Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bad Movies I Love: Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962) is to producer John Houseman, director Vincente Minnelli and actor Kirk Douglas' earlier film, The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) what a hot dog with everything is to a cordon bleu meal, and it is being aired on TCM at 4 AM (ET) on Sunday, Dec. 16th.

I really like this movie, based on one of Irwin Shaw's many novels about Americans amid the Eurotrash in the decade after the immediate postwar period when things really started to spin out of control ethically, artistically, and literally, based on several whirling scenes in this flick. At the height of his post-Spartacus power, Kirk Douglas plays "Jack Andrus" a former big movie star in the biz. We know he was on the A list once since Minnelli inserts an actual clip from the earlier gem, The Bad and the Beautiful into the action, giving this movie one of those metatexts that film theorists swoon for. There's only one problem: Jack is only just coming out of his shell after a whale of a nervous collapse caused him to tumble from the top of the heap. Now, the doctors think his touch of manic-depression, murderous rages, alcoholism and occasional hallucinations have all been ironed out, along with the kinks in his famous ego. He's ready for the world again. But is the world ready for him? The answer seems to be "maybe not."

His ol' pal director Maurice Kruger (Edward G. Robinson) throws him a bone from Rome, asking him to join him there for a possible job on his most recent international epic. That movie, it turns out, is in trouble, thanks to hissy fits among the cast, foul-ups among a non-English speaking crew, a shady producer, and an understandably tired director (Robinson). Waiting for his flight toward a fresh start, Jack is accosted by a former business associate (George McCready), who rebuffs the actor's greeting with the news that Jack was an arrogant crud when he was on top, except now he can tell him what he thinks. Slap! After a flight that allowed him to brood about his past once more, Jack arrives on the Roman film set to see two stars feigning passion during a scene--only to end it with more hearty slaps. Oh, so it's going to be that kind of picture.

The stressed-out Kruger keeps trying to keep up a brave front, but the veteran director is either beset by schlocky Italian producers (think Dino De Laurentiis without the occasional moments of class), or an American reporter (played by the ever-sleazy James Gregory) whose idea of integrity is to tell Kruger that "he used to tell the public the truth," but now "he lies to himself, which is worse." At home things are even more ulcer-inducing. When Kruger comes home ten minutes late to his wife (Claire Trevor, who seems to play all her scenes at mach speed), the harridan reminds him that she has a vault full of evidence of adultery against him, and she'll use it one of these days. Not surprisingly, the poor schmo has a heart attack, just to get a night's rest. Fortunately, Jack is suddenly the unlikely party to pull his ailing mentor's chestnuts out of the fire, though he expected "a chance to live again" by acting aka "making love to the camera," not helping with dubbing.  Ah, but Fate is not done toying with Mr. Intensity Kirk Douglas.

If you are into drinking games, every time a scene in this baroque movie reminds you of La Dolce Vita you could down a shot in honor of Fellini (these "where have I seen this before?" moments include numerous decadent parties, strolls down the Via Veneto, rambling speeches about the emptiness of all that glitters). Despite its derivative nature and knowing its bad for you, it is delicious fun...especially when Cyd Charisse is around as Kirk's castrating ex-wife.

Above: Cyd Charisse & Kirk Douglas on a ride down memory lane in Two Weeks in Another Town (1962).
Don't go for a car ride with this twosome, especially if you remember Lana Turner's epic meltdown behind the wheel in TBATB. Cyd's character, most generously described as "a professional beauty," seems to embody every aspect of womankind that justifiably frightens the menfolk, though she probably has her reasons for being a manipulative succubus who haunts Kirk's feverish dreams. Cyd is beautifully dressed by Walter Plunkett, but her character's motivation is as blurry as the vaseline-smeared medium shots she appears in throughout much of the movie, perhaps reflecting her former husband's distorted perception of her?
Above: The elegant Cyd Charisse in full plumage as "Carlotta," the succubus/ex-wife of Kirk Douglas' character. For those unfamiliar with this term: "Succubus [suhk-yuh-buh s]: In myths and folklore going back to ancient Greece, a succubus (plural succubi) was a female demon or supernatural entity that appears in men's dreams. She takes the form of a human woman in order to seduce men, draining them of their life force and souls, usually through sexual intercourse. The male counterpart is the incubus."

Rosanna Schiaffino also appears as an Italian star with a foul temperament and small brain who only responds best when kicked in the backside. The stunning Daliah Lavi also appears as a compliant innocent (earthy variety) though she receives not ONE real close-up in this film. Her character has the spine of generous, sexually alluring jellyfish, aiding the needy men around her with helpings of her "don't worry, be happy" warmth. Unfortunately, one suspects that her character has the intellect of a jellyfish too. However, she is the balm for Kirk's washed-up actor soul as he tries to cope with all the demands of assuming a mantle of God's gift to the cinema, even though he is still recovering from a mental breakdown.

Above: Kirk Douglas contemplating a life in the movies in Two Weeks in Another Town (1962).
There are lots of good elements here--the satire on Hollywood's then-novel shift to Rome, Edward G. Robinson as a fading creative figure, an over-wound Claire Trevor as a harpie who could have made one of Strindberg's more demonic married women look like a turtle dove by comparison, Kirk's fragile psyche and shaky driving skills, and George Hamilton's bad boy interpretation of James Dean. I like to think that George drew his "crazy, mixed up kid" bit from his study of George Peppard in his more sullen Methody funks on the set of Home From the Hill (1960). As one wag pointed out in an IMDb review, George Hamilton doesn't even seem capable of playing a bad actor.

Above: George Hamilton acting out (or is it up?) as "Davey Drew," bad boy actor in
Two Weeks in Another Town (1962). 
Speaking of bad actors, I love Kirk in this movie. He is NOT a bad actor, but he plays one very, very well. I've always admired the way that Douglas appears to have had a "take no prisoners" approach to his roles. Despite what I suspect were often good intentions, his spectacular, larger-than-life presence sometimes overwhelms his actor's belief in being true to his character's nature, despite his valiant efforts to tamp down his inner grandstander. Despite this career-long inner struggle, Kirk often seems to have chosen roles for their ability to dramatize something about human nature, whether or not that makes his character appear dislikable or admirable. Alas, his character in this film, as written in the Charles Schnee script, makes the most abrupt transitions between moods (Were there some studio cuts in this one?). He spouts off in one scene like someone who still has scorch marks from his last shock treatment, and in the next he is coolly taking the helm of a "major motion picture," albeit without realizing that his best efforts are likely to bring out the knives among his Hollywood colleagues (particularly Claire Trevor, who doesn't seem to have any redeeming features here, including restraint). Good thing that the stalwart character actor Vito Scotti is on hand to translate and goose a scene along with his gift for miming exasperation.

Above: Claire Trevor & Edward G. Robinson as longtime marrieds in Two Weeks in Another Town (1962).

On the upside, this movie is photographed in Rome in rich color by Milton Krasner (All About Eve, Three Coins in the Fountain, A Certain Smile) and features Minnelli's usual wealth of expressionistic touches with color, lush settings and gliding camera movement. Too bad Vincente seemed to be going through a rough patch when he made this one. His usual compassion for female characters is largely absent. Also, the film, which has a lush score courtesy of composer David Raksin (Laura, The Bad and the Beautiful), almost cries out for an operatic score worthy of a Verdi to accompany the dramatic arias of the characters. Despite the film's foibles and missteps, there are very erudite cinephiles who regard Two Weeks in Another Town as a worthy companion piece to Godard's Contempt, Fellini's 8 1/2, and other navel-gazing movies about movies. I just ain't one of those who thinks the problems of these people are worth telling. But they are fun--as long as it isn't happening to you.

Below is the trailer for Two Weeks in Another Town (1962), which is available as a DVD MOD from WB and other sites, may be downloaded at Amazon, and appears on the TCM schedule from time to time:


If you are as foolish as the author about "Bad Movies You Love" please feel free to view more entries in this series of blog postings here.


Karen said...

Loved your post, Moira! I will be setting my VCR for this one. I love bad movies! (Ironically, while cleaning house today, I came across my old collection of Movieline magazines -- "bad movies we love" was my favorite feature!) Can't wait to see this one! (Did I put enough exclamation points in that?)

Moira Finnie said...

Thanks, Karen! Your appreciation for bad movies and discreet usage of exclamation points is perfectly fine. I am delighted that you found my musings on this enjoyable, and hope that this almost quaint film by Minnelli and company gives you some fun.

BTW, Karen is the vibrant voice expressed so well on the blog called Shadows and Satin, which you can see here.

Classic Film and TV Cafe said...

I am a fan of 1960s cinema and especially this kind of over-the-top melodrama (and the "inside look" at the movie industry is a big bonus). Loved your review!

Moira Finnie said...

Hi Classic-
I'm so glad I gave you something to smile about when reading this review. I have mixed feelings about post-1960 movies, but anything featuring Kirk Douglas usually piques my interest. Even when it is a bit of a misstep, there is always something that amuses and entertains me, especially when it is at its most serious.

The Lady Eve said...

Moira -
I usually try to catch "Two Weeks" when it airs on TCM. It is such lurid fun. Love your take on it.

Page said...

I enjoy a 'bad' film on occasion too. I haven't seen "Two Weeks" but it looks like a fun hour or so to kill. I really enjoyed your honest review of it so keeping fingers crossed that I can actually find it.

I went to the theater a few months ago and wasted over an hr on "Hope Springs" which was a snoozefest then another 2 hrs on "Prometheus" over the summer so I'm due to watch a classic like this one. ha ha

I have to admit that I have at least 10 classic films sitting on my DVR that I have to make time for here soon.

Happy New Year!


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