The Long, Long Trailer

Film Review by Dean Duncan Mar 9, 2015

Those are some credits! Modern viewers might have forgotten all about this movie, but from the get-go there’s A-grade talent, every where you look. The Long, Long Trailer is kind of like Frank Tashlin/Paramount’s roughly contemporaneous Artists and Models, detailing a pressing trend/concern that we know longer worry or even know about. That means either that it’s obsolete, or that movies are no end of interesting, if you’re looking at all carefully.

In this case the issue is a 1950s version of the mobile home, the exploration of which allows for some really effective Blandings-like (1946, 1948) satire, with even a bit of moral instruction thrown in. We learn that acquisition, and consumerism generally, can have as many twisting tentacles as a lie. We learn that one thing leads to another, to the extent that this almost resembles a fatalistic—though really genial!—movie by Fritz Lang. The thing is that where Fritz Lang is mythological, this one is much more ideological. Laughs a-plenty, but there’s also the fact that the entire economy, the entire morality, is built and dependent on just this kind of quicksandedness. Pretty provocative, pretty insightful and resonant, for a bit of commercial product.

The Long, Long Trailer also features some great film-historical genealogy. Ancestors and descendants, I mean. We find our main characters grappling with the eponymous inanimate object, an object that is simultaneously their greatest desire and their most intractable antagonist. It’s not just the eponymous trailer, but the multitude of malevolent objects contained within and attached to it. All this is pure Buster Keaton, and director Vincente Minnelli’s work in this later film doesn’t suffer at all in the comparison. The trade show, which continues the aforementioned materialist critique, prefigures Jacques Tati in general, and Tati’s Trafic more specifically.

Not that this is trying to be or ending up as a Marxist critique, or any kind of honours thesis. Mostly, The Long, Long Trailer is a really fun movie. Better, it’s a fun movie that’s quite wonderfully crafted. It has a strong overall shape, a clear through line. In addition to those totalities there are what amount to a bunch of one reel comedies, nicely distributed throughout. Nicky’s nervous driving. The simultaneously sweet/bold wedding night fiasco, with all those marauding trailerites. More strong satire emerges out of these comic sequences, including some particularly loving/savage observations about and toward American neighbourliness, with some swipes at American philistinism (and more materialism) thrown in for good measure.

I have the urge to call your attention to more of this somewhat forgotten film’s many felicities. The shower scene. All of the terrific trailers-on-the-slant stuff—sliding eggs, people falling out of bed (Minnelli’s camera/design are perfect, as always), that apocalyptic tumble into the mud. Mud, or was it primordial ooze? While watching I keep feeling tempted to get all symbolical. There’s a backing up sequence/debacle that is pure Laurel & Hardy, moving surely and inexorably from comic consternation, through entropy, all the way to apocalypse. And it’s followed by the lovely Lucy/Desi duet, “Breezing Along with the Breeze.” Come to think of it, sweetly affectionate expression rising up out of comic ash is pretty Laurel and Hardy as well. The tourist shots! There’s a making-a-meal-while-driving bit that goes on, and then goes on some more. And then a bit more after that. That looks forward to Frank Tashlin/Jerry Lewis as well.

There is a sequence in which Ms. Ball makes a salad. It is, she is so good that she earns, on the basis of this one thing alone, her eternal place among the comic immortals.

Watch for that mountain climb! Notice that at this point the cheerful film music, which has been quite relentlessly operating, as per usual, to to reassure us, drops right out. Sisyphus? Marriage! Here is comic suspense worthy of Hitchcock, and perhaps with even deeper implications. Actually, this might be more than just a fun movie.