Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Long, Long Trailer

The Long, Long Trailer
seen on TV @ TCM
4.9.13

In her superb book on how marriage is depicted in movies, I Do and I Don't, Jeanine Basinger devotes a section to the rise of television, in particular the birth of the domestic sitcom, and while she cites examples of shows featuring idealized nuclear families that Americans aspired to, there was one show in particular that, despite the atypical setting and characters, came across as more relatable:
Most people think of I Love Lucy as a typical 1950s married couple. Lucy, in particular, is thought of as a 1950s housewife (God help us!). But nothing about I Love Lucy is really "typical" the way The Donna Reed Show or Father Knows Best are. I Love Lucy uses a real marriage as a springboard to hilariously off-the-wall (and totally unrealistic) adventures.... Lucy has an endless fountain of crackpot ideas to further her goals, but also an indomitable spirit to keep her plugging away at them when they obviously aren't working.... (This is why Lucy became emblematic of the 1950s American woman: not because she's "normal," but because she's determined. She treks ever onward, confident there must be a better life somewhere up there ahead.)
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz enjoyed tremendous success with I Love Lucy, which had the subsidiary effect of boosting their film careers, and during their run on the show, they starred in two movies together, Forever, Darling and today's subject, The Long, Long Trailer.



Lucy & Desi were unique among Hollywood couples in many ways. There's the interracial aspect, for one thing. The Supreme Court would not uphold the right of interracial couples to marry until 1967, yet here was this highly visible, glamorous and successful couple proving to the world that it was absolutely no big deal for people from two different races to love each other.

Their on-screen personas as Lucy & Ricky Ricardo sometimes seemed indistinguishable from their real lives. When Lucy was pregnant with their son, Desi Jr., not only was he written into the show, but he became a character all his own (played by a different child). In their follow-up series, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, other Hollywood couples played themselves on the show, but Lucy & Desi were still Lucy & Ricky.

They were business people as well. Their Desilu Studios not only innovated the way television shows were filmed and distributed, but it was the home for many other popular shows from the 60s.



Perhaps it comes as no surprise that in watching Trailer, one finds it difficult, if not impossible, to look at the two of them and not see the Ricardos. Their characters in the movie have sound-alike names, for one thing - Tacy and Nicky. Surely that's no coincidence. Nicky is basically Ricky Ricardo without the bongos, while Tacy seems like a toned-down version of Lucy Ricardo. She's not a dingbat, but she does have a hint of Lucy Ricardo's scatterbrained nature. The big difference here is that Tacy is funny because of the things that happen to her, not the things she does. One great example is the scene where she's trying to cook on the trailer as it's in motion. 

Lucy & Desi even get to sing together in one scene!. It's not meant as a big, theatrical moment, as you might expect to see on I Love Lucy, but a tender, casual, intimate moment the two of them share while they drive along the highway, listening to the radio. It's so sweet and feels so natural. If you had never seen or heard of the two of them before seeing this scene, you would not doubt for a second that they were deeply in love.



Trailer's premise is simple: Tacy convinces Nicky to buy a trailer that they can spend their honeymoon on as they travel cross country, with an eye towards making it a permanent home as well, but the one they get is huge and expensive and, of course, leads to all sorts of problems as they make their trip. Basinger notes in I Do that the trailer is the perfect metaphor for marriage: the expense leads to financial problems, the in-laws are horrified when Nicky tries to park it, Tacy's determination to keep it forces her to lie to Nicky - all of these and more are aspects of what Basinger calls "marriage movies" - the typical conflicts that arise in films about married couples.



Lucy & Desi were a match made in heaven, but it didn't last, and looking at the two of them, whether in movies like Trailer or on TV, it seems so hard to believe that they could ever part. In I Do, Basinger talks about a 1993 documentary produced by their daughter, Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill, called Lucy and Desi: A Home Movie, in which, through archival footage, home movies of the family, and interviews, Lucy & Desi's marriage was explored in detail, the ups and downs, to attempt to find out what went wrong. Basinger writes:
Sadly, Lucie Arnaz says to the camera, "They would have loved to have been the Ricardos," but like so many others, they couldn't manage a  sitcom life offscreen, only on.... her parents did the I Love Lucy show in order to be closer together in their work, and to be able to have kids and raise a family. The show worked, but the marriage didn't.... The film becomes a marriage movie, a TV movie, a real-life movie, and a documentary - but [it provides] no answer to the question "Why couldn't they stay married?"
Still, seeing Lucy & Desi in a movie like Trailer is a treat. They may not be Lucy & Ricky in it, but they come across as something closer to their real selves, an image refracted as it is through the lens of television.

4 comments:

  1. This is one of my favorite comedies. I too cannot separate their characters from being "Lucy and Ricky" but I do notice a change between how they interact with each other. In "I Love Lucy" I never really feel sorry for Ricky because the scriptwriters wrote episodes where he made mistakes as well ( not as crazy as Lucy's I admit )..but here in Trailer he seemed like a helpless victim of being married to a fickle woman. It makes the film all the more funny though. Favorite line : "Trailer brakes first! Trailer brakes first!". A very entertaining post Rich.

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  2. Funny, I thought Desi had more funny moments here than he usually does on TV, where's he's more or less Lucy's straight man. The scene where he tries to park the trailer, for example, is great - and definitely something that wouldn't easily lend itself to TV.

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  3. FYI Lucy and Desi's first child was Luci, Desi Jr

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  4. Luci was born in 1951, Desi Jr in 1953

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