Friday, May 25, 2012

Alan Webber: Why I Love Vincente Minnelli's THE LONG, LONG TRAILER

In honor of BMFI's four-week course on famed director Vincente Minnelli, Lust for Life: The Cinema of Vincente Minnelli, BMFI patron and film fan Alan Webber reflects on his favorite Minnelli comedy, The Long, Long Trailer.

Breezin’ Along with Lucy and Desi
By Alan Webber, BMFI Patron

When I first read that BMFI was offering a look at the work of director Vincente Minnelli in June, I tried to recall all I knew about his films. Minnelli, one of Hollywood’s most prolific directors, left a legacy of varied classics including The Band Wagon, Gigi, and Some Came Running. He was skilled in all genres.

My favorite Minnelli film is the sun-drenched comedic confection The Long, Long Trailer (1954) starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. They were at the height of their TV fame when they were contracted by MGM to make this, the first of two films. Despite the fact that audiences could get Lucy and Desi for free on TV each week, the film was a big hit at the box office. When I first saw it as a nine-year-old boy in New Rochelle, New York at the Loew’s Theatre on the cold winter morning of its February premiere, there was a line around the corner. I have been laughing ever since.

The story is essentially fluff. Newlyweds Tacy (Ball) and Nicky (Arnaz) decide that rather than settling down in a new home, they should adopt a more mobile lifestyle because of the extensive travel requirement of Nicky’s engineering job. The Bride persuades her new husband to buy a trailer against his will and drag it behind a newly minted American car as they move from location to location. Thanks to their naiveté in such matters, they purchase a colossal RV that costs five times what they had planned. It’s at this time that the 37’, three-ton New Moon Trailer becomes one of the stars of the film. The viewer takes pleasure as the couple fights over every turn and parking spot while they make their way around a pre-freeway California. It’s typical of the type of chaos Lucy and Desi brought to the ‘50s and is inspired silliness. The film is also ablaze with Minnelli’s distinctive use of color and features a glorious view of the American West at mid-century before Holiday Inns and McDonalds scarred the landscape. In the middle of the adventure is a sublime rendition of the song “I’m just Breezin’ Along with the Breeze,” which the viewer will be humming long after the film is over.
Lucy convinces Desi to buy a trailer beyond their means in The Long, Long Trailer.

Some critics carped that the film was just an extended Lucy episode. In many ways it was, yet underneath the laughter is some sardonic commentary on American consumerism, technology, fads (RVs), and the prosperity of the Eisenhower years. Ironically, the film also bears some resemblance to two earlier Minnelli films, Madame Bovary (1949) and Father of the Bride (1950). Film enthusiast Michael E. Grost notes, “In all three films the wives are addicted to a luxury, a product, or a lifestyle. Lucy’s character is really a wife who spends at a level far above her means and gets her husband into financial trouble.” Thus, the film can be seen a urgent warning of the dangers of materialism and the consumer goods society that was to dominate American life in coming decades. That’s the darker side.

The Long, Long Trailer is a big, lemon-colored gumdrop of a film from the halcyon days of the ‘50s and shows Minnelli at his comedic best. It has the kind of joyful, innocent chaos that is rare today. I’m still laughing. I promise that you’ll find something to tickle your funny bone. Join us!

Thanks, Alan!

The Long Long Trailer will be shown and discussed as a part of the film course Lust for Life: The Films of Vincente Minnelli, taught by Maurizio Giammarco, Ph.D., at BMFI. The four-week class starts Wednesday, June 6 at 6:30 pm.

Film fans, if you would like to submit a post of your own about a movie or film star that you love, please contact Devin Wachs with your idea.

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