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2 Weeks in Another Town

by Glenn Erickson Jun 12, 2018

 

A quick Jet-set ride takes us to Rome of 1962, which for a couple of years was the movie capital of the world. Washed-up actor Kirk Douglas reinvents himself amid the vipers of his past — an abusive director (Edward G. Robinson), a medusa-like ex-wife (Cyd Charisse) and a parade of show-biz creeps that want him to fail and grovel. But wait — redemption springs eternal through the love of a simple innocent unspoiled Italiana with no agenda of her own (Daliah Lavi). Will Douglas be reborn? Director Vincente Minnelli tries his hardest to get MGM in on the Italian art-movie gold rush.


2 Weeks in Another Town
Blu-ray
The Warner Archive Collection
1962 / Color / 2:35 widescreen / 107 min. / Street Date June 19, 2018 / available through the WBshop / 21.99
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Edward G. Robinson, Cyd Charisse, George Hamilton, Daliah Lavi, Claire Trevor, Rosanna Schiaffino, James Gregory, Joanna Roos, George Macready, Mino Doro, Stefan Schnabel, Vito Scotti, Leslie Uggams.
Cinematography: Milton R. Krasner
Original Music: David Raksin
Written by Charles Schnee from a novel by
Irwin Shaw
Produced by John Houseman
Directed by Vincente Minnelli

 

In 1974 or so the grad students Nick Petersen and Janey Place ran a film series at UCLA’s Melnitz Hall called ‘Hollywood on Hollywood.’ The film school had access to MGM vault prints, so they screened both of Minnelli’s tinsel-town insider exposés, filmed exactly ten years apart. Both movies were produced by John Houseman, who I’m afraid seems to have faded from the thoughts of even most film fans. The actor with the voice of authority is most remembered from TV commercials, but he was instrumental in guiding the careers of Orson Welles, Max Ophuls and Nicholas Ray.

Few “Hollywood on Hollywood” pictures really spoke truth to the system, and 2 Weeks in Another Town sneaks onto the list only by default. It’s an unofficial follow-up to Minnelli’s big 1952 show The Bad and the Beautiful. That entertaining all-star hit and this second film promise an unblinking look at the dirt that goes down in movieland, while of course making it all seem more glamorous than ever. Despite all of its masochistic self-criticism, the entertaining color / CinemaScope 2 Weeks in Another Town may be old Hollywood’s last big-budget valentine to itself.

 

Perhaps I should first get some thoughts about the earlier movie out of the way. The theory I subscribe to is that The Bad and the Beautiful came about as a direct rebuttal of the image of Hollywood presented in Billy Wilder’s insightfully cynical Sunset Blvd.. The studio executives in Wilder’s unapologetic film are branded as venal, prevaricating second-guessers that care only about career self-preservation. MGM chief Louis B. Mayer was reportedly so incensed, he wanted to raise industry money to buy Wilder’s film from Paramount, and destroy it. By contrast, MGM’s The Bad and the Beautiful regards the Hollywood hierarchy from the top down. The top studio brass are depicted only as unseen voices on the phone, with the reverence afforded holy deities. The guidance and wisdom of the front office floats far above the hypocrisy down in the velvet trenches. In Bad and Beautiful, the blame for all problems and conflicts points directly to the spoiled and childish ‘talent.’ The fact that an ungrateful director, writer and star have selfish personal ambitions exonerates the ethical betrayals of the producer played by Kirk Douglas. In other words, the movie reinforces Mayer’s paternalistic, self-serving vision of Hollywood, the Cosmology of the Mogul.

Leaping ten years forward, the Hollywood deck has been reshuffled and most of the cards are now Jokers. Kirk Douglas now plays washed-up actor Jack Andrus, a talented man humbled by a drunken car accident. His obsession with the beautiful Carlotta (Cyd Charisse), who left him for a Greek tycoon, has left him with a scarred face. Andrus is drying out in an asylum when his old director Maurice Kruger (Edward G. Robinson) offers him two weeks’ worth of acting work at Cinecittà in Rome. Andrus jets in just in time to learn that Kruger’s picture is in trouble — the Italian producer Tucino (Mino Doro) wants the whole shebang finished in two weeks, and the film’s young punk star David Drew (George Hamilton) is misbehaving. Jack correctly diagnoses the reasons for Davie to purposely sabotage his own career, as he’s been in the exact same place.

 

Kruger sweet-talks Jack into taking over dubbing chores for the film, a job that Jack accepts as good therapy. Then the emotional fireworks begin. Kruger’s jealous wife Clara (Claire Trevor) throws violent, suicidal fits over her husband’s open dalliance with the brazen actress Barzelli (Rosanna Schiaffino). Jack is horrified to learn that the haughty Carlotta is in Rome — she stops traffic to reignite her destructive hold over him. He retreats into the arms of Veronica (Daliah Lavi), a sweet girl who understands his inner torment. Veronica happens to be Davie Drew’s girlfriend, and the obnoxious pretty-boy actor retaliates by disappearing before Kruger’s film can be finished. When a heart attack strikes Kruger, Jack finishes the film for him in record time by charming the actors and the Italian crew. Jack deserves a reward for coming to the rescue, but Kruger’s jealous editor/script girl Janet Bark (Joanna Roos) has the last word. It’s dog eat dog on the Tiber.

In 1962 Vincente Minnelli must have been considered an asset necessary to maintain the studio’s illusions of prestige. The class-act director hit often enough to stay solvent, but he also made grandiose flops like The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The huge media splash of Federico Fellini’s 1960 La dolce vita turned the eyes of the industry in the direction of Italy. Having enjoyed a breakthrough success with the Paris-filmed Oscar winner Gigi, MGM approved a “La Dolce Minnelli” project to be filmed in Rome.

Adapted from a novel by Irwin Shaw, 2 Weeks in Another Town doesn’t tell the full story of Hollywood’s foray into Italian filmmaking. More than a few old-time Hollywood directors took the plunge to film in the sometimes chaotic Italian system: Frank Borzage, King Vidor, Raoul Walsh, Andre de Toth, Jacques Tourneur, John Huston, William Wyler, Michael Curtiz, Robert Wise. Who knew what things really cost over there? It was an amazing episode of wasteful cost overruns that soaked the Italo film industry in Yankee dollars.

 

The film’s idea of flying in ‘an old buddy to help out’ is very true. Unemployed writers and actors descended on Rome to get a piece of the action. I heard a lot about this gold rush for American talent from actor Mickey Knox, who responded to being blacklisted by relocating to Rome. He made a good living supervising English dubbing and working as a dialogue coach for stars like Anna Magnani.

The show reunited screenwriter Charles Schnee and composer David Raksin from The Bad and Beautiful. In the first movie Kirk Douglas played Jonathan Shields, an ambitious, ethically-challenged producer. In 2 Weeks his Jack Andrus is a neurotic actor committed to an unusually comfy asylum that reminds us of Minnelli’s The Cobweb, or maybe the rest home that James Mason visits in A Star Is Born. The Rome where Jack Andrus tries to re-invent himself is crazier than any asylum. His scarred face is the least of his problems. Some people fawn at Jack and others seem outraged by his very presence. The working actors are pampered brats; wanna-bees and opportunists are legion. Those with clout or influence tend to be greedy and manipulative. The producer has his deal made and doesn’t care about the quality of Kruger’s picture. Other people are just nasty — Kruger’s editrix Janet Bark oozes vitriol at Andrus, and stabs him in the back, big time. I can vouch for the fact that occasional vindictive monsters like Bark are authentic for the movie business. All you have to do to meet one, is to ‘be in their way.’

In the 1952 film Vincente Minnelli’s montages of moviemaking in progress had at least a little feeling of authenticity, but Two Weeks’ scenes of work at Cinecittà are much thinner. Kruger films a terrible little non-scene on a boat. For his contrasting ‘brilliant director’ section, Andrus turns back into the creative charmer Jonathan Shields. Jack’s work in the dubbing room is a joke. After he coaxes his voice talent with flirting sweet-talk about ice cream, her ‘improved’ reading is as phony as her first attempt. This becomes even more laughable in the film proper when we see the Italian Barzelli dubbed into English — she sounds just as fake.

One scene may make 2 Weeks the most hubristic picture of the 1960s. Minnelli and Douglas have the gall to show film clips from The Bad and the Beautiful and tell us in dialogue that THAT WAS GREAT FILMMAKING, the best Hollywood has to offer. Producer John Houseman was one of the most intelligent men ever to work in Hollywood … did all three gentlemen really believe that the earlier film represented the pinnacle of Hollywood entertainment?

 

The admittedly entertaining 2 Weeks portrays decadent movie folk running amuck in Rome. As it’s a Production Code picture, nothing particular shocking happens. Cyd Charisse is an overblown panther woman, something of a grinning ghoul in iridescent gowns and boa feathers. Edward G. Robinson never gave a bad performance; he does reasonably well as an insincere director who proves as vicious as the rest of them. George Hamilton can’t really carry his role, especially with so little screen time. We can imagine somebody else — say Anthony Perkins — making the part of the spoiled, callow actor into something memorable.

The Italian actresses are buried down in the cast list. The ravishing Rosanna Schiaffino had impressive Italian credits but didn’t break through in Hollywood, despite appearances in The Victors and Arrivederci, Baby!  The film’s major discovery Daliah Lavi may not be recognized by her own fans. Ms. Lavi looks much less gaunt than in her next American film, Lord Jim; her rounded face and cheeks could be confused for Pamela Tiffin. Her performance as Veronica is understated and sweet, as she’s kept apart from the film’s portrait of Roman corruption. Note that Veronica often wears simple white, in contrast to Schiaffino and Charisse’s outlandish designs and colors.

 

Unfortunately, the Veronica character is a tired fantasy feeding the notion that all a middle-aged male needs to set him straight is for an incredible dream doll to show up with the gift of hot sex a meaningful relationship. Thanks to her ‘generosity’ Jack’s nasty episode in Rome ends with a new spirit of independence. There’s also a character inconsistency to Veronica, who is presented as unspoiled while definitely playing a calculated career game. Just as did Debbie Reynold’s Kathy Selden in Singin’ in the Rain, Veronica dallies and lingers about so that Jack will notice her.

I suppose that Minnelli and Douglas identified with the hero of Irwin Shaw’s book, a stand-alone man of honor in a vicious business. That’s fair enough. Minnelli’s version of nightlife on the Via Veneto and at the decadent parties is energetic, but it does seem self-defeating to come all the way to Rome for realism, and then cast somebody like Vito Scotti, a face from American TV sitcoms, as Maurice Kruger’s assistant director. Most of the interiors could have been filmed on the Culver City lot. We’re pleased to see Leslie Uggams performing in a swank Roman nightclub, but her English- language songs don’t contribute to the foreign atmosphere either.

 

As this is Vincente Minnelli, expect bright primary colors to lead us to the main subject in a scene. Also expect realism to be put on the back burner. Minnelli still paints everything as if color-coordinating reality. Note in the Cinecittá filming scene, that the outdoor filming lights have been painted to match the upholstery of Andrus’s new car. Poor Ms. Schiaffino is defined more by her costumes than anything she does.

Minnelli is inspired to put together some expressive non-dialogue scenes, when Jack Andrus runs amuck in the Roman nightlife, filmed in warm colors, with soft lights. Then come a couple of lifts from Fellini, with people standing around in fancy apartments, like statues. Minnelli even stages a night exterior shot in one of those dark lanes that serve as pickup parks in pictures by Fellini and Pasolini. In what might be a substitute for an orgy, Kirk Douglas frolics with three women at once, and then punches out Carlotta, also in the midst of his delirium. These are the only scenes in which the ultra-professional Douglas becomes tiresome and overacts wildly. He stumbles over scenery as if someone had stabbed him in the stomach with a pair of scissors. Wait, he already made that movie.

The rear-projection process work guarantees that Minnelli’s will not be mistaken for a foreign movie. Kirk and Daliah or Kirk and Cyd breeze around town in his convertible Maserati, and we feel like we’re right back at MGM. Minnelli exploits his fancy rear-projection setup to stage a reprise of Lana Turner’s hysterical driving scene from the original Bad and the Beautiful. Jack tries to kill himself speeding through Rome at night while Carlotta panics in the passenger seat. The swerving car must be mounted on a turntable because it spins like a Mad Hatter Teacup at Disneyland. Ms. Charisse screams her brains out while Kirk hunkers down to concentrate on his inner trauma, looking like the groundhog sitting in Bill Murray’s lap in Groundhog Day. Lana Turner’s stylized panic was more effective in the older B&W movie — I’m not sure this is even good, but as a spectacle of BIG ACTING it must be seen to be believed.


 

The Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray of 2 Weeks in Another Town gives one of Vincente Minnelli’s last gasps of old-Hollywood a marvelous presentation. Everything’s sharp and colorful, giving us a better idea of his design schemes in all those wide shots. The higher resolution allows us to appreciate cameraman Milton Krasner’s more delicate lighting effects — those ‘wild night’ scenes with soft colors and lens diffusion now play like a dazzling waking dream, not a camera mistake.

David Raksin’s music comes through nicely, although his main theme isn’t as memorable as the one for the earlier Hollywood-On-Hollywood epic.

Both the original poster and the trailer use the tag line “Only in Rome Could this Story Happen.” It’s no lie that Italy was the source of a lot of racy show biz news in 1961. It explains how Tippi Hedren’s character in Hitchcock’s The Birds can be pegged as a notorious playgirl, just on the basis of Roman party gossip. 2 Weeks in Another Town doesn’t make us love Hollywood people — most of the characters are privileged boors and phonies, and even Douglas’s Jack Andrus leans far too much on his entitlements. But compared to our new-age reality entertainment celeb-monsters, I’ll take these old-fashioned puffed-up V.I.P.s anytime.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson


Two Weeks in Another Town
Blu-ray
rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: trailer
Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 9, 2018
(5750week)

Final product for this review was provided free by The Warner Archive Collection.
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About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.