Seldom Scene
Movie reviews by Gerald Panio

The Long, Long Trailer (1954)


Who said nostalgia ain’t what it used to be? Obviously, someone who hasn’t spent three hours with Lucille Ball and Paul Whiteman in two movies from the thrilling days of yesteryear: The Long, Long Trailer (1954) and The King of Jazz (1930). The former is slapstick-in-a-Winnebago, while the latter is. . . well. . . something else. I’m writing about both films this month because I believe that this is the kind of double bill that gives us all a welcome break from sanity. There’s an Alice-in-Wonderland quality about these old Technicolor films: you fall down the rabbit hole and wind up in a world that looks exactly like the ads in 1950’s copies of National Geographic and Life magazine. A world where you can get away with 10-minute musical fantasies about wedding dresses, operatic solos about Caesar salads, and calling an RV a “Bungalette”.

If, before I watched The Long, Long Trailer, someone had asked for my opinion of Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz, I would have done them an injustice. I’m not a fan of comedy based on hysteria. The old Lucille Ball Show which I remember from my childhood struck me even then as overly shrill—humor succumbing to frenzy. A couple of decades after the show went off the air, the NBC Saturday Night Live crew parodied it unmercifully, with Lucy putting nuclear warheads together on an assembly line until the inevitable foul- ups called down Armageddon. I still believe it was the ultimate Lucille Ball Show. Where I was mistaken was in underestimating how genuinely talented Desi and Lucille were as comedians. The Long, Long Trailer shows them in their prime. The movie’s got some of the energy and mechanical inventiveness of a Buster Keaton film.

I could try and describe some of my favorite scenes in The Long, Long Trailer, but would you rather read about a deadly chocolate cheesecake with hazelnut crust, served with poached figs, and passion fruit and cherry sauces, or go out and eat one? Suffice it to say that Lucy and Desi, as honeymooners hauling a 40-ft Titanic across America, are the biggest recipe for disaster since the Ancient Mariner shot the albatross.

The Long, Long Trailer wouldn’t work at all without Lucille Ball’s and Desi Arnaz’s talent-for-catastrophe. That the overall film is as good as it is also owes a lot to the director, the cinematographer and the supporting cast. Trailer was directed by Vincente Minelli, one of Hollywood’s finest, who had already caused a sensation with Gene Kelly in An American In Paris. Photography, which covers everything from the lawn-ornamental splendor of a 50’s RV spectacular to the natural splendor of Yosemite National Park, was by multiple Academy Award-winner Robert Surtees (Ben Hur). The large cast included such veterans as Marjorie Main, Keenan Wynn, and Moroni Olsen. A good time was obviously had by all. Particularly memorable are the Breeze-way “trailerites” who descend on Lucille & Desi in an orgy of neighborliness, and the stunned driver who finds himself being passed by a 40-ft juggernaut on an 8,000-ft high mountain switchback! (And speaking of switchbacks, you have to admire Vincente Minelli’s chutzpah for including a send-up of George Arnaud’s Wages of Fear in the middle of a romantic farce.)

Looking Back & Second Thoughts

I’m a Cozy Coach man myself!” –trailer show guy

I can’t say that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s 40-ft travel trailer is the comedic equivalent of the trains in Buster Keaton’s The General, but The Long, Long Trailer is one of the most entertaining comedies of the early 50’s. Both leads were consummate professionals, and the film shows them at their best. Vincente Minnelli was equally professional in the director’s chair. Minnelli and three-time Academy Award winning cinematographer Robert Surtees also make excellent use of on-location shooting. The Technicolor pinks and blues and yellows give the picture the nostalgic look of old National Geographic and Life magazine ads (there’s a framed 1950’s SPAM Dinner ad on the wall in my office). As a couple of reviewers point out, one can’t help but pine for the days when $46 would pay for towing a 40-ft trailer into town from a muddy logging backroad, with a complete car wash thrown in. Doubling down on the nostalgia are the vintage vehicles from a pre-plastic era of glorious excess. The supporting cast (including Keenan Wynn and Marjorie Main) reminds one of the large pool of talent on which studios such as MGM could draw.

Sure, there’s probably solid material in this movie for a Marxist thesis on the evils of American consumer culture, or for a Freudian essay on the roots of our desire to possess enormous phallic motor vehicles. The satirical look at Vegas-style trade shows, trailer park culture, and life on the open road isn’t far off the mark. The crowd scenes—weddings, house-warmings, visits with relatives—turn natural American gregariousness into a kind of social feeding frenzy. For myself, though, I’m just happy to see this as a lighthearted lesson in being careful what you wish for, and maybe a not-so-lighthearted lesson in how to tank a marriage. Desi’s nightmares about the mechanic yelling “Trailer brake first! Trailer brake first!” hit home for those us who are nervous about taking even a small tent trailer out on the highway. I still haven’t forgotten the half hour it took me to back a trailer full of lumber into position on one of the first construction jobs I worked. I wasn’t fired, but they never let me near the truck again.

Movie Information

Genre: 1954
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Actors: Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Keenan Wynn, Marjorie Main
Year: Comedy
Original Review: March 1996 (first of two parts)


Film critics pick the 50 best movies of all time

Compiled in 2012 by Molly Driscoll for The Christian Science Monitor, based on Gail Kinn & Jim Piazza’s book The Greatest Movies Ever. As Ms. Driscoll says, it’s a great way to start an argument at a party. The first two Godfather movies at #1? Gone With the Wind at #18? One surprise: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others at #42.

Michael Exploring the World of Animated Films and Comic Art

From a passionate fan of animated films and comic books, with an encyclopedic knowledge and several books to his credit, this site has been up and running since 2003. As far back as 1970, Michael was professionally publishing a magazine called Funnyworld. This guy’s not a fly-by-nighter! You’re not likely to find a richer website for the history of animation. There are also extensive links to other related websites. Definitely a site you should consider checking into from time to time to catch the latest reviews, browse through older reviews & essays & interviews, and explore connections.

Films Worth Talking About:

Lesson in Love, Chikamatsu Monogatari (The Crucified Lovers), Vera Cruz, The Country Girl, Rear Window, Touchez pas au grisbi (Honor Among Thieves), Sansho Dayu (Sancho the Bailiff), Magnificent Obsession, On the Waterfront, A Star is Born, La Strada, The Barefoot Contessa, Senso, White Christmas, [20,000 Leagues Under the Sea], Brigadoon, [Bread, Love, and Dreams], The Glen Miller Story, Carmen Jones, Monsieur Ripois, Sabrina, Creature from the Black Lagoon, River of No Return, dial M for Murder, The Caine Mutiny, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

The Bigger Picture

Films: The Navigator (1924), The General (1926); Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)

Music: Tom Waits, “Step Right Up”

Books: Vance Packard, The Hidden Persuaders, The Waste Makers

The Word on the Street

Two things that kept running through my mind: 1. Is there really anyone named Tacy? And if there is, is it actually a really common name? 2. In the movie, Nicky has a Cuban accent (Yes. I know Desi is Cuban. I mean Nicky would appear to be Cuban.) So why does he have an Italian last name?….The story, while being hilarious, still speaks volumes about married life.”

Ghost of Caesar

The New Moon Trailer is a real trailer and was one of the best in it’s [sic] day. Towing one with a 125 HP Mercury Monterray and up steep mountains is a bit far fetched, but there are people today that are stupid enough to tow a 28ft. travel trailer with a SUV. This is a jackknife crash ready to happen. Being an RV’er, I know what is on the road and what is safe. Riding in the back and trying to fix a meal is done today, but usually in a Class A motorhome, not a travel trailer or 5th wheel.”


My 4 kids grew up knowing I was a huge I Love Lucy fan, watching it whenever it was on. So when I found a copy of this movie in a video store about 20 years ago, my youngest remarked, “What are Lucy & Ricky doing in color?” Well, that’s the reason they agreed to do this movie, because it would be filmed in color.”


Because fans stayed away from this film in droves, Lucy and Desi made only one more movie together. Too bad, because this film is far superior to the series. Credit should go to veteran director Vincente Minelli and his sure hand in balancing the material. Against all odds: Ball’s slapstick is drained of usual shrillness, Desi’s star is allowed to shine, situation is raised above personality, and peripheral crowd scenes are heightened to hilarious commentary on busybody middle America. In fact, this is one of few 50’s movies to capture spirit of a rising middle class: the buoyant optimism, the credit card dependency, the aping of upper class tastes. All is accomplished, nevertheless, with an underlying sweetness that might not be expected from two overaged stars then in the process of subduing the tigers of TV land. Moreover, the choice of a trailer gimmick for the comedy setting was an inspired one. A true little gem and document of its time.”


I know many many of you say towing a big trailer such as a 32′ or 40′ is impossible or hard to do with an old 125hp car or anything of the likes, But I have found out first hand through my grandfather, that it is entirely possible, the cars were made out of solid metal, not as heavy as the trailer but still a solid “brick”, we used a 1958 caddy to tow a 40′ detroiter that was made in about 1956, we had little problem hauling that thing, I mean other then not being able to really see anything behind or beside the trailer.
To this day I personally own those 2 vehicles and regularly travel with them both, the engine of course needs maintenance every few hundred miles (just like in the movie), but she runs sound.”