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‘The Long, Long Trailer’: The Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Film Turns 70 — Take An Inside Look

About as close as fans would ever get to an 'I Love Lucy' feature film!


When audiences flocked to movie theaters in 1954 to see MGM’s The Long Long Trailer, they were likely expecting — given the fact that it was a comedy starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz — to see a big screen version of the hit sitcom I Love Lucy. That’s not exactly what they got, though you could argue that it came as close to being exactly that as they could legally make it.

Laughs pop culture historian Geoffrey Mark, author of The Lucy Book: A Complete Guide to Her Five Decades on Television, “There was an honest attempt at ripping off I Love Lucy without actually being suable — starting with character names Nicky and Tacy, a name no one’s ever heard of before or since. It’s also why Desi’s character is not in show business, Vincente Minnelli directed the film and not [the TV show’s] Bill Asher, MGM’s makeup and hairstyling people were used, though Ms. Ball’s own people were on set, ‘supervising.’

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz publicity portrait for the film 'The Long, Long Trailer', 1954
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz publicity portrait for the film The Long, Long Trailer, 1954 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images

“All of that being said,” he adds, “the movie was shot, for film, fairly quickly, because they weren’t creating brand new characters, names notwithstanding. And they were looking pretty much like they looked in I Love Lucy.” Right down to Lucille’s jewelry, which, as with the series, was provided by Joseff of Hollywood, whose films credits go back to 1939’s Gone with the Wind and is still going strong.

Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz, speaking at TCM’s recent 15th Annual Film Festival, points out that The Long Long Trailer was one of the big box office hits of the year, part of its appeal being that it did, indeed, feel like an expanded episode of the 1951 to 1957 sitcom.

Listen to Desi’s narration in the trailer and you can hear him refer to his on-screen wife repeatedly as Lucy rather than Tacy.

“I’ll bet that there was a sense even back then that people want their characters to be their characters,” he muses. “You know, ‘Don’t do something different that’s not you guys.’ In hindsight, they would probably just do an I Love Lucy movie that would get them out of the studio and show them in color.”

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Was The Long Long Trailer filmed before I Love Lucy?

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in 1954's The Long, Long Trailer
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in 1954’s The Long, Long Trailer FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

The real question is probably why, given all they had going on, Lucille and Desi would want to make The Long Long Trailer — which would have a hectic production schedule — in the first place. After all, it would be made at the end of the second season of I Love Lucy, the first of which had consisted of 35 episodes followed by 31 more.

“They had done 66 episodes,” Mankiewicz explains, “and after that grueling schedule, they pack up with the producer, Pandro S. Berman, and director, Vincente Minelli, and head out on an arduous shoot, not a studio shoot, which you can see in the movie, for six weeks. But why do this?

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“They were rich,” he adds, “and they were powerful. But, Lucy’s movie career hadn’t happened; the TV show saved her after she’d been an MGM contract player. So there might have been something about coming back to MGM and saying, ‘Look, you didn’t get it. I was a star!'”

And at that point, both she and Desi Arnaz were huge stars. Observes Geoffrey Mark, “They were the most famous people in show business at that moment. There was all of that inherent publicity in Lucy Ricardo being pregnant and Lucille Ball and Lucy Ricardo having their babies at the same time, which had only happened in January. This is now June when they’re filming this, and although there was a line in the sand about using television actors in films by the studios, that line was completely ignored in this case.”

What is The Long Long Trailer About?

The lead in to one of the great comic highlights of The Long, Long Trailer, 1954
The lead in to one of the great comic highlights of The Long, Long Trailer, 1954FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images)

The Long Long Trailer casts Lucille Ball as Tacy Bolton-Collini and Desi Arnaz as Nicholas Carlos “Nicky” Collini, a honeymooning couple who decide (due to Tacy’s pressure) to buy the trailer home of the title. What follows are their various misadventures on the road which go so disastrously wrong that they would make Lucy Ricardo proud. But there’s also some real tension that develops between the duo that comes to threaten the marriage, though it’s hardly spoiling things to say that love wins in the end.

The shoot itself went well, as Vincente Minnelli related to Geoffrey, the biggest problem he had to deal with being the fact that the film was too long and had to be cut down in the editing room. “These people were doing what they did best,” Geoffrey suggests. “They were professionals; there was no showing up late, there was no asking for special dressing rooms. Again, they were pros.”

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One of the highlights of The Long Long Trailer is a sequence where Nicky is driving their car, which is towing the trailer, and Tacy is in the back, attempting to make dinner. Now imagine Lucille Ball attempting to make dinner in a trailer that responds to every bump in the road they hit. Needless to say, everything goes flying.

Comedians Lucille Ball and Buster Keaton perform a sketch for the television show 'Salute to Stan Laurel', 1965
Comedians Lucille Ball and Buster Keaton perform a sketch for the television show Salute to Stan Laurel, 1965 Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

At the time, legendary silent film star Buster Keaton was under contract at MGM to help with their comedies, which is how Lucille Ball came to know him. “And that’s how they became friends,” notes Geoffrey. “Lucille often gave credit to Buster Keaton that it was he who really taught her how to do slapstick comedy, and especially how to handle props, and it shows.

“That making dinner scene,” he elaborates, “does not get enough notice, but it’s one of the great scenes of comedy ever made, because that’s not her doing it in front of a live audience. And it was also brilliantly edited together, especially when you consider it’s not that they did 13 takes and edited the best of them together. They did it at a couple of different camera angles, and I believe he actually had more than one camera on her at a time to get more than one angle in case this was going to be brilliant. And, of course, it was.”

While The Long Long Trailer hasn’t endured in the same way that I Love Lucy has, it was pretty obvious that it was enjoying a strong afterlife during the aforementioned TCM Film Festival, where a theater showing the film was completely packed, the audience howling with laughter and enjoying their time with Lucille and Desi on the big screen.

Ben Mankiewicz and Kate Micucci speak onstage during a screening at the 2024 TCM Classic Film Festival at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 20, 2024
Ben Mankiewicz and Kate Micucci speak onstage during the ‘Long, Long Trailer screening at the 2024 TCM Classic Film Festival at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 20, 2024 Presley Ann/Getty Images for TCM

At that screening, Ben Mankiewcz was joined onstage by comedian Kate Micucci, the two of them reflecting on why we all still love Lucy — even when her name is temporarily Tacy.

“At the time, I think it was really exciting for people to see them in color — everyone was watching them in black and white on TV and this was a chance for them to be a little more colorful,” she muses. “But it goes on because of Lucy. There was no one like her before or since. On the show, she, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance and William Frawley were all perfect together. It was just one of those magical things.”

Adds Mankiewicz, “The thing that makes these characters connect to us is we see ourselves in them. It’s very easy to project ourselves into the mayhem that Lucy created.”

The Long, Long Trailer is available for streaming on Tubi.

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