completely swap their personalities, but it seems strange to get Desi as the comedic lead and Ball as the semi-straightperson.
Does this alteration of the formula work? To some degree, at least from the perspective that it makes Trailer fresher than anticipated.
That said, there’s a reason Ball played the lead on TV: she’s the superior comedic talent. Not that Arnaz was a slouch as a funny man, but he seems better suited as the steady ego to Lucy’s wacky id.
Trailer does grant Ball one true Lucy Ricardo moment when Tacy tries to cook dinner on the road. This becomes inspired slapstick and acts as the movie’s highlight.
Nonetheless, the two continue to show chemistry and interact well. The movie lacks a real plot, but it moves at a good pace and keeps the audience with it.
Vincente Minnelli seems overqualified for a light effort like this, but he offers a steady hand. While Trailer never threatens to become a classic, it largely entertains.