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2 Weeks in Another Town (DVD Review)

14 Feb, 2011 By: Mike Clark

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
$19.95 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Kirk Douglas, Edward G. Robinson, Cyd Charisse, George Hamilton.

Though it’s no match for its unofficial predecessor (1952’s six-Oscared The Bad and the Beautiful) or its soon to be thematic soul-sibling (Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 Contempt), Vincente Minnelli’s dramatically stillborn but visually resplendent CinemaScope trash does capture a time when old Hollywood was crumbling and some of its old directorial hands were struggling to find work abroad in what used to be called runaway productions. Even for those unfamiliar with how over-the-top even Minnelli’s best melodramas are, it’s a given that emotions won’t be very far beneath the surface in any movie that begins with Kirk Douglas taking the cure (emotional, not the Charlie Sheen kind) in a rest home. Indeed, we even see him playing shuffleboard.

Very loosely adapted from an Irwin Shaw best-seller of the day, Town reunited Minnelli and Douglas with the same producer (John Houseman), screenwriter (Charles Schnee), composer (David Raksin) as Beautiful, which even gets briefly excerpted in one of Town’s screening-room sequences. This makes for an unfortunate juxtaposition because despite its own trashy roots, Beautiful is the vastly superior picture with much stronger acting straight down the line. But as a companion piece, Town has its rewards for the counterpoint it provides: color vs. black-and-white; widescreen vs. 1.33:1; and subject matter that deals with international filmmaking as opposed to the old-school kind that sprung from studio back lots.

Douglas’s character here is on the rocks mostly because of an ex-wife named Carlotta (Cyd Charisse) — the kind who, as quoted here, says, “Come on in, the water’s warm” when she’s talking about herself (OK, baby, get ready for a half-gainer). He’s also messed up because of his longtime relationship (i.e. seven movies together) with a director (Edward G. Robinson) who apparently did some kind of a damaging Svengali number on him. Now, like so many Hollywood filmmakers of the period, Robinson is aging and finding it tough to find work. So he’s in Rome slaving for a tight-walleted producer and trying to make his way in some kind of costume potboiler. Have you ever noticed, in movies about movie-making, that whatever’s being shot looks as if it’s going to be one of the worst bombs of all time when it’s finally released?

If Charisse’s underwritten Carlotta represents a tough case in terms of domestic harmony, check out Claire Trevor as Robinson’s wife — a curious screen reunion here, given that Trevor basically won her 1948 Key Largo Oscar for suffering boozy degradations at the hand of Eddie G.’s master hoodlum. This is quite a corrosive portrait of marriage that Schnee and Minnelli serve up: brutal one second, tender the next (but mostly brutal). Yet let Trevor perceive an outside threat to the union — and she consider s Douglas to be — and that poor guy had better put on his track shoes.

Given that we’re in Rome not long after La Dolce Vita, there also has to be some voluptuous window dressing. Here, it’s Dahlia Lavi (who eventually ended up with Dean Martin’s Matt Helm in The Silencers) — plus Rosanna Schiaffino, a former real-life “Miss Liguria.” Almost as obligatory is a young playboy actor whose reckless behavior echoes that of Douglas’s character when he was young, traits that eventually inspire Douglas to mentor the kid. The latter is played by George Hamilton, who had made a terrific debut for Minnelli as Robert Mitchum’s in-wedlock son (George Peppard was the out-y) in 1960’s Home from the Hill. He is not so terrific here.

Town was another big-bucks bust for Minnelli directly on the heels of the perhaps the costliest bomb of his career: the 1962 remake of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Glenn Ford for Rudolph Valentino; what’s wrong with this picture?). The reviews were brutal, but some of the European critics liked it, and the picture has attained a cult. Actually, it’s pretty wonderful if you turn the sound down and just soak in its spectacular production design, which is photographed with feeling by Milton Krasner (who got an Oscar nomination for An Affair To Remember). And even with the sound up, there are a few good scenes — mostly having to do with “troubled” screen productions, a subject that Minnelli got to know about at various times of his career.

Town contains one of my favorites of Minnelli’s famous “bizarre sequences” — a trademark almost as familiar as Hitchcock’s cameos. Think of the Halloween set-piece in Meet Me in St. Louis or Spencer Tracy’s mortifying dream in Father of the Bride: every Minnelli movie has one. Here, echoing Lana Turner’s screaming Beautiful fit while behind the wheels of a car, it’s Douglas losing control in a sports job convertible as passenger Charisse shrieks — a scene beautifully composed for CinemaScope. At this point, the movie is as lurid as you want it to be — which doesn’t happen much otherwise. The censors had their way with the sex that was in Schnee’s original script and ruined any chance there was for artistic success. But by 1962 and thanks to, ironically, European cinema, censors were on their way to selling pencils on the street. Soon, they’d be even more on the skids than the Douglas-Robinson characters.

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