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Few "Hollywood on Hollywood" pictures really speak truth to the system, and Vincente Minnelli's 2 Weeks in Another Town sneaks onto the list only by default. It's a follow-up, ten years later, to Minnelli's big hit The Bad and the Beautiful. That entertaining all-star hit and this second film pretend to offer an unblinking look at the real dirt that goes down in Tinseltown. Of course, the real goal is to make it all seem more glamorous than ever, in color and CinemaScope. Even with all the masochistic self-criticism, the entertaining 2 Weeks in Another Town may be old Hollywood's last big-budget valentine to itself. 1
Leaping ten years ahead, the Hollywood deck has been reshuffled. Kirk Douglas now plays washed-up actor Jack Andrus. The talented man has been humbled by drink, a drunken car accident that has scarred his face, and his obsession with the beautiful Carlotta (Cyd Charisse), who left him for a Greek tycoon. Andrus is drying out in an asylum when his old director Maurice Kruger (Edward G. Robinson) offers two weeks' worth of acting work at Cinecittà in Rome. Andrus jets in just in time to find out that Kruger's picture is in trouble -- the film's young punk star David Drew (George Hamilton) is misbehaving, and the Italian producer Tucino (Mino Doro) wants the whole shebang finished in two weeks. Kruger sweet-talks Jack into taking over the dubbing for the film, a job that Jack accepts as good therapy. Then the emotional fireworks begin. Jealous wife Clara Kruger (Claire Trevor) is having fits over her husband's open dalliance with 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 her former lover. Jack 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 he retaliates by disappearing before the film can be finished. When Kruger responds with a heart attack Jack comes to the rescue, finishing directing the film in record time by charming the actors and Italian crew. But Kruger's jealous editor/script girl Janet Bark (Joanna Roos) has the last word. It's dog eat dog on the Tiber.
Even as MGM crumbled around him, Vincente Minnelli was considered an asset necessary to maintain the studio's illusions of prestige. The class-act director hit often enough to stay solvent but also made movies completely out of touch with the paying audience, 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, an amazing episode of wasteful cost overruns that soaked the Italo film industry in Yankee dollars. Who knew what things really cost over there? Robert Aldrich was filming a Biblical epic in and around Rome at this time, and when he checked up on his film's multiple second units, he found entire shooting crews and hundreds of extras sitting around doing nothing, just watching the clock. The film's idea of flying in "an old buddy to help out" is very true. The studios routinely paid to send all kinds of talent to luxuriate in Roman hotels just on the say-so of a big director or star. Unemployed writers and actors descended on Rome to get a piece of the action. 2
With John Houseman as producer Two Weeks reunited several of the same key creatives from the earlier The Bad and Beautiful: producer John Houseman, screenwriter Charles Schnee, composer David Raksin. In the first movie Kirk Douglas played an ambitious, ethically-challenged producer. In 2 Weeks he's a neurotic actor trying to find himself in the soul-draining international moviemaking scene. Anybody with any clout is a greedy, spiteful, manipulative user. The working actors are pampered brats. The producer has his "deal" made and doesn't care about the quality of Kruger's picture. Even the little people are nasty -- Kruger's editor stabs Andrus in the back, big time.
Back in 1952 Vincente Minnelli's montages of movie work in progress had at least a little feeling of authenticity, but 2 Weeks' scenes of work at Cinecittà are pretty silly. Kruger shoots a terrible little non-scene on a boat, while Andrus is shown directing mostly close-ups and inserts. Jack's work in the dubbing room is a joke. After he coaxes his voice talent with talk about ice cream, her improved readings are as phony as her first attempt. This becomes even more laughable in the film proper when we see Italian actors dubbed into English -- they sound just as fake.
The cast fronts a major effort to portray decadent movie folk run amuck in Rome. Cyd Charisse is an overblown panther woman in iridescent gowns and boa feathers. Edward G. Robinson never gave a bad performance and does reasonably well as a "nice" director who proves as vicious as the rest of them. The problem is that Robinson seems too likeable -- when Kruger joins his harpy wife Claire Trevor to condemn the innocent Jack, we expect him to do the right thing. George Hamilton can't really carry his role. 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 already had impressive Italian credits but didn't break through in Hollywood, despite appearances in The Victors and Arrivederci, Baby!. The film's major discovery may not be recognized by her own fans. The luscious Veronica appears to be the Hollywood debut of the major '60s beauty Daliah Lavi. Ms. Lavi looks much less gaunt than she does in her next American film, Lord Jim; here she has a rounded face and cheeks, like Pamela Tiffin. Veronica is a rather easy symbol for all the things Jack lacks in his life -- love, honesty, simplicity. Yet she immediately goes to bed with him. Thanks to Veronica, Jack's nasty episode in Rome ends with a new spirit of independence. Spiritually recharged and purged of his illusions about honor in Tinseltown, he flies off to fight the good fight once again. Douglas is quite good working for a director he respects -- his professionalism is always in evidence. Jack Andrus becomes tiresome only in the big drunk scenes, when Kirk overacts. He stumbles over scenery as if someone had stabbed him in the stomach with a pair of scissors. Wait, that's another Kirk Douglas movie.
So Jack is a stand-alone man of honor in a vicious business: I suppose that Minnelli and Douglas identified with the hero of Irwin Shaw's book. That's fair enough. Although Minnelli's version of nightlife on the Via Veneto and at the decadent parties isn't as exciting as Fellini's, that's no crime either. But it does seem self-defeating to come all the way to Rome for realism, and then cast somebody like Vito Scotti as Maurice Kruger's assistant director. Scotti's a fine actor, but he's a face from American TV sitcoms: no exoticism there. We're very pleased to see Leslie Uggams performing in a swank Roman nightclub, but even if the popular singer did that regularly her English language songs are no contribution to the foreign atmosphere.
Also defining the MGM-Minnelli vision of Rome is the rear-projection process work, which I would assume had to be filmed back in Culver City. Kirk and Daliah or Kirk and Cyd breeze around town in his convertible Maserati, and nothing looks real. Minnelli does exploit his fancy rear-projection setup to stage an even wilder 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. His passenger Carlotta panics in the swerving car, which spins like one of the Mad Hatter's Teacups at Disneyland. Ms. Charisse screams her brains out while Kirk hunkers down and concentrates on his inner traumaÉ the spectacle must be seen to be believed.
The Warner Archive Collection DVD-R Remastered Edition of 2 Weeks in Another Town is an attractive, colorful transfer of this energetic last gasp of classic Hollywood filmmaking. The Metrocolor image looks fine throughout and the audio is strong as well. David Raksin's music score sounds like a reprise of his original work from The Bad and the Beautiful.
Both the original poster and the trailer use the tag line "Only in Rome could this story happen" ... which explains why Tippi Hedren's character in The Birds is pegged as a notorious playgirl, on the basis of a rumor about a Roman party. The Warner Archive Collection now offers a number of Vincente Minnelli CinemaScope epics -- The Cobweb, The 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Tea and Sympathy among them -- they're all worthy dramas.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Two Weeks in Another Town rates:
1. The theory I subscribe to is that The Bad and the Beautiful is MGM's arrogant retort to Billy Wilder's insightful Sunset Blvd.. Wilder unapologetically slammed all studio brass as venal, prevaricating second-guessers that don't care about anything or anybody. The Bad and the Beautiful lays the blame on spoiled and childish "talent". The fact that an ungrateful director, writer and star dare to have personal ambitions somehow excuses the ethical betrayals of the producer played by Kirk Douglas. The top studio brass is treated like Gods, depicted only as unseen voices on the phone. The front-office guidance and wisdom float far above the hypocrisy down in the velvet trenches. In other words, the movie reinforces Louis B. Mayer's paternalistic, self-serving vision of Hollywood.
2. I heard all about this gold rush for American talent from actor Mickey Knox. Like the film's fictitious Jack Andrus, Knox was a blacklisted actor who relocated to Rome and made a good living supervising English dubbing. He also worked as an English dialogue coach for stars like Anna Magnani. Becoming sort of an unofficial good guy and toastmaster in the real Roman nightlife, Knox earned the title "The King of Rome".
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T'was Ever Thus.