The below article was written by Wes Sterling, one of our devoted readers, as his entry in #CleanMovieMonth2021. Since he has no website, we are proudly publishing it here.
Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Wise words from King Solomon, and I think we can all relate. In a time of a pandemic, social and political unrest, a myriad of individual relationship and personal problems, and people trying to live their lives with some semblance of normalcy through it all, it is easy to feel that our “bones are drying up.” But what helps give relief, regardless of what our life situation may be, is a good laugh. A good laugh gives us energy, a renewed spirit, and can help us not take ourselves too seriously. It can even help relationships as we tend to bond with those that we laugh with. A good comedy film can help do all of that.
But what we laugh at, individually and as a culture, says a lot about who we are and what we value. It is interesting to me to see the change in comedy movies from the time of the Breen era of the Motion Picture Production Code (1934-1954) and today. To illustrate, I would like to review the movie “The Long, Long Trailer” (1954) starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and compare it, in general, to comedy films of our time.
Some quick production notes: In addition to Lucy and Desi, “The Long, Long Trailer” also features Marjorie Main, Keenan Wynn, Walter Baldwin, and Madge Blake to name a few. It was directed by Vincente Minelli who also directed over three dozen films in his career, most notably “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944), “Father of the Bride” (1950), and “Gigi” (1958) and was the husband of Judy Garland from 1945-1951. It was produced by Pandro Berman and distributed by Loew’s, Inc., which was the parent company of MGM.
The story is told as a flashback from Nicky Collini (Desi Arnaz). Nicky and his fiancé Tacy Bolton (Lucille Ball) are soon to be married, and Tacy presents the idea of purchasing a trailer to set up their new home in since Nicky’s job requires him to travel about the country, even though neither of them have had experience with one before. Nicky initially scoffs at the idea, but when he sees that she is serious he acquiesces to attend a motor home show to see the specific trailer model that Tacy had in mind. Upon seeing it, they are disappointed how small it is compared to how it appeared in the sales brochure. But soon another trailer catches Tacy’s eye; a 3-ton, almost 40-foot behemoth, and she convinces Nicky that it is just what they need despite its considerably larger price tag. Nicky relents and makes a down payment on the trailer. Of course, they quickly discover that they will also need a new car and trailer hitch to haul such a thing.
After the wedding, Nicky and Tacy begin their honeymoon, trailer in tow. Their first stop is a trailer park, where they are swarmed with fellow trailerites trying to help when they think that Tacy sprained her ankle, and a party develops well into the night in the Collini’s trailer. So much for their romantic wedding night. They then try to find a secluded spot the next night on an old logging road, but the trailer gets stuck lopsided, and it starts to pour down rain as Nicky tries to stabilize it in the mud. After they are towed out and sent back on their way, Nicky and Tacy arrive at Tacy’s relatives and almost the entire neighborhood turns out to watch Nicky try to back the trailer into their driveway, causing him severe stress.
It is a series of one problem after another with their new trailer and it does not take long before it begins to take a toll on their new marriage. In getting to Colorado, they have to cross a mountain range with an 8000’ elevation and Nicky makes it clear that Tacy needs to remove all of the souvenir rocks and canned items that she has collected on the way in order to lighten the trailer. She tells him that she has done so but lies. She just cannot bear to let the mementos go. When Nicky finds out, he is enraged and throws everything out of the trailer and down the mountain, to Tacy’s horror. They believe their marriage is over and Tacy tries to sell the trailer and go back home, presumably to her parents. But they soon realize how much they truly love each other, apologies are extended on both sides, they embrace in reconciliation, and all is well that ends well.
This is one of my favorite comedies and I highly recommend it. Especially if you are a fan of the “I Love Lucy” TV series, getting to see Lucy and Desi in a full-length color film is a real treat. It is a perfect Code film and it goes to show that quality comedy films can be made without the use of profanity, juvenility, or sexual humor. It seems that it is getting harder to find modern comedies that do not have one if not all those elements unless we look to G or PG animated films. But even then, an increasing number of them now seem to have a political and/or social agenda that can ruin the enjoyment of the film for many viewers.
But “The Long, Long Trailer” represents comedy from a time when decency was championed in Hollywood, specifically by the Production Code Authority (PCA) under Joseph Breen. It is that which, I believe, helped keep the culture from going into a moral freefall during his tenure. There has been debate about whether culture follows Hollywood or Hollywood follows culture, but I believe it is a symbiotic relationship. One affects the other and “deep calls to deep,” as it were. After the Code fell into disuse, films, as well as other entertainment media, became more decadent. With that, the public got desensitized to more and more deviancy and it found itself laughing at things that would have been shocking and scandalous during the Code years, especially the Breen era.
That is not to say that there are no enjoyable, decent comedies in our time. There are. But watching “The Long, Long Trailer” is like a breath of fresh air. We know we are not going to have to be on guard for what kind of language we might hear or what kind of agenda is going to be pushed on us. Adults and kids alike can enjoy this film, which was important in the Code. The humor is appropriate for all ages but is never juvenile. Some of Desi Arnaz’s facial expressions alone can make us bust a gut laughing. Much of what made “I Love Lucy” so successful was how well Lucy and Desi’s on-screen chemistry worked, and it is the same in this movie. In a lot of ways, they still play the Ricardos here, but are instead the Collinis. One of the funniest scenes is when Tacy is trying to prepare dinner in the moving trailer, and it is reminiscent of something that could have been done on the TV show.
So, if you are in a place where you feel that your “bones are drying up,” I recommend “The Long, Long Trailer.” I believe it will help produce that joyful heart which will be good medicine for the soul. And we could all use more of that.
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